HMS Cornwall, the British contribution to the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2). The force of 5 including ships from Greece, Italy, United States and Turkey, fulfils a long standing commitment by NATO to maintain a visible deterent to piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Image taken by POA(PHOT)Owen King, FRPU (EAST). Flickr creative commons licensed content (link).
Below is an exchange I had with a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London:
- Q: What is the most theoretical approach that could be applied in explaining sea piracy in Somalia?
Amb. Shinn: The most appropriate theoretical approach is that Somali piracy is a business, albeit criminal, model. The leaders of pirate groups have devised a way to make significant sums of money by exploiting young, unemployed Somali youth and drawing on the services of global entrepreneurs who probably retain most of the ransom profits. In addition, the pirate bands coopt a certain number of local officials and clan leaders who also benefit from the profits.
- Q: Most writers on sea piracy in Somalia tend to use greed vs. grievance in explaining the main drivers behind its emergence. What is your personal opinion on the root causes of the sea piracy the world is facing today from Somalia?
Amb. Shinn: The root causes of Somali piracy are a combination of excessively high unemployment, failure of a central government to control the Somali coast line, a successful business model and the willingness of a small number of Somali nationals to ignore international law and norms.
- Q: Who are real beneficiaries of this crime?
Amb. Shinn: The real beneficiaries of Somali piracy are the leaders of the gangs, the international middlemen who take little or no risk and those local officials and clan leaders who receive a cut of the ransom money because they permit the pirate bases to operate in territory where they have influence. The actual pirates, usually unemployed Somali youth, take all the risk, sometimes paying for their crimes with their lives, and often end up as outcasts in their own villages.
- Q: What are implications of piracy to the Somalis, socially, politically and economically?
Amb. Shinn: Piracy has a negative impact on Somali society as it gives the impression that Somalis can benefit from illegal activity. In fact, it gives a terrible name to Somalia generally. Many in the international community know nothing about Somalia except that it is a failed state with a lot of conflict and the origin of most global piracy today. This is not a reputation to be proud of.
- Q: Are there any links between pirates and members of local administrations from the Somaliland and Puntland regions?
Amb. Shinn: Somaliland seems to be the one part of Somalia where pirates have not been able to operate from. Even Somali pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden, which is much closer to Somaliland, come from the coast of Puntland and the coastal area between Puntland and Mogadishu. The Somaliland authorities have apparently been successful in preventing piracy from originating along its shores. There is considerable evidence that some Puntland authorities have allowed piracy to continue in exchange for some of the ransom profits.
- Q: Could the Somali piracy be considered an international organised crime?
Amb. Shinn: Increasingly, it looks as though Somali piracy is a form of organized international crime. At the same time, there are separate pirate bands and it is not clear to me how much interaction there is among them. Piracy still seems to be decentralized within Somalia.
- Q: Do you think toxic waste dumping has ever occured on the Somali sea or on shore (as it has been reported by some journalists and by Green peace Italy, while the international community has been downplaying this grievance)?
Amb. Shinn: There were a few documented cases of toxic waste dumping off Somalia a number of years ago. I am not aware, however, of any recent documented cases. Toxic waste occasionally shows up on the shores of many countries. It is not an issue confined to Somalia. While the international community may be playing down the problem, the pirates have significantly exaggerated it in an effort to justify illegal piracy.
Illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the Somali 200 mile economic zone was a much more serious problem several years ago. The international community was at fault for not preventing it, since the failure of the Somali government in 1991. Since piracy became a serious problem, foreign fishing vessels have avoided the 200 mile zone. Those foreign fishing vessels captured by Somali pirates in the last year or two have been seized far from Somali waters, as far away as Madagascar and the Seychelles. These vessels have every right to fish in these waters, so long as they have the permission of those countries or in international waters.