BY BRIAN RIES
In a year that’s seen the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, coupled with a crippling Ebola outbreak in West Africa, an international coalition of countries has made quiet progress eliminating a threat that once terrorized mariners along one of the world‚Äôs busiest shipping corridors and costing the global economy an estimated $7 billion dollars a year ‚Äî Somali pirates.
“Thanks in part to the work of the Contact Group,” a coalition of 80 countries, international organizations and companies that was established in January 2009, “pirates have not successfully attacked a commercial vessel in this region in over two years,” a State Department spokesperson announced this week.
The figures, officials at the U.S. Department of State tell Mashable, speak for themselves.
There have been no piracy hijackings of commercial vessels off the coast of Somalia in more than two years, with the last one occurring on May 10, 2012. This marks the lowest rate of attempted pirate hijackings in the region in half a decade.
The officials credit their success in eliminating the threat of Somali piracy to two reasons: Improved counter-piracy operations and an improved prosecution of the actual crime.
Meaning: It’s a heck of a lot harder to be a pirate these days, and it’s only getting worse.
Ken Menkhaus, professor of political science at Davidson College who specializes in the politics of the Horn of Africa, says it’s those deterrent factors, especially the use of private security companies on commercial ships, “that have changed the equation on piracy.”
Before pirates saw such hijackings as low-risk, high-reward, but now the risk is much higher.
While expressing cautious optimism, both officials and experts say there‚Äôs no room for complacency, lest the pirates reclaim their control of the corridor.
“There is always going to be the risk of piracy off the coast of Somalia as long as the country is a de facto failed state,” said Menkhaus. “But I’d be surprised if we saw a major uptick in piracy there,”¬†he added.
A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “We are all working with the new Somali Government as they grapple to rebuild their state, but in the meantime we must not be complacent regarding piracy.”
“We will continue to focus on disrupting the shore-based criminal organizations that fund and facilitate piracy. And this is an international law enforcement effort to bring to justice the handful of kingpins who operate this terrible enterprise,” he added.
As of late this month, there remains at least 37 hostages in the hands of the pirates ‚Äî down from an estimated 600 at piracy’s peak ‚Äî and an estimated 1,400 pirates or suspected pirates facing courts or prisons in 20 countries.