MOGADISHU, Somalia — For the past five years, the number of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia served as a strong indication of the country’s economic status and the stability of its government.
Somali piracy has been a routine problem for shipping vessels rounding the Horn of Africa, leading to many hijackings and even deaths. But recently, the trend appears to be on the decline, giving hope to crewmen and signifying a potential shift in piracy worldwide.
Piracy in Somalia peaked in 2011. During this time, pirates — often brainwashed youth or retired fisherman looking for money in a broken economy — held hostage over 758 crew members from an estimated 30 ships. In that year, 237 attacks were attempted in the Gulf of Aden and along the Somali coast, up from 70 in 2010. During the six most active years of piracy (2005 – 2012,) 3,740 crew members of ships passing the coast of Somalia came in contact with pirates, 97 of whom died.
Additionally, as the number of attacks increased, so did ransom rates. The average ransom in 2005 was $150,000, but this had increased sharply by 2010, when the average ransom reached $5.4 million. To this day, the highest ransom was $9.5 million, charged for a Greek ship and the 26 members of its crew in 2013.
However, recent trends suggest that the number of attacks is decreasing, as 2012 saw just 75 attacks along the Somali coast and Gulf of Aden, and only 71 sailors were held captive, as compared to 758 in 2011. 2013 boasted even fewer encounters between passing vessels and pirates. Only 15 attacks were conducted, eight ships fired upon and two hijackings committed — and these vessels were immediately released.
This decline in Somali piracy over the past two years has had a significant impact on worldwide piracy statistics. In 2013, there were 264 pirate attacks worldwide, which is a 40 percent decrease since Somali piracy peaked in 2011. Now in 2014, piracy around the globe is at an all-time low. Some regions, such as Nigeria and the Malacca Strait — the fastest route from the Middle East to Asian markets — are still seeing high or increasing rates, but the overall trend is an encouraging one.
There are additional strong indications that piracy in Somalia is declining. First, 2012 saw significantly fewer pirate-vessel encounters. Only five vessels were captured in the first half of 2012, as compared to 25 in 2011. Additionally, May 10 of 2013 marked a year since a Somali pirates last successfully hijacked and took over a ship in home waters. The trend has so far continued into 2014.
But perhaps the most recent and significant indication was the release of 11 crew members of a container vessel called MV Albedo that was hijacked on November 26, 2010, along with its 23-man crew. The ship was Malaysian-owned and its sailors came mostly from South Asia, Pakistan and Iran. Since the capture, five crew members died and seven were released two years ago when their home countries paid the ransom.
Now, nearly three and a half years later in June 2014, the final 11 crewmembers have been released and returned to their home countries. Their release indicates a change in the trend of Somali pirates holding captives and could symbolize a decrease in the general practice. The U.N. reports that 40 men are still being held by pirates, but this number is down significantly from past years.
The recent decline in Somali piracy could stem from a few causes. First, more deterrent methods have been put in place in recent years. Multiple countries’ navies now patrol the waters, tracking and aiding hijacked vessels. These naval forces also use preemptive action to keep pirates anchored and unable to reach open seas.
In addition, vessels are changing their onboard methods for handling pirates. These range from around-the-clock watch in dangerous waters, high-powered hoses to keep pirates from being able to board and secure holding places where crew can await assistance. Finally, nearly 60 percent of vessels are traveling the area with armed private security guards to deter pirates.
All of this serves to make hijacking ships more dangerous than attractive, thus decreasing the number of attacks.
While Somali piracy seems to be on the decline, the problem could still flare back up. The incentives for piracy come from on-land instability and economic stagnation, which push youth to creative and dangerous methods of survival. The World Bank has pointed out that in order to completely eliminate Somali piracy, the international community must focus on mainland problems rather than offshore symptoms. These on-land solutions could include removing access to anchorage points, raising the price of coastal access or implementing incentives and monitoring programs to encourage ceasing pirate activities.
Even though Somali piracy appears to be lessening in severity and incidence, the international community still has a responsibility to tackle its onshore causes to completely ensure piracy’s elimination.
Sources: The Economist, ICC, BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, New York Times, The World Bank, bdnews24.com,
Feature Image: Wired