Following two seasonal rain failures in 2008, millions of Somalis lost their livelihoods and faced famine and poverty. Somali pirates have traditionally defended Somali fish stocks from illegal fishing by foreign commercial vessels, following the collapse of the Somali state in 1991 (Climate Diplomacy, 2008). In the wake of the severe drought, many turned to piracy as a source of income. International cooperation to regulate the sea and prevent illegal fishing, in combination with aid to address food and water shortages and poverty in Somalia, has helped to reduce piracy (World Bank, 2013). Although pirate attacks have reduced, threats of piracy still exist today (Reva, 2018; UNSC, 2020).
Drought, degraded livelihoods and piracy
Somalia strongly depends on its agricultural sector, with some 55% of households based on pastoralism or agro-pastoralism. It was estimated that some 60,000 pastoralists were facing a livelihood crisis following two seasonal rain failures in 2008, while 2.6 million people were facing famine (FAO, 2008). By July 2008, the number of pirate attacks increased by more than 50% in comparison to 2007 rates (Middleton, 2008). These incidences of droughts and loss of livelihoods consequently drove many pastoralists to piracy as a means to earn an income. However, some studies argue that rising food insecurity (driven by high food and import prices) may actually reduce piracy due to the inability of poor Somalis to gather sufficient resources to conduct successful attacks (Shortland, 2010).
Illegal fishing and depleted fish stocks
The increase in the number of pirate attacks on foreign vessels fishing in or near Somali waters can be traced back to the breakdown of the Somali state and its legal bodies responsible for monitoring and controlling fisheries in 1991 (UNSC, 2011). At the same time, dwindling fish stocks caused by overfishing, warming waters and water pollution were beginning to be regulated by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Somalia failed to claim their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under the UNCLOS, leaving the Somali coast and the greater Western Indian Ocean a target of illegal fishing from countries where UNCLOS restrictions are implemented. In 2011, it was estimated that foreign illegal fishing accounted more than 50% of produce in the West Indian Ocean (Schbley & Rosenau, 2013).
As a result of anti-piracy measures taken by the international community and the Somali authorities, including judicial and military policies, the number of pirate attacks has decreased considerably since 2011, with just one reported incident of piracy in 2019 compared to four in the previous year (UNSC, 2020). This has, however, been mainly attributed to increased security on vessels and their ability to defend cargo with better weaponry. Substantial links between development programmes and reduced piracy cannot yet be made. Climate change may continue to undermine social and political order, leading to further development and weaponry sophistication of the piracy trade, providing greater problems in the future. In 2014, the UN ambassador to Somalia emphasised the importance of development to reduce fragile social conditions driving people to piracy (Carroll, 2014).
Security and military assistance
In 2010, the international community took steps to prevent piracy in the West Indian Ocean by creating military task forces to patrol the region, including an international response group drawn from twenty-five countries, and the EU Naval Force (Schbley & Rosenau, 2013). These international forces help to stop illegal fishing and to prevent pirate attacks on unarmed fishing vessels. In addition, the UN Security Council (UNSC) introduced resolutions which criminalised piracy, and has introduced punishment for states found to comply with or assist piracy (World Bank, 2013). Under the leadership of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), prosecution systems and infrastructures against piracy have been improved (World Bank, 2013).
While these measures have been effective in stemming the number of attacks in recent years, the criminal networks responsible for piracy persist. This is because many of these pirate groups have shifted their focus away from piracy towards other more profitable illegal activities, such as human trafficking and arms smuggling. Thus, while counter-piracy measures should continue putting pressure on pirate groups, these efforts need to simultaneously address the root causes of criminal networks (Reva, 2018).
Targeting the root causes of piracy
Somalia’s fishing industry is relatively under-resourced and under-exploited, and there is local resentment over the perceived outflow of the economic benefits of fisheries abroad, which has contributed to recent surges in piracy (Middleton et al., 2018). Under the leadership of the UNDP, international aid has invested in the development of Somali fisheries and coastal villages, providing local populations with skills and equipment to engage in employment in fisheries (Government of the United Kingdom, 2012; World Bank, 2013). In addition, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), with funding from the EU, has collaborated with federal and state ministries to create youth employment opportunities through artisanal fisheries in coastal areas (UNSC, 2020). However, tight regulation is necessary to ensure the sustainable long-term exploitation of Somalia’s fishery resources (Middleton et al., 2018).
At a national level, the end of the transitional government in 2012 and introduction of a constitution have helped to centralise authority. This has improved judicial institutions and continues to ensure pirates are held accountable to the law. In addition, the World Bank is increasingly engaged in providing support to the Somali government in areas such as public finance management and legal and regulatory frameworks for fisheries (Middleton et al., 2018). However, weak institutions and poor economic standards in Somalia continue to undermine livelihoods, opening the potential to drive people to piracy.
Resilience and Peace Building
Strengthening legislation and law enforcement
The international community took steps to prevent piracy in the West Indian Ocean by creating military task forces to patrol the region, and introducing resolutions criminalising and punishing acts of piracy.
Humanitarian & Development aid
International aid has invested in the development of Somalian fisheries and coastal villages.
Improving state capacity & legitimacy
Somalian presidential elections and the introduction of a constitution in 2012 helped to consolidate authority. However, the country still suffers from weak institutions.
Improving infrastructure & services
Somalia’s fishery resources remain under-resourced. Thus, investments into improving Somalia’s fisheries sector, including port infrastructure and renewable energy, could help extend the value of Somali catches and provide sustained revenues and employment for the locals.
Resources and Materials
- Carroll, L. (2014). End Somali poverty to end piracy: UN ambassador. The National. [Access date: 02.05.2022].
- Climate Diplomacy (2008). Violence as Adaptation Strategy: Somali Piracy. [Access date: 02.05.2022].
- FAO (2008). More than 2.6 million Somalis in crisis. FAO News. [Access date: 02.05.2022].
- Government of the United Kingdom (2012). Piracy Ransoms Task Force publishes recommendations. [Access date: 02.05.2022].
- Middleton, R. (2008). Piracy in Somalia: Threatening global trade, feeding local wars. AFP BP 08/02. London: Chatham House.
- Middletion, R. et al. (2018). Somalia. Climate-related security risk assessment. Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks.
- Reva, D. (2018). Ten years on, is Somali piracy still a threat? ISS Today. [Access date: 02.05.2022].
- Schbley, G. & Rosenau, W. (2013). Piracy, Illegal Fishing, and Maritime Insecurity in Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania. Alexandria, VA: CNA.
- Shortland, A. (2010). The Business of Piracy in Somalia. Weekly Report, ISSN 1860-3343. Berlin: DIW.
- UNSC (2011). Report of the Secretary-General on the protection of Somali natural resources and waters. S/2011/661.
- UNSC (2020). The situation with respect to piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia. Report of the Secretary-General. S/2020/1072.
- World Bank (2013). The Pirates of Somalia: Ending the Threat, Rebuilding a Nation. Washington, DC: World Bank.