Modern Piracy in Somalia


The golden age of piracy, with its iconic jolly roger sails, is long past. Yet piracy itself has survived by adapting to modern systems and technologies. The pirates operating out of Somalia have learned how to exploit marine traffic around the Horn of Africa. The illicit activity has become a lucrative business, making profits at the expense of foreign companies and governments. The problem has improved over the last decade but continues to prevail. International cooperation is needed to fully restrain the criminal groups, but without the complete cooperation of Somalia, it has so far proven insufficient.

Somalia lies next to one of the world’s most important trade routes. Vessels pass through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, connecting European and Asian countries and their economies. By seizing ships and cargo, the Somali pirates disrupt an otherwise secure and efficient system. Insurance companies have lost millions on account of pirate raids and the ransoming of hostages. The most concentrated area of pirate activity is in the Gulf of Aden around the Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait connecting the Gulf to the Red Sea.

Piracy became an outlet for many in Somalia as they had few other opportunities to make money and none that neared the profits of successful piracy. The beginning of Somali piracy coincided with the Somali Civil War around 2005. The Somali government struggles with conflict and humanitarian crises, making it difficult to keep all its citizens in check. Foreign intervention can help alleviate the responsibility on the Somali government to stop piracy, but as any country would be, they are hesitant to invite foreigners in to do as they will.

The issue is not limited to the stakeholders of the pirates and those being robbed. The Somali government has a certain responsibility for the actions of their people, while foreign governments are forced to address the issue on behalf of their respective victims. The issue of piracy around the Horn of Africa is a global concern and has thus captured the attention of the United Nations.

Several agreements were signed to outlaw piracy on an international scale. The Hostage-Taking Convention of 1979 addresses pirates’ ability to ransom hostages. The SUA Convention of 1988 prohibits the seizing and intimidation of ships. The United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) of 2000 focuses on the organisation of and investment in piracy. It outlaws any actions with the intention of obtaining financial gain through piracy, or “directing, aiding, abetting, facilitating or counselling” such organised crime (University of Denver).

The UNTOC can be applied to one of the more sophisticated systems pirates have developed. Individuals can invest in their activities by offering cash, arms, and fuel to fund them. If the raid is successful, investors may receive significant profits, clearly violating the terms of the UNTOC.

Although these agreements were ratified by between 160 and 180 countries, they have not been effective in ending piracy. International law is difficult to implement in many cases concerning Somali pirates as there are ways to evade it. These laws apply strictly to the High Seas, but Somali pirates are often able to operate within the territorial waters of Somalia. There, it is the Somali government’s responsibility to take action against the pirates in accordance with their own laws.

The Somali government alone has not adequately resolved the issue of piracy along their coast. Since the issue has significantly improved, the government has resisted further foreign intervention in their waters. Piracy still persists, however, and should not be allowed to survive on account of an unfinished campaign against it. As international law has limited success in stopping piracy, it is integral that the Somali government continues to work closely with the international effort to suppress piracy.

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