Chatham House Report on Piracy

Dear Readers, we have a new contributor to CHO, Shannon Torrens. Ms. Torrens has served as legal adviser for the Marshall Islands Permanent Mission to the UN  and negotiated the LOS and Fisheries resolutions for the country. She has also been involved with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. We’re very excited to benefit from her expertise and look forward to her contributions to the site.

Traditional notions of piracy as an essentially negative enterprise are being increasingly challenged. Whilst Somali piracy off the East coast of Africa has undoubtedly resulted in the loss of lives, the infiltration of violence and fear to coastal communities and ocean dwellers, in addition to the squandering of billions of dollars in ransoms and depleted tourism, it remains relevant that some sectors of the community do benefit from piracy. This raises questions as to what strategies can be put in place to alleviate the root causes of piracy so that the economic incentive is not longer as valuable.


An alternative argument to the belief that piracy ransom money is invested in foreign goods or channelled into neighbouring countries such as Kenya appears in a report released by development economist Dr. Anja Shortland from Brunel University on behalf of the London-based think-tank Chatham House. Perhaps controversially, the report notes that piracy has provided stability to Somalia and structure for the troubled country’s governance. As part of the research for “Treasure Mapped: using Satellite Imagery to Track the Developmental Effects of Somali Piracy“, the report aimed to investigate and analyse the on-land impacts of piracy and specifically where the proceeds from piracy are invested. In doing so, the report looked at both day and night aerial photos and high resolution satellite images of Somalia and at economic data, to establish where the beneficiaries were located.

Conventional economic data on Somalia is lacking, therefore, the report utilised data collected by internationally funded NGOs who monitor commodity prices, which when combined with the aerial shots, provided evidence that a significant percentage of pirate ransoms, are converted into local Somali Shillings, benefitting casual labourers and pastoralists in the Puntland region. Furthermore, the aerial images showed that inland communities such as Garowe and Bosasso in Puntland, from where pirates are said to generally originate, had increased in wealth in line with the rise of piracy activities. Those communities showed more lights on at night (i.e. electricity) and increased construction projects taking place, all of which occurred during the same period as the explosion of pirate ransoms.

Interestingly, coastal communities or “Pirate capitals” such as Eyl and Hobyo which actually host the pirates throughout their off-shore operations did not show similar evidence of having benefitted through additional investments into the community. While the report does not suggest piracy as a method for developing underprivileged regions, it does suggest that piracy clearly benefits some sectors of the Somali community and that if piracy were to stop, there would be sections of the underprivileged in Somalia who would be deeply impacted, which would in turn undermine local security and development. Furthermore, due to the alleged benefits piracy funding has had on the local economy in these inland communities and in provincial Somali capitals, the report suggests that political elites would be unlikely to act decisively against piracy.

The alleged ransom distribution in Puntland is part of what the report points to as a “deep- rooted culture of sharing” whereby wealthy Somalis combine their resources within their social-clan and in doing so aspire to increase their financial standing cooperatively. This is part of a cultural obligation to assist others in one’s community through traditional economic survival patterns, which in this instance involves considerable financial redistribution and investment in inland areas. This reality combined with large local groups who have a vested-interest in the continuation of piracy for development purposes is said by the report to render the off-shore momentum of piracy difficult to stop and is also why the report suggests an on-shore, rather than off shore solution to piracy.

The “Treasure Mapped” report has been subject to a degree of negative commentary from some quarters, for its allegedly weak data, gaps and errors of information that some commentators believe affect the implementation and accuracy of suggestions. Further criticisms have been based on allegations that the report unfairly targets the reputation of the people in Puntland specifically, Somalia more generally and the counter-piracy initiatives of the Somali Government. In doing so, they argue that the report links Puntland and the government to piracy activities, when these areas and institutions have actually taken extensive steps to combat piracy, rather than participating in or facilitating it.

As part of its conclusions, the report suggests finding alternative economic stimulus to the Somali economy, as without such alternative job prospects, Somalis will continue to search out extra legal means of employment, which includes piracy. While controversially for counter-piracy initiatives, the report suggests that a “military crack-down… would deprive one of the world’s poorest nations of an important source of income and aggravate poverty,” the report concludes that despite the fact that a large number of people benefit from the proceeds of piracy, this should not stop the international community from acting to find land-based solutions which would ideally focus on attempts to replace piracy as a source of income in these communities.

About Shannon Maree Torrens
Shannon Maree Torrens is an international criminal and human rights lawyer and PhD Candidate (international criminal law) at the University of Sydney Law School. She is admitted as a lawyer of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia. Her doctoral thesis is on international criminal law and justice, focusing on the international criminal courts and tribunals. She has a BA (Media and Communications, Government and English) and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) (Honours) also from the University of Sydney, with a specialisation in public international law, international criminal law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and legal theory. Shannon has had experience working in international criminal law at the international criminal tribunals and courts for Rwanda (ICTR), the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Sierra Leone (SCSL) and Cambodia (ECCC). In addition, she has worked as a legal advisor for the Marshall Islands Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York in the UN General Assembly Sixth Committee (Legal) and as an Editorial Advisor for the Cambodia Law and Policy Journal. She has also worked in the area of human rights at Redfern Legal Centre in Sydney, in addition to working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and at the Australian Embassies to Italy and the Holy See (the Vatican). Shannon has lectured, published and presented papers in the areas of international criminal law and human rights internationally.

4 Responses to Chatham House Report on Piracy

  1. Shannon Torrens says:

    Update: On 5 February 2012, H.E. Saeed Mohamed Rage, the Minister for Maritime Transport, Ports and Counter-Piracy in the Puntland State of Somalia, posted a “Rebuttal to ‘Somalia Piracy Research’ by Dr. Anja Shortland.” In doing do the Minister made a number of criticisms against the Chatham House report, particularly with regards to the report’s research methodology and alleged political motivations, which the Minister believes are sympathetic to pirate activities. Chatham house has not responded.

    While all comments and opinions from oposite sides in a discussion are valuable, in criticising the report’s methodology, the Minister’s rebuttal argues that, “the wrong data sources produce the wrong outcome.” It could be argued that there is no “wrong outcome” to academic research and that the choice of data sources produces different outcomes, not “wrong” ones. Identifying that the data in a study has “weaknesses” does not mean that the data is “flawed,” in the sense that it will produce a “wrong outcome.” All data contains strengths and weaknesses and a competent researcher identifies those impediments in making their conclusions. The Minister further argues that the author has never visited Puntland, however the research paper did not state that self-conducted field-world was part of the research methodology, but rather a study of sources.

  2. Wendell says:

    Great post. Wendell

  3. Coral says:

    Hi there, everything is going fine here and ofcourse every one
    is sharing information, that’s really fine, keep up writing. Coral

  4. It’s hard to find well-informed people on this subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking
    about! Thanks

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