Pirate Attacks Hit “Low Season” in Somalia – Why and What’s Next?

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia continued to fall sharply in the first half of 2012.  July 2012 was particularly significant, with no reported attempted attack. Remarkably, it was the first full month with no noteworthy pirate activity off the coast of Somalia and the larger Indian Ocean since at least half a decade. The last reported attack dates back to 26 June 2012, when a Maltese-flagged bulk ship was fired upon near the Yemeni coast. As of 29 July 2012, Somali pirates are still holding at least 11 vessels and 174 crew members.

A piracy situational map we’ve rarely seen – Courtesy Oceanus Live

The suprising drop in Somali pirate activity is spurring a debate on the reasons behind it and the impact of the international efforts to counter pirate attacks. Among the main factors are the pre-emptive and disruptive counter piracy tactics employed by the international navies, with military operations now extending both at sea and on land, the effective implementation of the Best Management Practices by the shipping industry, including the use of citadels and other ship hardening means, the strengthening of a regional judicial system of law enforcement and prosecution, also targeting piracy financiers and kingpins, and in particular, the manyfold increase in the use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel and government-provided Vessel Protection Detachments by ships travelling through the area. It is likely that all these factors together and concurrently have contributed to the falling numbers, tipping the risk aspect to rise above the possible profit expectations for wannabe pirates. Bad monsoon weather is also an additional factor often overlooked, with July and August being traditionally difficult months to set off to sea in the region for both pirate mother ships and small skiffs.

What’s Behind the Horizon?

The current status quo requires the operational strategy to continue and focus also on wider land-based solutions encompassing both security and economic development. Some commentators have warned that pirates and their financiers are simply sitting idle awaiting for better days to come.  Notably, August 2012 will mark the end of the Somalia TGF. While there are high hopes for a better future for Somalia, it is difficult to assess how this will reshape the Country’s current political landscape. There are also fears that the successes of current anti-piracy measures will detract the necessary attention below warning levels with a consequential lull in the international and national effors to combat piracy. If so, the momentum could shift back in the pirates’ favor.

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