Fighting Piracy by Promoting Maritime Security

In recent years, the international community has successfully come together to address the threat of criminal gangs operating from Somalia’s ungoverned coastline to target commercial vessels along one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors, the Gulf of Aden. Today, there has not been a successful pirate seizure against a commercial ship off the eastern African coast in more than three years, thanks to this concerted international counter-piracy effort. But nobody is declaring victory yet: our shared counter piracy success is the result of prompt, comprehensive, and ongoing efforts by a unique international coalition of nations and organizations.

I recently returned from the United Nations in New York, where I led the U.S. delegation at a meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, and saw how this unique international partnership continues working toward a long-term solution building the maritime capabilities of Somalia and other countries in East Africa to better counter the piracy threat.

The 2008 rise in piracy spurred the creation and passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1851, providing states the ability to work more closely together in the fight against piracy off its Somalia. Following this resolution, the United States was instrumental in forming the Contact Group, whose founding mission was to bring coherence to the many efforts then ongoing to counter the emerging piracy crisis.

The Contact Group has helped galvanize action and coordinate the counterpiracy efforts of states as well as regional and international organizations.  A number of specialized working groups were established within the Contact Group to address a variety of subjects, including: naval coordination at sea, judicial and legal issues related to counter piracy efforts, disposition of captured pirates, disruption of pirates’ land-based networks and financing, self-protection measures by commercial ships, and public diplomacy programs in Somalia to discourage piracy.

By contributing to the effort of ending piracy in these waters, the United States is helping uphold safe navigation of the seas, which not only allows a world economy so reliant on maritime transport to continue to trade and prosper but also permits shipping of humanitarian aid to the people of Somalia.

The Department of State coordinates U.S. participation in the Contact Group, which has tripled in size and grown into an open, voluntary, and vital architecture of 80 nations and organizations, including the entire spectrum of stakeholders – different ministries, international and nongovernmental organizations, many sectors of the maritime industry, and representatives of civil society. There is no naval country, and no major shipping country that has not contributed actively to the Contact Group. 

Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) was also created in 2009 consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and stands today as a 30-nation partnership focused on counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia.  The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard have contributed ships and aircraft to CTF-151 and NATO’s counterpiracy operations.  The U.S. Navy and CTF-151 actively coordinate with and support the counter piracy operations of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield naval forces in the region.

At the same time, we worked with industry and foreign port states to enable on-board privately contracted armed security teams to protect vessels in dangerous waters.  No ship with a privately contracted armed security team embarked has ever been hijacked.

At its peak, piracy was costing the world economy an estimated $7 billion a year. By 2011, the number of attacks reached an annual peak of 237, with 28 of these attacks resulting in vessel hijackings and sailors held hostage for ransom. In 2013 there were only 15 incidents reported, down from 75 in 2012. No ships today are currently held by Somali pirates, although about 25 merchant mariners remain in the custody of pirate gangs as hostages, whom the international community is working tirelessly to free.

The reasons for our shared success are improved coordination, shipping self-protection, and regional judicial action. The remarkable drop in piracy is due primarily to two things: first, proactive counterpiracy operations by the many national navies to prevent and disrupt pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia and in the eastern Indian Ocean, and better self-protection by commercial ships, including the use of embarked armed security teams.  But also it is important to note that there is better prosecution of this crime.  Over 1,400 pirates and suspected pirates are in courts or in prisons in 21 countries.  Effective prosecution of piracy in the courts of affected states, especially of flag states, is a very important priority.

Today, we are all working with the Federal Government of Somali as they grapple to rebuild their state, but in the meantime we cannot afford to be complacent regarding piracy.  We will continue to pursue action against pirates, but also assist in building institutional and security capacities and bolster economic and development opportunities. We will continue to focus on disrupting the shore-based criminal organizations that fund and facilitate piracy.  Additionally, we need to capture the lessons learned in the fight against piracy by the international community and make them widely available to apply to future security challenges. We should remember that ultimately, the solution to piracy that once emanated from Somalia’s coast will be on land, with continued international engagement and effort to continue supporting Somalia’s government.  We remain vigilant.

About the Author: Todd Chapman serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

For More Information:

A Somali soldier looks out at a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore after the pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew, in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia
Posted by Todd Chapman
July 9, 2015

.

Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more

Pages