Maritime piracy at the Horn of Africa as a threat to global security

Term Paper, 2016

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Maritime Piracy as a Global Security Threat

2. The Somali Circumstances

3. Security Challenges

4. The European Union’s Approach
4.1. The European Union Maritime Security Strategy
4.2. European Union Naval Force Somalia - Operation Atalanta
4.3. Civil EU Activities in Somalia

5. Recommended Actions and Future Prospects

6. List of Works Cited

1. Maritime Piracy as a Global Security Threat

Globalisation is changing the world and the strategic environment in the 21st century, espe- cially security related issues. The relevance of the maritime domain is constantly increasing because it connects people, economies and cultures more than ever. According to IMO, the United Nations based International Maritime Organization, approximately 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea. It is by far the most cost-effective way to transport goods and raw ma- terials around the globe. Consequently, it is of high interest for policy makers to keep world- wide maritime trade running safely. In the recent years, however, piracy has become an in- creasing security threat in the maritime realm. According to the International Maritime Bu- reau (IMB), which publishes a piracy report annually, piracy can be defined as “the act of boarding any vessel with intent to commit theft or any other crime, and with an intent or ca- pacity to use force in furtherance of that act”. Hence, it is an act of robbery or criminal vio- lence at sea through illegal use of force by non-state actors, most frequently referred to as “pirates”. As Stehr (2011) stated, modern maritime piracy can be regarded as a fairly new phenomenon. The first incidents of modern piracy were discussed publicly when Somali pi- rates captured the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit in November 2005, and in the wake of the suc- cessful hijackings of a French luxury yacht or the super tanker Sirius Star in 2008 (Lehr, 2009, p. 26). The first reports of maritime piracy by IMB date back to 1994. Westberg (2015), however, argues that in 2005 a new attack pattern emerged, from irregular and opportunistic attempts to organised and professional attacks. Although piracy is a global phenomenon, there are certain regions in the world where incidents have been witnessed a lot more frequently. Especially in Africa and Asia, a high number of attacks have been reported throughout the last two decades, as IMB annual reports show. Affected areas are often located near sea gates or narrow passages with high maritime activity, such as important trade channels or inevitable straits. Among the most affected areas are the South Chinese Sea, the Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden.

For centuries, the maritime realm has been “a pillar of European livelihoods and prosperity through fishing and global trade” (Landman, 2015, p. 1). Nowadays, the Gulf of Aden is one of the key trade channels for the European Union, linking Europe to Asia via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Therefore, it has an enormous impact on the economic situation in Europe, making it a key interest for companies as well as governments and authorities.

Transnational threats demand strong international cooperation and “a functioning multilevel governance in the field of security” (Ehrhart & Petretto, 2013, p. 69). Thus, a joint European 3 approach, more precisely by the European Union, is required to face modern security threats like the phenomenon of maritime piracy. In fact, the EU has already undertaken several ac- tions to fight maritime piracy and to improve the situation for commercial vessels and civil shipping in the Gulf of Aden, a high-risk area. Moreover, several actions were taken to en- hance the situation on land, mainly in Somalia. The underlying policy study therefore anal- yses the current situation off the coast of Somalia (Gulf of Aden) and the undertaken measures by the EU. It seeks to evaluate current security threats on-the-spot and assesses measures that have been implemented thus far. Lastly, the paper proposes recommended ac- tions for the policy making process in order to establish long-term solutions.

2. The Somali Circumstances

Over the last two decades, the post-colonial state of Somalia has been well known as a so called “failed state” in the scholarly literature: Stevenson (2007), Geise (2009), Mahnkopf (2010) and numerous other authors came to this conclusion, because commonly known struc- tures of a national state were not visible in the African country. Somalia, even though far from politically stable under the dictator Siad Barre, had been suffering even more after the down- fall of the regime in 1991. Ever since, war, destruction, hunger and poverty had been predom- inant in the fragile state. It lacked organisation, authority and essential structures. Terrorist groups as well as warlords shaped the political landscape of the country. And although Soma- lia had transitional administrations from 2004, it did not have a functioning central govern- ment until the 2012 election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Shortland and Percy de- scribed the situation accurately by stating: “anarchy on land means piracy at sea” (2013, p. 275) . Thus, in a politically unstable environment, criminal groups (mainly pirates) could safely operate at the coasts of the country, high-jacking commercial vessels and threatening civil shipping. About one third of Somalia’s 3300km long coastline is located at the Gulf of Aden, giving the entire northern part of the country direct access to it. Moreover, the choke- point in the Gulf of Aden can be reached easily by pirate groups from other areas alongside the coast at the Arabic Sea/the Indian Ocean as well. In 2010, United Nations’ reports even showed that parts of the country, especially the Puntland government, profited financially from maritime piracy (Stehr, 2011, p. 216). “[T]he growing power of pirate groups destabi- lised the authority of local governments by forcing the latter to choose either to support such pirate groups or lose the financial resources which the criminals could bring to the communi- ty”, as van Ginkel (2014, p. 331) notes.

In 2016, Somalia’s government is still struggling to rebuild the country, being far from a sta- ble country. Currently, insecurity is caused mainly by al-Shabaab, a military group close to the Al-Qaida terrorist organisation. Most studies show, however, that there is hardly any link between piracy and terrorism. The objective of Somali piracy can be categorized as solely focused on the economic aspect (Gettleman, 2008).

The numbers of piracy attacks at the Gulf of Aden prove the assumption that incidents in the area are mainly related to Somali pirates, directly connecting the issue to the state of Somalia. According to IMB figures1, between 2000 and 2010, Somali pirate attacks on vessels decu- pled to 219 in 2010. An all-time high was recorded in 2011 with a total of 237 incidents of piracy. Ehrhart and Petretto (2013, p. 69) link the severe droughts and floods in 2011 to the high number of piracy incidents, as it can be seen as an additional destabilizing effect for the country.

In many parts of Somalia, people do still not have regular access to clean water or healthcare. According to UNICEF information, only 45 per cent of the population has access to improved water sources and only a quarter of the population lives with improved sanitation facilities within 10 metres.

The escalating numbers of pirate attacks in the region caused a lot of reaction, leading to various different actions by members of the international community. In section 4, the European approach will be looked at in more detail.

3. Security Challenges

This section addresses major security challenges in the region, stressing the urge to combat or prevent maritime piracy, since the Gulf of Aden and the waters outside the Somali coast are one of the most heavily trafficked maritime areas in the world. An estimated number of 17,500 vessels pass through the Gulf of Aden every year, either inbound or outbound for Suez Canal. According to Suez Canal traffic statistics, over 822 million tons of cargo were shipped through the canal in 2015, highlighting the trade route’s importance for European, African and Asian commerce. An overall number of about 80,000 vessels (including passenger ships, cargo ships, container ships and others) sailed through the canal in 2015.

After the all-time high of 237 incidents of maritime piracy in the area in 2011, the attacks considerably decreased to 75 (2012), 15 (2013) and 11 (2014). In 2015, no attacks were rec- orded by the International Maritime Bureau, in contrast to other regions like Indonesia, where 1 All numbers used refer to Somali pirate attacks piracy has recently seen a significant increase. Regardless of these decreasing numbers, fighting security challenges remains highly relevant in order to secure a safe flow of shipping. As previously mentioned, the Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest sea channels in the world, leading to a very high interest in security for various stakeholders, such as companies, au- thorities and governments as well as transnational bodies, like the European Union or the United Nations.

Even though piracy seems to be a quite obvious phenomenon, the security challenges accom- panied by it are in fact multifaceted. In order to fight pirates successfully, many factors have to be taken into consideration. These different aspects of the issue will be discussed in the paragraphs below.

To start off with, the profile of Somali pirates is looked into more closely. Studies show that attacks are usually executed by young men in the age of 20-35. According to Joyner, „[m]odern pirates wear Ray-Bans, communicate by cellular phones, and cut swiftly across the seas in high-speed skiffs“ (2009, p. 83). These young men rarely see any hope for their future lives; the poverty, the economic and the social situation in Somalia hardly offers any perspec- tives to the people. Therefore, joining a pirate-gang is often regarded as exit-possibility to escape poverty. Somalia traditionally has been a country of fishery, since the coastal areas provide rich fish stocks. Hence, many people living at the coast are highly experienced in nav- igating boats and ships. Due to the ongoing civil war and battles between rivalling clans in the country, many men are also experienced in the use of guns. The hopelessness of many, combined with experience in combat and expertise in navigating boats makes the pirates ex- tremely dangerous and erratic. This fact certainly has to be taken into consideration when fac- ing them. Alongside with the nature of the pirates, technical development and access to mod- ern weaponry causes extremely dangerous circumstances.

Geo-strategically, Somalia is located in a very crucial area. Not only the Suez Canal route lies at the coast of Somalia, the alternative option, the so called ‘Cape Town route’ (along the East coast of the African continent and South Africa), as well. This means that almost every ship- ping from East-Asia to Europe passes the Somali coast line. Consequently, there is an ex- tremely high number of potential targets for pirates, especially because ships have to reduce their speed in order to avoid collision in this highly trafficked area. Therefore, protecting all ships in the area is impossible. This is why many shipping companies hire private security services to safeguard their vessels. Shipping companies invest in these measures not only be- cause of the security of their crew, but also due to potential financial losses caused by piracy.


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Maritime piracy at the Horn of Africa as a threat to global security
Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Piracy, Somalia, EU
Quote paper
Julian Bird (Author), 2016, Maritime piracy at the Horn of Africa as a threat to global security, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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