The threat from Somali pirates is both evolving and dynamic, and continues to have a significant impact upon maritime and commercial operations throughout the northwest Indian Ocean. There have been many adaptations of the Somali piracy threat, but the most recent development is positive: The significant reduction in Somali pirate activity, which became visible in the early months of 2012, is the product of the wide ranging counter piracy developments that continue to shape maritime operations in the region. Whilst analysis of statistics should always be tempered with an understanding of the complexities surrounding the reporting and recording of piracy incidents, figures from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) offer a credible overview of piracy, from which conclusions can be drawn. The most recent report by the IMB revealed that in the first three quarters of 2012, there were 70 incidents of
piracy attributed to Somali pirates. This figure represents a significant reduction from the 199 that were recorded during the same period in 2011.
The following chart uses NATO figures and offers a more detailed view of the reduction in pirate activity. The overall pattern of piracy in 2012 has mirrored that of previous years, occurring along seasonal lines with the highest activity recorded in March before decreasing to a low in July at the start of the southwest monsoon. However, the significance of the chart is that the number of incidents recorded per month is considerably lower than the average number of incidents per month between 2009 and 2011. The reduction in pirate activity can be attributed to a number of factors, but mainly focuses on the extensive counter piracy measures and initiatives that are in place across the Indian Ocean.
One major reason for the reduction in pirate activity is the increased tactical awareness and successes of the three naval task forces that operate in the Indian Ocean. The three task forces have improved their ability to track suspected pirate groups, to prevent mother ships deploying to known shipping lanes, and importantly to disseminate information on pirate groups amongst the wider community. Part of the increased ability to track pirate groups can be linked to engagement between the piracy monitoring bodies and the shipping and security industry, which has created a larger network with clear reporting protocols; when detailed reports of pirate activity are efficiently reported, the information is more effective and a quick and proactive response can be adopted. The better tracking of pirate groups has also lead to an increase in the number of pirates captures, and the use of regional piracy prosecution
centres has reduced the number of pirates that are repatriated back to the coast of Somalia. These are all significant developments.
However, the most significant reason for the reduction in pirate activity may lie with the increased security awareness of vessel operators in the region. The shipping industry responded to the increased threat posed by Somali pirates by designing a set of guidelines for operating in areas of High Risk which were promulgated through the publication “Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and in the Arabian Sea Area” (referred to hereafter as BMP). The first edition of BMP was published in February 2009. Accurate figures for the implementation of the guidelines outlined in BMP are difficult to obtain, but reports from the region suggest that following a concerted effort by naval task forces to generate awareness, the uptake of BMP increased significantly throughout 2011. A significant number of vessel owners and operators are now implementing those measures outlined in BMP, and significantly, are employing armed guards to protect their vessels. The sight of a well-protected vessel, supplemented with an armed security detachment, may well prove to be a bigger deterrent to pirates than the possible arrival of a frigate. The utility of a robust and comprehensive security plan is demonstrated in the fact that dhows and other regional fishing vessels, which are unlikely to employ BMP or armed guards, are still being targeted and hijacked. The continuation of pirates to target dhows and fishing vessels highlights the fact that pirates have not retreated; there are merely fewer vulnerable merchant vessels for them to target.
The reduction in pirate activity is a positive development, but it is the product of tactical successes at sea, and one must be quick to appreciate their reversible nature; the Commanders of the naval forces in the region have taken every opportunity to reiterate the continued need for vessel operators to employ security measures. Many of the strategic challenges inside Somalia that allowed piracy to flourish remain in place, and the long-term reduction of Somali piracy can only be achieved by building upon the tactical successes that have been enjoyed over recent months. The vast majority of the costs of piracy borne by the shipping industry are spent on short-term counter piracy solutions. However, long-term projects should focus on engaging the coastal communities. The population of coastal settlements are often negatively impacted by piracy due to the fact that their communities are unable to conduct many of the traditional maritime activities, yet the populace see little of the economic benefits from the ransom money.
If the recent success is to be built upon, long-term initiatives must focus on developing alternative employment for the population; investment into these communities would provide an alternative source of income and would alter the risk/reward equation that encourages many would-be pirates to put to sea in the first place.