Why So­mali piracy must be de­feated

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of piracy in the waters off the East African state of So­ma­lia has con­sti­tuted a se­vere threat to in­ter­na­tional ship­ping since the early 1990s. The United States, its Euro­pean al­lies, Arab states such as Saudi Ara­bia and even China and In­dia are gravely con­cerned about this threat to their ves­sels’ safety. Piracy has led to an in­crease in ship­ping costs through the In­dian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden be­cause of the hi­jack­ing and hold­ing for ran­som of the ves­sels’ crews, who are held hostage in pi­rate-held towns along the So­mali coast. These pi­rate-in­fested wa­ter­ways have led to in­creased pa­trols by West­ern and other navies, in­clud­ing pri­vate se­cu­rity forces, but with no ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion in sight.

Martin Mur­phy’s im­por­tant book “So­ma­lia, the New Bar­bary?: Piracy and Is­lam in the Horn of Africa,” is an au­thor­i­ta­tive and com­pre­hen­sive ac­count of how So­ma­lia has be­come the epi­cen­ter of one of the world’s most dan­ger­ous piracy hot spots and the mea­sures that are re­quired to de­feat it.

Based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Mr. Mur­phy is one of the world’s lead­ing ex­perts on mar­itime se­cu­rity, hav­ing writ­ten sev­eral highly ac­claimed books on this sub­ject.

In this book, he sets out to ex­am­ine the fac­tors driv­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of piracy em­a­nat­ing from So­ma­lia, rang­ing from the con­gen­i­tal dis­or­der of the So­mali “state” to the takeover of the coun­try (if it can be termed a coun­try) by po­lit­i­cally linked crim­i­nal net­works that are em­bed­ded in the so­ci­ety’s dom­i­nant clans.

Even al-Shabaab, al Qaeda’s So­mali af­fil­i­ate, is linked to piracy. While pub­licly con­demn­ing the pi­rates for hi­jack­ing ships, es­pe­cially Saudi Ara­bian Mus­lim ves­sels, it reaps fi­nan­cial gains from its share of the ran­som pro­ceeds.

The boun­ties gen­er­ated by the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ran­soms paid by ship own­ers and their in­surance com­pa­nies have brought il­licit af­flu­ence to the coastal towns where the lead­ers and op­er­a­tives of the crim­i­nal net­works thrive. As Mr. Mur­phy writes, in these towns, the pi­rates are “iden­ti­fi­able by their cell­phones, West­ern cig­a­rettes and ac­cess to plen­ti­ful sup­plies of khat [a pop­u­lar nar­cotic].” Many of the young as­pire to be­come pi­rates, with piracy be­com­ing “so­cially ac­cept­able,” en­abling them to marry “the most beau­ti­ful girls.”

Mr. Mur­phy pro­vides an ac­count of some­one “who in one year went from be­ing a poor fish­er­man to a man of sub­stance with three houses and a sec­ond wife who he mar­ried in a wed- ding so ex­trav­a­gant that the house was sur­rounded by the 150 cars owned by the guests.”

The in­flux of wealth into these com­mu­ni­ties has led to the es­tab­lish­ment of new busi­nesses that pro­vide the pi­rates with the goods and ser­vices they re­quire, such as new boat build­ing, GPS sys­tems, satel­lite phones, night-vi­sion gog­gles, con­struc­tion, restau­rants, money-chang­ing and car deal­er­ships.

But this has been ac­com­pa­nied by ram­pant in­fla­tion, “bad cul­ture” in the form of al­co­hol, drugs, the com­mer­cial sex trade and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing AIDS epi­demic, street fights and killings.

Even the pre­vi­ously thriv­ing le­git­i­mate mar­itime busi­nesses such as fish­ing, fish pro­cess­ing and steve­dor­ing have been af­fected neg­a­tively, with own­ers of fish­ing boats hav­ing dif­fi­culty hir­ing crews, los­ing out to piracy’s easy money.

This il­licit econ­omy thrives be­cause of its pro­tec­tion by gov­ern­ment authorities in re­gions such as Punt­land, piracy’s epi­cen­ter, with its of­fi­cials hand­somely paid off, in­clud­ing through the wider com­mu­nity along clan lines.

How can So­mali piracy be stopped? Mr. Mur­phy pro­poses a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy based on po­lit­i­cal mea­sures that would com­pel a pol­icy change by Punt­land’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who ben­e­fit from piracy, ac­com­pa­nied by a more ro­bust in­ter­na­tional naval force than the one cur­rently op­er­at­ing in those seas in or­der to safe­guard mar­itime se­cu­rity at vi­tal points.

Even such a strat­egy, Mr. Mur­phy cau­tions, has built-in lim­i­ta­tions.

First and fore­most, the an­ar­chy in So­ma­lia as a “failed state” makes it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to ne­go­ti­ate with any po­lit­i­cal leader.

Sec­ond, al­though naval ac­tion and shore bom­bard­ment against the pi­rate strongholds along the coastal ar­eas might have some ef­fect, a land cam­paign that could root out the prob­lem in the long term “is to be avoided” be­cause of its high costs, mainly in plac­ing the lives of the hostages at risk, and in hav­ing the pi­rates sim­ply move the hostages far­ther in­land, where they would be dif­fi­cult to lo­cate.

As Mr. Mur­phy warns, if alShabaab and al Qaeda in Ye­men both took con­trol over their coun­tries, mar­itime se­cu­rity in the geostrate­gi­cally vi­tal Gulf of Aden would be com­pro­mised.

Joshua Si­nai is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor for re­search, spe­cial­iz­ing in coun­tert­er­ror­ism stud­ies, at Vir­ginia Tech.

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