Weekly Piracy Review: Costs & Sentencing

As reported here, in October pirates off the coast of Somalia fired at a small boat deployed from the HNLMS Rotterdam as part of its routine patrolling operations. After the ensuing fire-fight and rescue operation, the fishing boat’s captain revealed that he and his crew, along with their ship, had been hijacked off the coast of Oman several weeks earlier. The captain identified six of the people rescued from the water after the fishing boat caught fire as the pirates who took them hostage. Four of those men are now set to be prosecuted for their acts of piracy in Dutch court, as the marines they fired at from the Rotterdam were from the Netherlands. The two remaining suspected pirates were released, as they are minors. Two pirates and six of the original crew-members from the hijacked boat were wounded in this altercation, and one crew-member was killed. Two of the crew from the fishing boat are reportedly missing at this time.

Fifteen pirates were sentenced in the Republic of Seychelles on November 5 after being convicted for acts of piracy in attacking a merchant ship and abducting thirteen Iranian fishermen. The US praised Seychelles for their leadership in prosecuting those suspected of piracy, and reported that there have now been 631 convictions against pirates worldwide, with 98 of those coming from Seychelles. Additionally, 440 suspected pirates are currently facing justice in 21 countries.

After being held by Somali pirates since they were captured last November, two Seychelles fishermen were released early this week. The office of the President in Seychelles confirmed that after extensive effort and negotiations the two hostages had been released. A Somali pirate allegedly reported that a $3 million ransom was paid for their release, but this has not been confirmed. Since February 2009, pirates have hijacked five Seychelles boats, and eleven hostages have been kidnapped and subsequently released.

The Australian Navy sent its newly constructed warship on a 12,000 mile detour around Africa in order to avoid the possibility of being attacked by pirates while travelling through the dangerous waters in the Gulf of Aden. Though it likely would have taken about two weeks and $2 million less for the ship to make its journey from Spain to Australia through the Suez canal, the danger of encountering pirates on that route outweighed concerns regarding the time and expense of moving the ship to Australia. Other options were considered to thwart the possibility of pirate attacks, including sending a Navy frigate alongside the other ship and placing armed mercenaries onboard, but it was decided that the most effective method would simply be to take a safer route. That these measures were considered necessary is a clear indication that the cost of piracy is quite high.

Thursday marked the opening of a two-day Maritime and Coastal Security Africa conference in Cape Town, South Africa. A primary goal of this conference is to discuss better approaches to enhancing cooperation among different nations in the counter-piracy efforts being carried out. This concern arises due to the fact that nearly all African countries are major exporters of oil, and as such there are a large number of merchant vessels carrying valuable cargo all around Africa. These ships are attractive targets for pirates seeking to commandeer the cargo or hijack these ships and their crew for ransom, so the need to police these waters is ever-present.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of October 27, there have been 252 attacks and 26 hijackings so far in 2012. There have been 71 incidents, 31 successful hijackings, and 212 hostages taken by Somali pirates. Currently, Somali pirates are reportedly holding nine vessels and 154 hostages.

In Brief: UNDP Human Development Report for Somalia – Youth Empowerment Is Key

Aerial view of a typical homestead on the outskirts of the southern Somali port city of Kismayo – Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

The United Nation Development Programme released its Somalia Human Development Report 2012. The Report, the first since 2001, discusses the factors behind Somalia’s conflict and state collapse in the past 20 years, and focuses on the enormous potential that lies in empowering Somali youth to become an engine of peace-building and development.

Key data

  • Somali development and humanitarian indicators are among the lowest in the world;

  • Over 70 percent of Somalia’s population is under the age of thirty;

  • The youth population in Somalia may continue to swell due to high fertility rates, estimated at 6.2 births per women between 2010 and 2015;

  • Overall unemployment among people aged 15 to 64 is estimated at 54 percent in Somalia, up from 47 percent in 2002;

  • The unemployment rate for youth aged 14 to 29 is 67 percent—one of the highest rates in the world; women lose out more, with unemployment rates at 74%, compared to men at 61%;

  • Life expectancy in Somalia is 50 years, up from 47 in 2001;

  • Over 60% of youth have intentions to leave the country for better livelihood opportunities;

  • Somalia ranks as one of the worst countries worldwide for women. Gender-based violence and discrimination against Somali women is widespread.

In particular, the Report estimates that, since 1991, the international community, including the Somali diaspora, has collectively spent just over $55 billion in responding to Somalia’s conflict, of which Piracy accounts for about 40%, followed by humanitarian and development aid; remittances; peacekeeping and military responses, counter-terror initiatives; and costs associated with international crime and illicit financial flows.

In Brief: the Journal of International Criminal Justice – Symposium on Somali Piracy

The Journal of International Criminal Justice (JICJ) stepped out of its international criminal law-grounded comfort zone dedicating part of its latest issue to a symposium on the rise of piracy off the coast of Somalia from a variety of legal and non-legal perspectives. The symposium includes important contributions, ranging from an overview of counter-piracy initiatives undertaken by the international stakeholders, the local context of the historical and social background to piracy in Somalia, the role of domestic courts worldwide in prosecuting pirates, the key legal issues and challenges to the use of private military companies as well as anti-money laundering practices that could be used to counter Somali piracy. In particular, in his contribution Douglas Guilfoyle describes the international law governing the seizure and prosecution of suspected pirates, critically evaluating past proposals for international or internationalized piracy courts.

An abandoned hijacked Taiwanese fishing vessel in Hobyo, Somalia – Courtesy AP

The symposium is currently available only upon subscription.  In consideration of its fascinating subject matter, we hope that at least some parts of the symposium will soon be made available free of charge through JICJ’s “Editor’s Choice” section.

In Brief: Second International Counter-Piracy Conference Concludes in Dubai

The second International Counter-Piracy Conference concluded yesterday in Dubai, UAE. The Conference, which brought together public and private stakeholders in the fight against piracy, welcomed the significant progress made in combating maritime piracy on land and in the waters off the coast of Somalia and reiterated the need for a comprehensive approach to eradicate piracy and its root causes. The Conference Declaration, adopted by foreign ministers and senior government officials, as well as representatives from UN agencies and top executives from leading maritime companies and organisations, backed the UAE proposal to make the UN Trust Fund to Support Initiatives of States to Counter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia a centralized focal point for funds donated towards the development of Somalia’s maritime security capacity. During the Conference, the UAE pledged US$1million to the Trust Fund. The donation was then matched by a pledge made by Ocean Beyond Piracy.

The Conference also expressed support toward the establishment of a permanent, legitimate, and fully representative government for Somalia and welcomed initiatives to foster long-term economic development in Somalia’s on-shore communities, as well as the increasing financial contributions made by the global maritime industry towards counter piracy initiatives. Industry leaders attending the conference also issued a statement underlining concerns about the impact of hostage taking and violence on seafarers and their families and calling for clear and consistent standards of conduct for privately contracted armed security guards on board of vessels.

Somalia’s Transitional Government President Sheikh Sharif and Somaliland’s President Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo

One of the most significant development of the Conference, however, has been the holding of unprecendented formal discussions between the leaders of Somalia and the self-proclaimed breakaway region of Somaliland, further to initial talks held last week in London. Somaliland initially agreed to enter into talks with Somalia during the London Conference earlier this year. While the parties are still far apart, particularly with regard to Somaliland’s independence status, they jointly inked the Dubai Declaration, which aims to pave the way for future talks and cooperation between them, including the common fight against piracy and terrorism.

The International Day of the Seafarer

Today, 25 June 2012 marks the second international Day of the Seafarer. This year, the IMO is asking people around the world to use the power of social networks to highlight the importance of the work of seafarersm and raise awareness of seafarers and their unique role. Everyone, regardless of where they live, can join the campaign online, in particular by commenting the Day of the Seafarer Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SeafarerDay.

“Seafarers leave their homes and families, often for long periods to ensure that essential items and commodities on which our lives depend arrive safely at our homes.” (IMO)

Seafarer often finds themselves under demanding and sometimes dangerous circumstances, particularly in pirate-prone areas. The following are some of the most significant findings from the recently released 2011 Oceans Beyond Pirates Report on the human cost of piracy in the Indian Ocean:

  • 3,863 seafarers were fired upon by Somali pirates with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades;
  • 968 seafarers came into close contact with pirates, who managed to board their vessels;
  • 413 seafarers were rescued from citadels;
  • 1,206 hostages were held captive by Somali pirates;
  • 555 seafarers were taken hostage in 2011; 645 hostages were captured in 2010 and remained captive during 2011; 6 tourists and aid workers were kidnapped on land;
  • 35 hostages died as a result of pirate captivity in 2011;
  • Average length of captivity was 8 months.

These findings are particulary concerning and demand continuing attention and engagement from all stakeholders in the maritime field. Several initiatives have been launched to support the plight of kidnapped seafarers and their families. Among those, is Save Our Seafarers which runs an on-going worldwide awareness campaign to raise the profile of Somali piracy in political and media circles, in order to see Somali piracy deterred, defeated and eradicated, and to stop seafarers being tortured and murdered.