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1. Geographically, the Somali Republic located in the Horn of Africa comprises large tracts of semi arid to arid pasture land, over 3500 kilometers of coast line and many ports.

2. Historically, the 1884 Berlin Conference divided the Somali region between France (presently Djibouti), Great Britain (Somaliland and Puntland), Italy (southern Somali region) and Ethiopia (Ogaden region). During the Afro-Asian tsunami of de-colonisation, in 1960 the British Somalia and the Italian Somalia achieved independence and, authorized by a referendum, conjoined to become the Republic of Somalia which continued to maintain strong linkages with European interests. In 1969, a military coup led by Maj Gen Mohamed Siad Barre took Somalia into the communist camp. Since his ouster in 1991, Somalia has been in a continuous state of internecine clan warfare and civic unrest.

3. Socially, Somalia has three main tribes namely Darod, Hawiye and Rahnweiyin each of which constitutes approx 1/3rd of the population. The tribes are themselves divided into sub-tribes and clans all of which, put together, constitute a complex society of ten million people. With 99% following, Islam is virtually the only religion.

4. Economically, Somalia has seen good days as evidenced by the villas and Presidential palaces etc. However, today these are mostly in ruins and the populace is in abject poverty. The Somali coastline is abundant with fish. The people have tremendous entrepreneurial spirit and skill. They excel in businesses like transportation, real estate, tele-communication, hospitality industry etc all over the world and the Somali Diaspora remit about $ 2 billion per annum back to their country.

21 st Century Piracy

5. As per UN estimates, illegal fishing companies from Europe and Asia rob Somalia of yellow tuna worth more than $300 million a year. In 2005, UN Environmental Report had highlighted a long history of illegal dumping of waste along the coast of Somalia. It was estimated that European companies spent a mere $2.5 per tonne to dispose of the waste near Somali coast as opposed to $250 a tonne that they would have paid to dispose of the same material in Europe. Thus, illegal fishing and illegal waste dumping were the twin triggers for the advent of 21st century piracy. The populace largely assumed the mantle of the nation’s unofficial Coast Guard to fight against fish poaching and waste dumping. The internal scene was further exacerbated by the lack of a central government for two decades as the society lurched towards a civil war.

6. The piracy, which started as a self-righteous civic movement for protection of own off-shore interests, soon grew into a profitable activity. The lure of money as well as social admiration of successful pirates as public heroes, enticed more and more participants till the entire enterprise became a thriving business. During 2011, Somali pirates attacked 237 ships, successfully hijacked 28 and took some 555 hostages of whom 35 died at the hands of the pirates. As of 28 May 2012, approximately 8 large vessels and 235 hostages were estimated to be held in captivity. Out of the estimated 3000-5000 pirates, 1000 have been captured and are going through the legal process in 21 countries.

7. A report by “Oceans Beyond Piracy” estimates that the economic cost of Somali piracy last year was of the order of $7 billion excluding the loss of trade revenue from nearby countries such as, Egypt, Kenya, Yemen and Nigeria which is collectively estimated to be at least $ 1.25 billion per year. Of the direct cost, over 80% is borne by the shipping industry and almost 20% by the governments in countering piracy attacks. The break-up of the shipping industry share of the burden is ransom 2%, insurance 10%, security equipments 17%, re-routing 9%, increased speed 40% and labor 3%. It would be seen from these figures that a very small fraction of the entire economic cost actually goes to the pirates who take all the risk and do the hard work. Yet, in a very poor society, the dividend and glory that the pirates earn is far more than what most legitimate pursuits would provide them. It is also self evident that the entire cost to the shipping industry would, in fact, be passed on to the consumer who does not even come to know of it. Insurance companies, security equipment manufacturers and armed security providers etc are having a field day of roaring business. The government’s share of the cost of piracy is really notional because the ships and aircrafts deployed by various countries have not been acquired exclusively to combat piracy and all of these would still be operating somewhere even if there was no piracy. In any case, these assets are readily re-deployable if they are required elsewhere.

8. So, the real price of the 21st century piracy is only being paid by those sea- farers who are taken as hostage and by their families. There is no measure of their emotional stress, trauma and physical hardships because no price tag can be attached to any of these. It is also ironical that the same ships’ crews, in fact, enjoy higher wages during deployment in the high risk area.

International Response

9. At the request of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1816 on 02 June 2008 authorizing the co-operating nations’ forces to enter the territorial waters of Somalia to repress the acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea. As another outcome of the Resolution, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) was established in Jan 2009 to facilitate the discussion and co-ordination of actions among states and organizations to suppress the piracy. Resolution 1838, adopted on 07 October 2008, urged the operating states to use the necessary means for the suppression of acts of piracy. In January 2009, under the aegis of the International Maritime Organization ( IMO), a Sub-Regional meeting took place at Djibouti. A Code of Conduct ( DCoC) was adopted through an Agreement which recognized the problem of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Western Indian Ocean region, Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. The signatories committed themselves to sharing and reporting relevant information, interdicting suspected ships, apprehending & prosecuting pirates and caring for the victims of piracy. Taking the capacity building endeavor forward, the IMO is now focused upon legal advisory service, enhanced training, accelerated implementation of the DCoC and stronger governance structure. Kenya and Seychelles offered to take on piracy prosecutions, set up the necessary infrastructure with the UN assistance and commenced operations. However, both the Governments have since brought out major difficulties in sustaining it. On 23 April 2009, international donors pledged over $ 250 million for Somalia including $ 134 million to increase the African Union Peace Keeping Force from 4350 troops to 8000 troops and $ 34 million for Somali Security Force. In April 2010, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1918 urging the international community to criminalise piracy under their domestic laws. It also called upon the UN Secretary General to prepare a report suggesting ways for creation of an international legal system to prosecute and imprison those responsible for piracy off Somalia. In January 2011, Mr. Jack Lang, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on Legal Issues related to Piracy on the Coast of Somalia, rendered a comprehensive report covering almost all dimensions of the piracy problem as it existed then. He proposed setting up of two specialist jurisdictions in Puntland and Somaliland to try pirates and two prisons to hold them as well as Somali Courts in Arusha in northern United Republic of Tanzania which would later be transferred to Mogadishu. In his view, it was crucial to go after the pirates’ leaders by bolstering the police force to track pirates’ movements and other activities, as well as by providing young Somalis with alternate livelihood through development of economically depressed areas. On 26 January 2011, Indian representative to the UN presented a five-point plan to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia. These were: tracking the ransom trail, prosecution of ransom beneficiaries, naval operations under the UN, sanitization of Somali coast and enactment of national laws to criminalize piracy. In April 2011, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1976 which inter-alia, recommended drawing up of domestic legal framework, specialized courts and prisons for Somali pirates. Consistent with these, in Apr 2012 a draft bill was tabled in the Indian Parliament to provide legal muscle and operational freedom in the Indian efforts to root out sea piracy. It is expected that this will also spur other nations towards drafting their own laws.

10. The Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150) coalition naval forces took on the role of fighting Somali piracy 2006 onwards. The threat of piracy caused concern in India not only because more than $ 100billion worth of our trade passes through Gulf of Aden but also because Indian constitute as much as 6% of the global seafarer strength. Indian Navy deployed INS Tabar in the Gulf of Aden in October 2008 and has had, on an average 1-3 war ships continuously on patrol in that area. In December 2008, European Union Naval Force Operation Atalanta was launched to protect vessels delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia under World Food Programme to deter piracy off Somalia and to monitor fishing activities there. In August 2009, NATO launched Operation Ocean Shield as its contribution to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile, the USA, China, Russia and Japan also independently joined the naval patrols. Today, on an average, there are 25 military vessels belonging to different coalitions and countries, patrolling approx 8.3 million Sq Kms area of the ocean.

Present Situation

11. Of the 3 distinct regions, Somaliland has run its affairs relatively well with a healthy economy. It has multi party politics, educational institutions and presence of many UN and NGO offices. Puntland, on its part, started the Puntland Maritime Police Force, cracked down on pirates enclaves and strengthened administrative/legal machinery to provide jobs for the youth and to dissuade them from piracy. The southern region, where the internationally recognized and UN supported Transitional Federal Government is located, however, has remained relatively innocent of these developments and attracted the EU Naval Forces’ raid on pirates bases on 05 May 12. The stated objective was to disrupt the pirates model and upset their logistics. A large part of this region is under the control of Islamist Al Shabaab Youth Movement. The latter does not support piracy as a matter of policy but does not hesitate to extort money from the ill-gotten gains of the pirates. It has also, in its own right, attracted the US Drones and AU attention as a part of their anti-terror campaign. Kenya has also formally joined the African Union peacekeeping force to curb Al Shabaab’s power. The regional African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has requested the EU and the US Governments to join the offensive by air and sea with an aim to capture Kismayo by August 2012.

12. In the recent times, there has been a drop in the number of successful hijackings effected by the Somali pirates. The intensified naval operations, better coordination between the deployed forces, provision of armed guards on board the merchant ships, Best Management Practices evolved for the ships to foil hijacking attempts, more effective governance, intense international pressure etc. have all, put together, appear to have contributed towards this. However, prudence would dictate a very close watch to see whether the drop is temporary and to ensure that the future does not see a spurt.

13. On 05 March 2012, the UN Security Council affirmed that the period of political transition in Somalia must end in August and that there would be no further extension of the transition period. The Council underlined the need for further efforts to fight corruption and promote transparency in institutions of the country. It supported efforts to expand existing stabilization plans to new sectors and welcomed increased international support to that effort. Accordingly, the Independent Commission for the Constitution and Federal Affairs appointed by the Transitional Federal Government drew up a constitution which came into force in August 2012. In a nutshell, it proposes a federal state with a mandate to implement the Islamic Law. It has also prescribed a parliamentary and a presidential system without clearly defining the demarcation between the two. Political uncertainty is, therefore, still writ large in the area. The lurking danger is, if the new constitution does not bring the necessary constituent regions together and if disparities between them become unmanageable, Somalia could even break up. This would have grave repercussions not only for Somali people but also for their neighbors as well as for the region as a whole.

14. Since the central role of Islam in the constitution is not likely to change, some reflection is in order. Islam prohibits maritime piracy, because it involves blackmailing, threatening the lives of innocent people, and forming a serious obstacle in the way of international navigation. That is why Ibn Abidin calls pirates highway robbers. In fact, Islamic Shari`ah respects private ownership and does not encourage interfering in people’s private affairs. It also respects international agreements and prohibits aggression of all kinds whether on land or at sea. Muslim jurists have tackled the subject of maritime piracy in detail, and there are many examples set by Muslim leaders to combat piracy, whether practiced by individuals or countries. International Law agreements regarding prohibiting piracy are in accordance with the laws stipulated by the Islamic Shari`ah. With a new Constitution, Parliament and President all in place now; the nation has a historic opportunity to get out of the shadows of the 21st century scourge that it has come to be associated with. Enlightened leadership at the federal as well as the regional levels, political savvy and constitutional governance will need to shape the internal dynamics in such a way that Somalia survives as a state and de-hyphenates itself permanently from piracy.

(Based on an article which appeared in "Defence and Technology" magazine July-August 2012 edition).
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