Somalia piracy review in 2015

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Few years ago, the maritime industry was reeling under the effects of piracy on the Somali coast and the Gulf of Guinea, but now a remarkable drop of piracy incidences in 2015 is something to write home about.

It was a rare fete to see that the designated high risk areas reported no attack on large merchant vessels or even a disruption of such by the naval forces coalition that monitor the regions.

Nevertheless reports of suspicious vessels in the Indian Ocean persisted; much so because some private maritime security companies (PMSCs) and understandably nervous ships’ masters continue to misreport regional fishermen and smugglers as potential pirates, alongside advisories issued by official reporting authorities.

Cases are rampant of fishermen with valid navigation aids, IMO numbers and international call signs being reported as pirate mother ships.  There have also been reports of Somali pirates at extended ranges beyond the boundaries of the high risk area (HRA), none of which have resulted in an attack.

While the large merchant vessels had incident free year, smaller crafts were not as lucky.  Notable incidents targeting such crafts included the hijacking of three Iranian fishing dhows in alleged fishing disputes.

The fishing vessel MV Muhammidi was hijacked by pirates in position 0616North 053.30East.  With her 15 crew members, it was taken by gun men some 305 nautical miles while heading to Somali waters in November last year.

Earlier in August of 2015, still, two Iranian dhows MV Jaber and MV Siraj were taken captive along with a total of 46 strong crew members.  However, the vessels managed to escape from Somalia after four months of captivity.

Many in the maritime industry would hope to see total eradication of the piracy.  But judging by these incidences that target smaller crafts it means still more efforts are needed.  For instance it is hard to completely rule out the return of a long-range, open ocean piracy, as the pirates can easily use the Iranian dhow they still have in detention as a mother ship.

 The world should also not forget that 3 Kenyan nationals and 47 seafarers remain hostage in Somalia and that any complacency on the part of a ship owner or captain could easily lead to a merchant vessel ending up in a Somali anchorage, re-energizing criminal cash flows.

Currently they are few pirate action groups (PAGs) taking to sea, but Somalia pirate business model and gangs are still active.

And contrary to the highly publicized claims of the removal of pirate land bases, piracy networks continue to operate with little interference from the government, in the zones outside the jurisdiction of AMISOM (AU forces in Somalia).

Pirate anchorages are distributed along the central Somalia and Puntland’s north east and northern shoreline and often operate with the complicity of local administrations, political figures, clan elders, militias and local communities.

Piracy networks continue to operate on land by engaging in alternative criminal enterprises. The gangs have evolved the piracy model to protection schemes for international fisheries conducting illegal fishing in Somalia waters.  Serving as ‘security guards’ they provide armed protection onboard vessels engaged in smuggling and illegal regional trade.

Ironically, Somalia piracy appears to have come full circle, with some pirate gangs now becoming the enablers of illegal fishing off the Somalia coast as opposed to the original justification for piracy that was based on the need to defend Somalia’s waters against illegal international fishing boats.

The pirates have clearly adapted to a new modus operandi in response to new security challenges and business opportunities.