Shutting Down the Piracy Business


U.S. federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for three Somalis convicted of murdering four Americans whose yacht was captured by pirates in the Indian Ocean off Oman in 2011. Although nearly two dozen Somali pirates have now been convicted in U.S. courts, these three men are the first to potentially face the death penalty.

Against the backdrop of the U.S. trial, a largely unknown and underreported humanitarian tragedy caused by the brutality of pirates is unfolding: Unlike the Americans killed by pirates after negotiations for their release failed, the crews of many smaller ships, known as dhows, operating in the Indian Ocean often end up as slaves, never to return to their homelands because their Indian, Pakistani or Iranian owners cannot afford to pay their ransom.

In 2011, ships participating in NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, a counterpiracy action, helped free more than a hundred fishermen and small-ship owners from captivity. Their rescue occurred when NATO disrupted pirate attack groups using captured dhows as mother ships from which to operate. Many of the hostages had spent more than a year in captivity and reported severe maltreatment by the pirates.

Beyond such violations of human rights and opportunistic kidnapping of Western nationals, pirates have also demonstrated a systematic pursuit of human trafficking, arms trading and drug smuggling. The United Nations believes that northern Somalia is a focal point for such trafficking — with skiffs ferrying migrants across to Yemen and then returning loaded with weapons.

Stopping this trafficking is no easy matter. Although the Gulf of Aden is heavily patrolled by international warships safeguarding the sea lanes, their U.N. mandate only allows them to apprehend traffickers when human lives are in immediate danger. Meanwhile, the traffickers slip through with ease to pursue their criminal activities.

To combat piracy and trafficking, the international community should work with the F.B.I., Europol and Interpol to take on the land-based criminal networks that control the pirates by disrupting their money flows. Arresting and prosecuting the leaders and financiers of piracy groups could severely disrupt their businesses. Often the ringleaders who operate these gangs reside outside of Somalia and so have escaped prosecution. A concerted international effort must be made to identify the individuals involved, shut down their operations and bring them to justice.

The international community should also continue to support initiatives like the European Union’s Eucap Nestor, a civilian mission backed by military expertise to help Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti, the Seychelles and Somalia combat piracy and terrorism. As a complement, the E.U. Training Mission Somalia, operating in Uganda, has provided military instruction for 3,000 Somali soldiers. These troops are already working to enhance their country’s security.

Thanks to such efforts, the number of pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden has decreased significantly. But off of West Africa, a region noted for political instability and widespread corruption, pirate attacks have risen sharply. Here, piracy is even more profitable than on the other side of Africa. Ships and their crews are not typically held for ransom; instead the robbers violently seize ships, steal all the valuables they can, and move the precious cargo, like oil, onto smaller vessels.

To deal with this problem, West African nations met in Cameroon in late June and adopted a code of conduct for dealing with piracy. Based on the Djibouti code of conduct established by East African and Arab states in 2009 to fight piracy in the Indian Ocean, the Cameroon code calls on governments to apprehend and prosecute pirates, interdict ships suspected of engaging in piracy and help repatriate fishermen and others who are victims of piracy.

Given the limited maritime capabilities of the littoral states, achieving these goals won’t be simple. The international community can help by providing funding and using “soft power” to ensure that the code is enforced.

Arab states can and should play a more important role in the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean. Drawing upon their historical ties to Somalia, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Islamic Development Bank could play a lead role in funding development initiatives while also strengthening partnerships with tribal leaders across Somalia. The G.C.C. and the I.D.B. could also help fund regional initiatives in West Africa to strengthen security there.

If the human costs of piracy are to be reduced, strong leadership will be required from the European Union and the United States, preferably in close coordination with the United Nations and other important stakeholders like China, India and Russia. It is also critical for Washington to support existing U.N., NATO, E.U. and other counterpiracy initiatives and to work closely with these organizations and countries until piracy once again becomes an activity that takes place largely in the movies.

Michiel B. Hijmans is a Dutch commodore and the Netherlands’ deputy military representative to NATO-E.U. Joseph S. Szyliowicz is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Sigurd Neubauer is a defense and foreign policy specialist based in Washington.


Original Article