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Piracy in Somalia Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 17th, 2021

The waters of Gulf of Eden along the Somali coast are among the most heavily trafficked in the globe. Approximately 20,000 vessels pass through these waters every year (Kraska and Brian 25). In the early 2003, new incidences of attack on fishing vessels started taking place along the Somali coast.

The frequency of these attacks increased exponentially and companies started to become more worried as the attacks also targeted commercial vessels. The last three years has recorded the highest activities of the pirates in the Gulf of Eden, with over 100 attacks on commercial vessels (Middleton 2).

In response to these attacks, the United Nation’s Security Council passed resolutions 1816 and 1838 in 2008, to facilitate the international community to aggressively take part in the management of security in the Horn of Africa and of Somali coast. The U.N resolution particularly targeted the Somali pirates.

The NATO forces were given more mandates to help commercial vessels passing through the Somali coast against piracy. Prior to the resolution, France had volunteered to protect World Food Program’s ships passing through Somalia. This initiative was known as Operation Alycon and was replaced by EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation Atlanta 2008 (Kraska and Brian 25).

In 2008, the international media was dominated with news on the cases of kidnappings, killings and terrorist attacks in the Horn of Africa. The news agenda of these media houses changed all over sudden when the pirates operating from tiny ports and harbors along the Somali coast carried out a successful attack against commercial vessels from Europe, the first vessel originating from Ukraine which had carried heavy armory heading to Southern Sudan.

Towards the end of the same year, the pirates landed another successful attack on a Saudi-Owned oil tanker. By the end of 2008, pirate gang operating from Eyl, Haradheere and other harbors along the isolated coast of Puntland, were reported to be holding over 41 vessels at ransom, with over 200 crew members also captured. The main aim of this paper is to investigate the role of UAE in Somali. The paper will also explore the historical context of piracy, the UN position on piracy and the position of on piracy in Somali (Middleton 2).

Brief History on Somali Piracy

The Somali coast for many years has been a maritime community. The main activities in this coast are: fishing, international maritime trade, and sea-faring tradition of dhow sailing among others (Kraska and Brian 25). Somali piracy is intimately linked to the early stages of civil war in Somalia and international interventions.

Prior to the collapse of Barre’s government in 1991, there were a number of attacks on the international vessels. However, with the collapse of the Somalia government, there were struggles for ports and harbor facilities and other economic resources by the Somali elites (Gosse 7).

Towards the late 1989, a Somali rebel faction, known as Somali National Movement, captured an oil tanker and a couple of other ships as a warning to the international shipping companies from dealing with the present regime.

They offloaded everything that was in these vessels before releasing them in the early 90s. Since then, the interference with the international shipping along the Somali coast has been rising slowly and the main reason for this is the significance attached to the maritime resources (Kraska and Brian 26).

Historical context of piracy can clearly be explained in relation to the fishing industry. After a successful spell in the early 1960s, the ships and infrastructure in Somali particularly in Mogadishu were slowly worn out and became obsolete in 1977.

In 1983 the then Somali government signed a contract with an Italian company (Somali High Seas Fishing Company, also known as SHIFCO), which boosted the fishing by providing a fleet of trawlers and a freezer mother ship to help in exporting fish to Italy and other European countries.

When the Somali government collapsed in the early 90s, the Italian company shifted its base to Yemen, from where it was still run by the close associates of the ousted president. In an attempt to gain monopoly of the fishing industry of the Gulf coast, the company was alleged to have bribed a number of the top political class to gain their support (Gosse 8).

Initially, this arrangement worked in the favor of the company, but after the fall of Barre’s government, the company started experiencing numerous challenges resulting from the fighting of former members of governments who were competing to control economic resources. The competing political elites started to support other fishing companies.

Simultaneously, other international fishing companies operating within the Somali waters also began to undermine SHIFCO’s monopoly. The UN Marchal reports tried to look at this problem in 1993 but chose not to interfere with SHIFCO’s contract. The rivaling political classes continued to compete against each other and were now fighting for tax revenue from the industry. They began to interfere with the trawlers operating off-shore (Gosse 9).

To effectively achieve their objective of taxing off-shore trawlers, the local sailors began to use speed boats and technological gadgets. The foundation of the state of Puntland was also based on taxing offshore fisheries. The government of Abdullaahi Yuusuf employed a private security company, Hart, to manage its ports and costal taxes.

The apparent liberalization and security measures embraced by the Puntland government played into the local politics between the competing factions in their quest to gain tribute. The security company hired by the Yuusuf’s government to administer its ports and custom revenues failed to gain control of the Puntland port.

Nevertheless, the company had employed and trained many locals on the use of maritime technologies such as GPS, maritime tracking and security systems, and the techniques of capturing, boarding and securing a suspected vessel in hostile waters. Many researchers believe that the training this company gave to the locals has contributed significantly to the attack of vessels in the Somali waters (Kraska and Brian 27).

With the combination of advanced technologies and expertise in the tracking and communication gadgets, heavy artilleries for piercing hull of vessels, outstanding local knowledge of the coastal waters, have enabled the professional pirate gangs to even run down the international shipping vessels several miles off-shore.

The escalation of piracy in Somalia initially started as an informal alliance between fishermen and the local militias. The fishermen responsibility was marine navigation while the militias were v involved in hijacking marine vessels and taking care of the gang onshore. Ransoms are divided with respect to the rules of fishery industry where the first consideration is given to the owners and the fishermen, then off-shore operators and onshore recruits selling the catches, and so on (Kraska and Brian 28).

The effects of piracy on the region and the globe

The increase of pirates attacks in the coast of Somalia is directly associated with the persistent insecurity and the nonexistence of the rule of law in war-ravaged nation of Somalia. Lack of fully functioning government in Somalia has given pirates freedom of action and therefore, piracy remains the biggest security challenge in the Horn of Africa.

The absence of the rule of law and the security agencies in some parts of Somali coast has given pirates a haven where they can hold hostages for several months as they negotiate for the ransom. Some of these pirates allege that lack of coastal security has encouraged illegal international fishing and maritime dumping, which on the other hand has the economic prospect of the coastal communities. This has provided both economic and political impetus for pirates in Somalia.

However, the main motive of piracy is profit as it has proven to be a very lucrative venture. The piracy economy in Somalia has risen tremendously over the last three years, with the ransoms currently averaging in excess of five million dollars. The local and international communities worry that the piracy revenue may further aggravate the continuing conflict and undermine security in the Horn of Africa (Ploch 2).

Piracy in the Horn of Africa has had a considerable impact on the shipping industry. There numerous costs attached to piracy and these included payment of ransoms, damage to the vessels, cargo delays, rising cost of maritime insurance, and cost of reinforcing security measures in the maritime vessels.

The consumers are the ultimate bearers of these costs. The overall piracy cost in the real sense is just a small fraction of the total value of the global maritime trade. Maritime Insurance underwriters designated the Gulf of Eden as war risk zone and subjected it to special premiums.

Generally, war risk insurance premiums charged by global insurance companies are very high. Depending on the size of the vessel, war risk premiums charged on the vessels passing through the Gulf of Eden rose from $500 per ship, per voyage to over $150000. The costs associated with piracy have resulted in increased cost of doing business among nations that depend on these waters, and has even encouraged more piracy (Ploch 3).

Piracy is also threatening the delivery of Humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa, most of which arrives through sea. According to USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), over 30 million people in Horn of Africa were affected by famine in 2011 but the delivery of humanitarian assistance was hampered by security situation in the Somali waters.

Food insecurity, as a result of drought and security problem, also increased due to fuel shortage in the region since most of the oil tankers had been captured by the pirates (Central Intelligence Agency 3).

There are great concerns that piracy has been used to finance regional conflicts and terrorism. Observers have expressed their worries that a fraction of revenue acquired through piracy has been used to purchase weapons that are used by pirates and area militia groups.

A Canadian intelligence report released in the late 2009 stated that Islamist militant group in Somalia known as Al Shabaab provided weapons, training and protection to the pirates in exchange for money, weapons or materials. Al Shabaab is an Al Qaida linked group and have committed numerous terrorist acts both within and without Somalia (Kraska and Brian 25).

UN position on piracy

There have been a lot of complaints from many leaders especially in African and some Arab states in relation to how the international community has neglected the war torn Somali. Most of these complaints are normally directed to powerful organization like UN and EU who have put a lot of focus in the Middle East neglecting other regions that experience similar situations.

Nonetheless, UN in collaboration with AMISON (African Union Mission in Somali) and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) have been working very closely in an attempt to restore stability in Somalia (United Nations 2).

United Nations Security Council have tried to address numerous challenges related to piracy in the Horn of Africa by passing a number of resolutions (1816, 1838, 1846, and 1851) in 2008.

These resolutions were aimed at preventing pirates from using the territorial waters off the Somali coast to avoid being captured, mobilized nations to send naval forces in the area, reinforced legal authorities to indict piracy suspects and enhanced collaboration and cooperation, especially with relation to the disposition of the captured suspects.

As a result of the direction offered by the United Nations Security Council resolution, the international contact group met in the early 2009 to address the collaborative efforts in tackling piracy in the Gulf of Eden. Those who attended this meeting included representatives from East African countries and Arab nations bordering the Gulf of Eden among others (Randall 5).

The meeting attended by the international contact group deliberated on how to improve operational and intelligence support to counter piracy, how to establish counter piracy operations, strengthening of the judicial structure for the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of piracy suspects, intensifying awareness among commercial shipping and other capabilities and following enhanced diplomatic and public information endeavors and upsetting the financial operations of the pirates. The group builds upon a UN report of 2008 related to piracy (United Nations 4).

United Nations has also adopted a code of conduct at International Maritime Organization that covers joint operations, commitment to share points of contact for propagating of piracy subjugation information and the establishment of a regional training centre which is based in Mombasa, a sub-regional coordination centre based in Dares salaam and information centre in Sana’a.

United Nations provides guidance and authority for the member states. The last two UN resolutions (1846 and 1851) offer significant legal authority for prosecuting and engaging pirates. United Nation do not direct military force nor oblige member states to indict piracy suspects. On the contrary, UN Security Council provides legal authority and call on member states to support investigative and legal action (United Nations 5).

The United Nations Convention on the law of the sea, which codifies conventional international laws, fundamentally sets out the international regime applicable to piracy. Article 100 of the convention fundamentally calls for all members to fully cooperate in the repression of piracy.

Article 101 of the convention defines what piracy is. The definition includes each and every unlawful acts of violence, confinement or destruction committed by crew or passengers of one ship to another ship or individuals in that ship. Such acts must be committed on the high seas, beyond the territory of any country. The definition also encompassed those who incite or help piracy suspects to commit these crimes (Randall 3).

There are a number of UN agencies that helps member states in prosecuting and imprisoning piracy suspects off the Somali coast and they include United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) and International Maritime Organization (IMO). UNODC runs aid programs in Kenya, Seychelles, Puntland and Somali land.

Kenya and Seychelles also benefit from aid given by the European Union and other states that passes through this agency. Aid given by the European Union and other states is basically delivered under UNODC Counter-Piracy program, though a number of them also offer significant help on bilateral basis.

IMO gives help to the regional maritime authorities to widen measures to minimize the chances of piracy attacks, and supports UNODC in assisting the countries within the region in reviewing and improving the counter-piracy laws. On the other hand, UNDP work in Somali courts and ensures that there is a fair and efficient trial in these courts (United NATIONS 8).

UAE’s position and role in fighting piracy in Somalia

United Arab Emirates, as a world transit hub, has been a major target of piracy in the Gulf region. In 2011 alone, pirates held captive about nine commercial vessels owned by the United Arab Emirates companies and those originating from its ports. Vessels originating from this country are most vulnerable because they carry crude oil.

The escalating fuel prices have forced large tankers to reduce their streaming speed, making them more vulnerable to pirate attacks. Pirates regard them as high value targets since they pay higher ransom than any other commercial vessels.

While other international shipping companies have the option of avoiding the Gulf of Eden route, owing to their location, UAE has no any other choice. In a nutshell, crude oil tankers from UAE transiting through the Arabian Sea will go on to provide a steady stream of pirate target (Al Bu-Ainnain 1).

Even though the international communities have been on the fore front in debating the piracy issue, the Gulf Coast Countries including UAE have the most to lose if the piracy problem is not addressed. In April 2001, the United Arab Emirates convened a high profile anti-piracy conference aimed at finding the long-term solution to the piracy problem in the Gulf Coast.

In the following year, the country hosted the Indian Ocean Naval symposium, a group comprising of 33 states in the Indian Ocean region, with Bahrain leading the Combined Task Force, under the supervision of the U.S. UAE has been very vocal in calling up the Gulf Coast Countries (GCC) to increase efforts in countering piracy in the Somali coast. In 2010, the UAE naval commander, Ibrahim al-Musharakah, called for the security of Gulf coast to be under lasting leadership of the GCC navies (Al Bu-Ainnain 2).

There is a potential for improved GCC leadership, but this goal still remains in the papers. Currently, GCC navies with the exception of Saudi Arabia lack the capacity to ensure security beyond their territorial waters. However, the GCC states in the recent past have been improving their naval capacity.

In the past two years, UAE has acquired 6 Corvettes from France, 24 amphibious assault ships, 70 transport and assault helicopters. The main aim of these acquisitions is to defend their own territorial waters and Gulf of Eden. UAE in collaboration with the U.S Navy have also conducted numerous rescue missions in the Somali Coast. The most recent one is the Abu Dhabi-owned vessel (MV arrilah-I) that was captured in the Somali waters (Al Bu-Ainnain 3).

UAE has played a significant role in averting humanitarian crisis in Somali brought by war and famine. The Somali militias and Al-shabaab (an Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group) which controls most parts of Somalia have banned most international aid agencies from operating in most parts of the country.

However, these groups have been more open to donor agencies from the Arab countries and UAE has played a major role in providing humanitarian assistance to the Somali people.

This has placed UAE emirates at the pole position in helping the international communities in dealing with crises in Somali including piracy problem. UAE operations in Somali have are firmly on the side of U.S and European Union, signifying the positive and productive relationship with the western countries. These countries also depend on UAE intelligence in tackling problems of the war-torn Somali (Al Bu-Ainnain 4).

In 2010, the UAE and the United Nations held a fundraising event in support of the Trust Fund to help the initiatives of nations countering piracy in the Gulf of Eden. The main objective of this fundraising was to attract the new and long-established donors to the fund.

The fundraising was established by the United Nations secretary general, Banki Moon, at the request of the international contact group on piracy off the Somali coast. The trust fund has been very instrumental in supporting war against piracy in the Gulf of Eden and has been an exceptional multilateral medium in funding land-based counter piracy initiatives. UAE donated one million dollars in this trust fund and has been advocating for public-private sector partnership in assisting international counter piracy initiatives (UAE 1).

There have also been allegations that elements of the Somali community living in United Arab Emirates have been involved in numerous activities which are undermining security in the Horn of Africa. These activities include piracy, transfer of illegal weapons in contravention of UN laws, and probably offering indirect financial aid to the Islamic rebel movements whom the Transitional Federal Government is trying to suppress (Al Bu-Ainnain 3).

According to intelligence reports the number of these individuals is not big but they have amassed considerable wealth. The piracy suspects are also believed to have invested considerable amount of their revenues in UAE and the countries neighboring Somali, particularly Kenya. A lot of focus is being given to Kenya because it also has a considerable number of Somali communities especially in the North Eastern part of the country (Middleton 5).


The increase in the number of pirate attack in the Somali coast and the entire Horn of Africa has led to a renewed international attention to the very old problem of maritime piracy. According to the international maritime organization, over 200 attacks to place in 2010 alone, out of which 49 were successful. Somali pirates attacks maritime vessels in the entire Gulf of Eden and have even gone as a far as Mozambique coast.

The rise in pirate attacks in Somali waters is attributed to persistent insecurity and lawlessness in Somalia. Piracy has negatively impacted maritime transport and global trade. Piracy in Somali is not new and can be traced back even before the fall of Barre’s government. The problem originated from the rivalry among the Somali political elites in their quests to control economic resources.

UN passed a number of counter piracy resolutions to facilitate the international community to aggressively take part in the management of security in the Horn of Africa and of Somali coast. United Arab Emirates, as a world transit hub, has been a major target of piracy in the Gulf region. UAE solely depends on Gulf of Eden route for its imports and exports and this is the reason why it has been on the fore front in the war against piracy on the Gulf of Eden.

Works Cited

Al Bu-Ainnain, Khaled A. The GCC and Piracy: An Arab Solution. Abu Dhabi: Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis. 2011. Print.

Central Intelligence Agency. “”. 2009. Web.

Gosse, Philip. The History of Piracy. New York: Dover Publications. 2007. Print.

Kraska, James and Brian Wilson. “Maritime Piracy in East Africa.” Journal of International Affairs 6(2009): 25-45.Print.

Middleton, Roger, “Piracy in Somalia: threatening global trade, feeding local wars”. 2008. Web.

Ploch, Lauren, et al. Piracy off the Horn of Africa. Congressional Report, April 27, 2011: 1-47. Print.

Randall, Kenneth C. Universal Jurisdiction under International Law, 66 Tex. L. Rev. 785, 793 (1988).

UAE. “United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs high level Counter-Piracy Conference 18-19 April, 201”. Web.

United Nations. “UN Security Council Resolutions”. 2008. Web.

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