International Anti-Piracy Efforts in Somalia Must Continue: UNSG

The latest UN Secretary General situation report on piracy in Somalia is now before the UN Security Council. The report provides an overview and an update on the most relevant anti-piracy initiatives in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

During 2013, piracy has continued to be a major issue on the agenda of the UN and EU, NATO, several regional and other interested states as well as a number of specialized agencies, such as the UNODC, DPA, IMO, INTERPOL and FAO among others. Specific and ad hoc mechanisms and organizations, such as the Kampala Process, the Contact Group, the Djibouti Code of Conduct, the Trust Fund, the Hostage Support Program and a number of international conferences have proven instrumental in the fight against piracy.

It has been widely reported how incidents of piracy in the region are now at a seven years low. It is also no mystery how these positive developments are due to a multitude of factors, including the effectiveness of the international maritime patrol missions, the best management practices and the use of private armed guards in deterring piracy attacks, as well as the implementation of the “prosecution chain”, by which suspected pirates are apprehended, tried in courts of regional states and eventually transferred in Somaliland and Puntland to serve any imposed sentence.

“A number of measures have led to a decline in attacks: improved international and regional cooperation on counter-piracy efforts, including better intelligence- and information-sharing; targeted actions by the international naval presence to discourage and disrupt Somali pirates; increased application of IMO guidance and of the Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia-based Piracy, developed by the shipping industry; and prosecution of suspected pirates and imprisonment of those convicted. The adoption of self-protection and situational awareness measures by commercial ships, including the deployment of privately contracted armed security personnel on board vessels and vessel protection detachments, are also believed to have contributed to the decrease in piracy attacks.”

The Security Council is expected to agree with the Secretary General’s recommendation that the international anti-piracy efforts underway in Somalia continue for at least another year. The obvious question is how long the international community will be willing and capable to continue financing its costly patrol missions, particularly given the waning threat (or risk of attacks). The question also arises on the cost-efficiency of private armed guards on board ships travelling in the region. The repression of piracy in the Gulf of Aden does not, however, solely depend upon these initiatives. The fight against piracy which started as an armed response, has progressively expanded into an integrated system that encompasses respect and promotion of human rights and the rule of law, governance, economic development, capacity building, treatment of juvenile pirates, alternative employment opportunities and legislative reform. In addition, environmental protection and exploitation of natural resources in the region are also being monitored. Even if the piracy drought continued in 2014, these initiatives are likely to be further stepped up and take center stage towards long-term solutions for Somalia’s future. Although we have been careful not to conflate terrorism with piracy, the impetus to continue these programmes also arises from the continued threat of terrorism originating in and/or targeting Somalia.

USAID Budget to Somalia Proposed to Double

As we noted here, some within the US Congress are pushing for the US Agency for International Development budget allocation to Somalia to be increased. A February visit to the region by USAID’s top official, highlights this new emphasis. Although, it is likely that USAID will experience some significant budget cuts in the coming year due to austerity measures and a general distaste for foreign assistance in difficult economic times in the U.S.,  the pain will not be felt equally by all USAID projects. Under President Obama’s proposed 2014 fiscal year budget, Iraq will experience the largest reduction in USAID funding down 91 percent to $22.5 million. The flip side of that coin are countries like Myanmar, with a 62 percent increase to $75 million.

Importantly, USAID’s Somalia projects will double in size to close to $50 million.  This is a significant sum of money to allocate to a country with limited structural and institutional capacity. As noted in a summary of the administration’s proposed foreign affairs budget:

Somalia ($49.4 million): The end of the political transition in 2012 and the formal recognition of the Government of Somalia in January 2013 represent the beginning of a new political phase. The FY 2014 request will assist Somalis in reestablishing viable governance institutions, which are essential to alleviating humanitarian suffering in the broader Horn of Africa. Increased resources will focus on stabilization and reconciliation efforts; nascent political party development; civil society efforts to promote peace, good governance, and consensus-building; and programs in education, livelihoods, and economic growth.

In addition to this sum, is the administration’s proposed contribution to the UN Peacekeeping operation in Somalia:

The FY 2014 request also includes $136.6 million for Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia (UNSOA). UNSOA will continue to provide a logistical support package for the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) for up to a maximum of 17,731 uniformed personnel including the reimbursement of contingent-owned equipment including force enablers and multipliers. The logistics package provides equipment and support services similar to that provided for a United Nations 48 peacekeeping operation. UNSOA is working very closely with the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) and AMISOM to help create the necessary political and security conditions in Somalia, working in concert with the international community and other UN bodies.

It is not entirely clear, but there may be an additional line of expenditures for contributions to AMISOM:

Somalia ($70 million): FY 2014 funds will be used to continue voluntary support to AMISOM, including training and advisory services, equipment, and transportation of forces from current and new troop-contributing countries. Given the newly recognized government of Somalia and the security gains and expansion made by AMISOM, increased support to the national Somali military forces is critically important. Accordingly, PKO funds will be used to professionalize and provide operational support to Somali security forces, to ensure their capability in contributing to national peace and security in support of the international peace process efforts, and as part of a multi-sector approach to post-conflict security sector reform. Funds to pay the United States’ portion of the UN assessment for support of the UN Support Office for the AMISOM (UNSOA) are being requested in the Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities account.

Evidently, the U.S. government sees promise in the recent governmental reforms in Somalia and hopes to support reform efforts with significant contributions. Peacekeeping funds are intended to foreclose any gains by the terrorist group al Shabaab. However, the USAID designated funds are to be focused more on job-creation and improving the economy. These are the efforts most important to preventing the spread of piracy at its roots, before young, unemployed Somalis can be tempted to seek their fortunes at sea. Although the proposed budget must be approved by Congress, and there will likely be significant modifications in the coming months, I would venture that the proposed expenditures in Somalia will remain largely intact.

UPDATE: Convictions in First Italy Piracy Trial

The 9 month-long piracy trial for the 2011 hijack of the Italian bulk carrier MV Montecristo, the first in Italian modern history, concluded last week in Rome with the conviction of all 9 Somali accused to prison terms of 16 and 19 years. We previously reported about this trial and Italy piracy laws here.

The accused were found guilty of attempted kidnapping for extortion and illegal possession of firearms. As the crime of kidnapping was only attempted, the maximum penalty range of 25 to 30 years of prison foreseen by the Italian criminal code was reduced by one third. During the trial, the accused unsuccessfully sought to be tried in the UK, in light of having been initially apprehended by UK forces, and challenged their transfer to Italian authorities. In accordance with Italian laws, the motivations for the verdict will be published within 3 months. All accused are likely to appeal the sentence, with some indicating to be ready to take the matter up to the European Court of Justice.

Interestingly, the prosecutors’ claim of the pirates connections with Al-Shabaab and the attack on the Montecristo being aimed at financing its terrorist activities and foster a campaign of obstruction of the free maritime transit in the Indian Ocean was rejected. Once again, this confirms the very tenuous links between the pirates’ business model and terrorism. In its latest report, the Monitoring Group on Somalia also found no evidence suggesting a structural or organizational link between Al-Shabaab and Somali pirate networks.

Another piracy trial will start on 4 December 2012, concerning the attempted hijack of the Italian oil tanker MV Valdarno on January 2012, off the Omani coast. The 11 Somalis charged with this attempted hijack opted for a plea bargain and are likely to receive a substantially reduced prison sentence.

Drones in Seychelles on Hold

Setbacks to US Drone Program in Seychelles

Setbacks to US Drone Program in Seychelles

Last year, it was reported that the United States was sending drones to the Seychelles for use against militants and pirates.  It appears the drone program in the Seychelles has suffered serious setbacks including crash landings attributed to pilot error.  As a result, drones have been grounded in the Seychelles since April 2012. Apparently, drones have not been gathering information about pirates for much of 2012 – at least not those drones originating from the Seychelles.  Check out the video from the Washington Post by clicking the photo.

Putting political convenience aside, pirates are rarely also terrorists

Jon Bellish is a Project Officer at the Oceans Beyond Piracy project just outside Denver, Colorado, though the views expressed are solely those of the author. You can follow him on Twitter.

A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled, Putting political convenience aside, pirates are simply not terrorists.  The piece argues that calls to treat all pirates as terrorists are totally unfounded, at least from a legal perspective. This is because, under international law, terrorism and piracy are accompanied by explicitly-defined, mutually exclusive motives.

Although I am standing by my substantive argument, the story of the MV Asphalt Venture is enough – as more astute readers may have noticed – to make me recalibrate my title a bit.

The Asphalt Venture is a Panamanian-flagged, Korean-owned vessel that was captured by pirates on September 28, 2010. On April 15, 2011, the pirates released eight of the Asphalt Venture’s fifteen crew members in exchange for a ransom payment, but the kept the remaining seven crew on board. Subsequently, the pirates issued a demand to the Indian government, particularly to the coastal state of Kerala, that the remaining hostages would not be released until India freed around 100 Somalis convicted of piracy and serving their sentences in India. Recently, the Asphalt Venture pirates have added a $5 million ransom to their list of demands of the Indian government. Old title notwithstanding, these pirates indeed became terrorists.

MV Asphalt Venture

As I explained in my earlier post, terrorism is characterized by a desire to either incite fear among the general public or to otherwise coerce a government. Conversely, piracy must be committed with the hopes of making money. Thus, where an individual takes hostages on the high seas in hopes of a ransom from a private entity, he is a pirate. Where he takes hostages on the high seas in hopes of shaping the behavior of a government, he is a terrorist.

Those who took the Asphalt Venture managed to be both. From September 28, 2010 to April 15, 2011, they were merely pirates, only interested in money moving from one private party to another. But the moment that the pirates engaged the Indian government, actively seeking to affect its behavior, those pirates also became terrorists.

Still, the case of the Asphalt Venture is best seen as an exception that proves the rule. Governments are famous for their refusal to pay ransoms, and pirates generally look to shipping companies and their insurers as the primary source of funds. Even with the Asphalt Venture itself, the pirates turned to the insurance company first, received their ransom, and only then did they make non-pecuniary demands of the Indian government.

I ended my last terrorism-related piece by noting that if “pirates tak[e] a less profitable course in favor of a strategy with large political payoff,” the terrorist-pirate distinction would come into play. This is exactly what has happened in the case of the MV Asphalt Venture. In abandoning their private ends in favor of increased political pressure, those who took the Asphalt Venture did not shed the moniker “pirate,” but they certainly gained the additional, arguably even less appealing label, of “terrorist.”

In the end, however, we should continue to be mindful that nothing short of actively pressuring a government to either take or refrain from a certain action can result in an accurate branding with the scarlet “T.” Looking at a single discrete incident to determine an individual’s motives and classify him as a pirate, terrorist, or both is one thing; seeking to apply the blanket term, “terrorist” to all pirates for political convenience is quite another.