Policy WATCH:Politics
U.S. Gives Hints On New Approach To Anti-Piracy
Timid, Reactive Approach Continues
By SOMALIA REPORT 04/01/2011
Infamous Pirate Den of Hobyo
©Somalia Report
Infamous Pirate Den of Hobyo
It has been six weeks since four U.S. citizens were brutally murdered during botched hostage negotiations between FBI and pirates. The resultant hard threats by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have resulted in a surprisingly limp response. Perhaps her confused desire to "support AMISOM" as a method of defeating piracy should have been the clue. AMISOM is nowhere near the piracy bases along the coast, nor does it have a mandate to much other than keep the crumbling TFG alive.

Clearly the United States does not have a functional policy regarding piracy because it is lacking the basic knowledge to even begin to formulate a simple, land-based, long-term approach to ending piracy.

In short, expect little more than finger-wagging, private hand-wringing and muted cheering from the bleachers as the U.S. continues to adopt the status quo in anti-piracy. Essentially, U.S. anti-piracy policy is to disrupt pirates at sea. Firefighting rather than fire prevention.

Shapiro did mention that they would task their "assets in the region". There is Task Force 151, a token attempt at maintaining a presence out of Djibouti. U.S.-backed NATO, through EUNAVFOR, has done a good job of keeping the Gulf of Aden corridor under control, but has pushed piracy out into the Indian Ocean.

Perhaps the public should be better aware of the assets in the region. There are numerous warships offshore, U.S. Marines practice beach landings and even abduct suspected pirates by helicopter. There are numerous air assets in the region gathering photo, electronic and map-based intelligence, the Americanized TFG leadership meets on a regular basis with U.S. diplomats, CIA assets formed almost 15 years ago regularly provide updates and military, information operations and logistics forces on the ground in Mogadishu.

There are plenty of civilian sources ranging from security contractors like Bancroft, which has lucrative and growing support contracts for intelligence gathering and training. Aegis, the controversial British security company, has a contract to guard the UN and the airport is full of Americans and British men in 5.11's moving in and out. Somalia is littered with NGOs who, for minor funding, can provide the information required to understand solutions to piracy.

Currently Ethiopia's proxy militia ASWJ insists they will continue their offensive from the Ethiopian border to pirate dens like Hobyo and Al Shabaab-held strongholds like Haradhere. This might be a game changer but yet to happen. Currently it appears that Al-Shabaab is doing more to scare off pirates than the tough talk of the west. Recently, the group arrested over 50 pirates in Haradhere and has forced them to move their pirated ships northward.

The hot, arid world of Somali pirates is a far different world than the calm enclave of Washington D.C. or behind hardened walls at the Pentagon, where policy on Somalia is constructed. It may be even more revealing that currently four non-profit groups track pirates and their victims at a more granular level than the U.S. does.

Andrew J. Shapiro, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, gave some insight into the new strategy in a speech at International Institute for Strategic Studies. This alone signals the importance the U.S. puts on piracy in their foreign policy mix. Shapiro pointed out that the U.S.has history with piracy, that it is increasing and blames 20% of ships not following "best management practices" for the piracy incidents. Although it is convenient to put the onus on sailors to defeat pirate attacks, the pirates have simply adjusted from their old skiff swarms to using massive mother ships crewed by gangs of 30 or more pirates firing down on targeted ships and their terrified crews.

Best Management Practices essentially pushes the burden of anti-piracy on the ship and crew, who are not in the business of fighting pirates but rather sailing ships.

The other three solutions provided by Shapiro were providing emergency response, shutting down the money flow of pirates and finally more prisons and courts. None of these have been proven effective to prevent piracy. Armed guards are an expensive proven method of preventing boarding who's cost is simply passed on to the consumer. Some very simple solutions are not even mentioned. Why not crack down on the money flow generated primarily by western ransom payments? Why not work with the existing coastal nations like Puntland and Somaliland to bolster their existing security forces? Sailing warships around the ocean only burns money and provides a thin attempt at security. The same money could be used to put some force behind the words of elders and businessmen who want the pirates out of their coastal towns. The weekly operating budget of just the USS Enterprise could provide jobs for the 10,000 at risk, unemployed Somali youths who live in pirate havens. But even the presence of these mighty warships has hindered, not helped some. Emergency response, as in the case of the SV Quest and other incidents, has proven deadly to their own citizens they are trying to protect.

It is Somalia Report's opinion that the U.S. needs to fund robust but vastly cheaper programs to support land-based development, support of governance and keep pirates off the seas. Keeping the world's navies steaming around the Indian Ocean is not a viable solution, nor is building prisons and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep teenage pirates in jails.

Somalia Report is of the opinion that the solution to ending piracy lies in the following:

1) Fund and support community governance efforts in coastal Puntland and Somaliland to increase presence and deter and offer economic alternatives.

2) Outlaw commercial payment of ransoms.

3) Rescue hostages and seize ships currently held by pirates.

4) Maintain a vigorous regional coast guard to patrol and maintain domain over the EEZ.

5) Link naval forces and Somalia commercial interests to patrol and rebuild the fishing and cargo industry that once supported these areas.

We encourage dialog and sharing on the above issues and welcome submissions to further explore simple land-based solutions to piracy.