The piracy business is alive and thriving off the Somali coast and deeper in the Indian Ocean. There are no quick-fix solutions in place despite the fact that a huge international naval flotilla has been formed to fight the menace.
India’s counter-piracy operations have done very
little to keep the Somali pirates at bay.
There’s a multi-million dollar business that boasts of using the latest technology, has a wide reach, outclasses the best in the trade at their game, employs impoverished people, earns 20 to a hundred times more money than other ventures, has an annual turnover that has grown by 35 times over the last five years and whose bosses live in huge mansions and drive fancy cars. Impressed? Welcome then, to the world of Pirates Inc. – Somalia’s only booming industry.
The lack of coastguard surveillance since 1991 when Somalia slid into chaos, has rendered its vast coastline vulnerable to illegal pillaging of stocks and dumping of toxic wastes by foreign vessels. Deprived of their livelihood and confronted with the health hazards of toxic wastes, affected fishermen groups decided to protect their shoreline from pillagers and polluters. From poor fishermen trying to safeguard the means of their livelihood to menacing buccaneers with an operational spread of approximately 2.9 million square nautical miles, pirates have shown enterprising brilliance in converting a voluntary coast guarding phenomenon into a successful business enterprise.
Operating as far as 1,000-1,200 nautical miles off the Somali coast in an area stretching from the Horn of Africa to the Maldives islands, the Somali pirates hijacked 49 ships in 2010, with an average ransom per ship touching $5.4 million in the same year – 36 times more than the 2006 average of $150,000. Pirates keep 30% of these ransom spoils; which means, even the lowest on the rung make nearly 20 times more money in a single hijacking than Somalia’s per capita income of $600.
The two decades long conflict has left the Somali economy in tatters. In a country where more than half the population is living on less than $1 a day and no wonder that the extravagant lifestyles of pirates have made them icons for young children who are struggling to free themselves from the clutches of penury. While the ran- som money has had a spillover effect on the local economy through a multitude of piracy-related activities, the piracy business has also opened up to include locals who can become partners by lending money or weapons for the piracy operations.
Given that the Gulf of Aden is one of the world’s most important Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), navies from about 30 countries are patrolling the waters off the Somali coast. However, the large international naval presence has not deterred the pirates. They have begun to use heavy arms, hi-tech technology and have captured ships to use as mother vessels – and venture deeper into the Indian Ocean where the possibility of being tracked by navies is lesser than in the narrow Gulf of Aden. Pirates only need 15 to twenty minutes to board a ship - too little time for any naval vessel in the vicinity to react to a SOS. Once hijacked, the ship is taken to one of the pirate dens and anchored till the payoff comes through.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia re-