By Abdi Moalim in Mogadishu
Over the past few weeks the Somali government has begun implementing new tactics to combat the longstanding scourge of piracy: starting an anti-piracy outreach campaign and providing employment opportunities for pirates to persuade them to give up crime on the high seas.
“Guns alone cannot be used to solve matters, so we started talks with pirates and have convinced some of them to begin new lives and quit that lifestyle,” Somali Minister of Natural Resources Abdirizaq Omar Mohamed said. “On our part, we have [forgiven] those who quit piracy and have released others from the prisons,” he said.
“Creating new employment opportunities is one of the ways that can be used to eliminate piracy,” Mohamed told Sabahi. “However, we need the international community to help us facilitate new lifestyles and income generation for these young people once we succeed in getting them to quit piracy. That is the solution to piracy.”
The World Bank on April 11th published a report dealing with this question and emphasising how continued nation-building in Somalia would help do away with the persistent problem of piracy.
Titled “The Pirates of Somalia: Ending the Threat, Rebuilding a Nation”, the 187-page report details how piracy off Somalia and the coasts of neighbouring countries has resulted in humanitarian, financial and natural resource losses.
According to the World Bank, since 2005, 149 hostage situations perpetrated by pirates against ships and other vessels have resulted in 3,741 sailors from 125 countries captured in hijackings. Out of the 149 standoffs, between 82 and 92 casualties were reported and shipping companies were forced to pay an estimated $318-$385 million in ransom money.
“Pirates have imposed an indirect tax on global trade and the estimated yearly cost to the global economy is $18 billion,” according to the report. “The average annual amount used to pay ransom since 2005 is $53 million.”
The World Bank is calling for international support of Somali government efforts to combat piracy, saying that helping build a strong Somalia is central to solving this issue.
“By better understanding how piracy has been enabled in towns and communities along the Somali coast gives the new government in Mogadishu and the international community a much better idea of the development policies and alliances that will be needed to end piracy in these hotspots and to re-establish a thriving new Somali state in East Africa,” Bella Bird, the World Bank’s country director for Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, said in a press release April 11th.
Bird, who is working closely with the Somali government on its plans to provide essential services to the Somali people, said the World Bank would assist the government in creating jobs and other opportunities for Somalis, including pirates.
“I was encouraged by the long term outlook of the Somali government in creating jobs for those who give up piracy, as I believe the cause of piracy has been unemployment and a weak government,” Bird told Sabahi.
Mohamed, the minister of natural resources, praised the World Bank report, saying it supports the Somali federal government’s approach in fighting piracy.
“The report said the solution to piracy includes outreach with pirates as well as creating opportunities or providing money for them to start self-employment, and that is [also] our view,” he said, adding that re-directing a small portion of the more than $1 billion that is spent annually for anti-piracy maritime patrols to rehabilitation programmes could help eliminate piracy altogether.
Fighting piracy on two fronts
As the federal government takes a non-military approach to combatting piracy, it should also strengthen Somalia’s coast guard and build up a maritime force that pirates would fear, said Admiral Farah Ahmed Omar Qare, commander of Somalia’s navy.
“The law cannot be upheld without a force to fear, hence the pirates have to feel that they can be forcefully taken down if they refuse peace,” Qare told Sabahi. “Therefore, we intend to take advantage of the arms embargo that has been lifted from us to arm the marine forces.”
“Currently, 400 former pirates have quit piracy and surrendered to the law, and thousands more will potentially surrender if the troops are strengthened,” he said.
Admiral Abdirizaq Dirie Farah, who commands the coast guard in the Puntland region, said that stepped-up coastal policing has proven effective.
“We have created headquarters in the locations the pirates use to enter the sea and the places they land when they finish their business, and it has resulted in a reduction of pirate attacks in the sea,” Farah told Sabahi. “This programme needs to be strengthened.”
Jay Bahadur, a Nairobi-based reporter and author of the book “The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World”, agreed that the Somali government needs to step up efforts to eliminate the threat of piracy.
“The long term solution to eliminate piracy involves a full implementation of the law in the land and the creation of special police units equipped with 4×4 vehicles that are spread out in the regions adjacent to the coast,” Bahadur told Sabahi.
“Even though developing the Somali economy is a good goal, I do not believe that creating employment opportunities will be a solution to piracy in the short term,” he said.