The Prof­its of Piracy

Piracy has been a source of easy money on the coast of East Africa. Here is a look at how it has af­fected ship­ping trade in the re­gion.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By J. En­ver

When Cap­tain Jawaid Saleem stepped off a Pak­istan Navy ship in Dubai, on the first leg of his jour­ney to free­dom from the cap­tiv­ity of So­mali pi­rates, he knew he was one of those few lucky in­di­vid­u­als on the ship who had been let off against a huge ran­som. His cargo ship, the Malaysian-owned M.V. Albedo had been cap­tured in the early morn­ing hours of Novem­ber 26, 2010, some 900 nau­ti­cal miles east of Mo­gadishu as it made its way from Kenya, sail­ing in the north-easterly di­rec­tion to­wards the Strait of Hor­muz, and then to the Port of Jebel Ali in Dubai. On Au­gust 1, 2012, seven Pak­istani crew mem­bers of M.V. Albedo were re­leased af­ter al­most 2 years in cap­tiv­ity of the pi­rates.

The his­tory of piracy off the coast of So­ma­lia has con­tin­ued to threaten in­ter­na­tional ship­ping since the sec­ond phase of the So­mali Civil War in the early 21st century. It reached its peak in 2012. From 2005 on­wards, sev­eral in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the World Food Pro­gramme, have said that the rise in in­ci­dents of piracy in this part of the world had been im­ped­ing the de­liv­ery of much needed ship­ments sent to var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions. Piracy off the coast of So­ma­lia has also ap­pre­cia­bly in­creased ship­ping ex­penses, neg­a­tively af­fect­ing global trade. Ac­cord­ing to Oceans Be­yond Piracy (OBP) and the Ger­man In­sti­tute for Eco­nomic Re­search (DIW), some kind of an in­dus­try of prof­i­teers has also de­vel­oped around the piracy ac­tiv­ity. As such, in­dus­try has also prof­ited from piracy as in­sur­ance com­pa­nies have ap­plied a higher pre­mium on cargo pass­ing through these ship­ping lanes.

Delv­ing into the rea­sons as to why piracy took hold in this part of the world, it came to light that per­haps the il­le­gal fish­ing trade was re­spon­si­ble for this. Added to this was the dump­ing of toxic waste in So­mali wa­ters by for­eign ves­sels. This af­fected the abil­ity of lo­cal fish­er­men to earn a liv­ing from fish­ing. The up­shot was that lo­cal So­mali fish­er­men formed armed groups to pre­vent the ships from com­ing in their wa­ters. Since the fish­er­man used to be armed, they soon re­sorted to hi­jack­ing the cargo ves­sels and eked out an in­come from the ran­som money. The prac­tice be­came so lu­cra­tive that by 2009, many lo­cal coastal com­mu­ni­ties backed piracy as a form of de­fend­ing the coun­try's ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters. Some­how, the pi­rates thought they were pro­tect­ing their fish­ing grounds and this was their way of com­pen­sa­tion for their stolen ma­rine re­sources.

The growth of piracy on the So­mali coast is also at­trib­uted to the fact that as a re­sult of the civil war in So­ma­lia, it had not been pos­si­ble to de­velop an ef­fec­tive na­tional coast guard. So­ma­lia has hardly had any armed forces. It was this gap that was filled by lo­cal fish­er­men who formed or­ga­nized piracy groups and hi­jacked ships pass­ing along the So­ma­lian coast. How­ever, the pi­rates sub­se­quently dis­cov­ered the big money in­volved in hi­jack­ing ships and from thereon, fi­nan­cial gain be­came the pri­mary mo­tive for the pi­rates and their sup­port­ers, some of whom were based as far afield as Europe. It is also said that in­for­ma­tion about ship­ping ac­tiv­ity in the area was passed on to them from Mom­basa in Kenya.

The sit­u­a­tion be­came rather alarm­ing when the in­ci­dence of piracy around the Horn of Africa be­gan to grow to dan­ger­ous num­bers and its im­pact was felt se­ri­ously on the trans­port of ship cargo, con­tain­ers, chem­i­cals and oil. It was then that the

CTF (Com­bined Task Force) 151 was es­tab­lished on 12 Jan­uary 2009, with a spe­cific piracy mis­sion-based man­date, un­der the author­ity of var­i­ous UN res­o­lu­tions. The task force mainly dealt with mar­itime se­cu­rity and counter ter­ror­ism around the Gulf of Aden and the So­mali Basin.

The mea­sures car­ried out by the task force in­cluded con­duct­ing an ac­tive 24 hour look­out, re­moval of ac­cess lad­ders, reporting ap­pre­hen­sive ac­tions to proper au­thor­i­ties, use of deck light­ing, ra­zor wire, netting, fire hoses, elec­tri­cal fenc­ing and sur­veil­lance and de­tec­tion equip­ment, de­fend­ing the low­est points of ac­cess, en­gag­ing in eva­sive ma­neu­ver­ing, speed through pirate at­tacks and join­ing group tran­sits. CTF-151 had naval ships, he­li­copters and mar­itime pa­trol air­craft at its dis­posal from over 20 par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions to make sure that all the trad­ing through its area of re­spon­si­bil­ity went smoothly and with­out in­ter­fer­ence from the pi­rates.

The Task Force in­cluded Aus­tralia, the Repub­lic of Korea, Pak­istan, Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S. Among South Asian coun­tries, Pak­istan was the most ac­tive mem­ber of the Task Force which was com­manded by Pak­istan Naval of­fi­cers for a num­ber of terms.

Ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased in 2011, the sea trans­porta­tion in­dus­try shoul­dered 80 per­cent of So­mali piracy’s im­pact on the global econ­omy while the re­main­ing 20 per­cent was the ex­pense that each coun­try’s govern­ment made to­wards mak­ing anti-piracy ef­forts. The study said that the to­tal cost that So­mali piracy had caused the ship­ping trade was some­where in the re­gion of USD 7 bil­lion. Some 9 fac­tors were taken into con­sid­er­a­tion in de­ter­min­ing this fig­ure. These in­cluded ran­som money paid to pi­rates, piracy in­sur­ance, the cost of se­cu­rity equip­ment and guards, re-rout­ing of ships, the cost of in­creased speeds, the cost of la­bor, the cost of pros­e­cu­tions and im­pris­on­ment, the cost of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and the cost of counter-piracy or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, there was no suc­cess­ful pirate at­tack on a ves­sel trav­el­ling at 18 knots or faster. It was there­fore rec­om­mended that ves­sels should travel at a min­i­mum of 18 knots through the haz­ard area, As a mat­ter of course, this in­creased speed was an added cost to ves­sels given that they were mov­ing at higher speeds than their most ‘eco­nom­i­cally op­ti­mum’ speeds.

The re­port es­ti­mated that the cost of the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions was in two forms - the ad­min­is­tra­tive bud­gets of the task force and the op­er­at­ing costs of each con­tribut­ing state. Na­tions con­trib­uted to the mis­sions through naval ves­sels (sur­face com­bat ves­sels and aux­il­iary ships), mar­itime pa­trol/re­con­nais­sance air­craft, ves­sel pro­tec­tion de­tach­ment teams and mil­i­tary staff as­signed to op­er­a­tional head­quar­ters or on­board ships and air­craft.

Even with the world's navies rush­ing to pro­tect ship­ping pass­ing along East Africa, the sheer size of the ocean and the huge num­bers of ships in­volved means war­ships are rarely in the right place at the right time. The mood in Mom­basa, where so many ship own­ers and sea­far­ers are based, has been bleak. Ship own­ers say it is time for the world to mo­bi­lize an army and in­vade So­ma­lia.

The United Na­tions has passed a res­o­lu­tion al­low­ing such an in­va­sion, but the United States has put the brakes on par­tic­i­pat­ing in any such oper­a­tion. Per­haps they are hes­i­tant be­cause of their last ex­pe­ri­ence of send­ing troops to So­ma­lia. In 1993, 18 Amer­i­cans were killed dur­ing a com­mando raid to cap­ture a few, low-rank­ing war­lords. And yet, it's be­com­ing more and more clear that with­out ma­jor, in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tion, piracy will con­tinue to grow in the re­gion. With the ben­e­fits far out­weigh­ing the risks, it looks like pi­rates have no in­cen­tive to stop pil­lag­ing.

The big­gest vic­tims of So­mali piracy are the So­ma­lis them­selves. Nearly 4 mil­lion people (half the pop­u­la­tion of So­ma­lia) de­pend on food do­na­tions to sur­vive. But pirate at­tacks on food ships have made it dif­fi­cult for the United Na­tions to keep send­ing pro­vi­sions. "If you don't have an es­cort, you can­not move food there," says a U.N. of­fi­cial. But since naval de­ploy­ments are ex­pen­sive, war­ships might not be avail­able for­ever. This could mean death by star­va­tion for mil­lions of So­ma­lis, all due to a few thou­sand op­por­tunis­tic pi­rates.

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