Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some new thoughts on how to combat piracy off Somalia

As February begins, things remain relatively quiet in the seas off the Horn of Africa (HoA) in terms of piracy. Attacks are still occurring, such as the successful hijacking of a North Korean freighter earlier today - which occurred one day after another vessel was released - but the effect of the winter monsoon off East Africa is giving everyone a brief respite before things heat up again next month. This provides a perfect opportunity to take a deeper look at some potential means of stemming the scourge of maritime crime that has been causing so many problems in that region of the world. And there's a lot to talk about.

I have a couple of new ideas to put forth about all this, but, before I get to those, I'd like to highlight some other thoughts that came from a recent gathering held last December at Harvard's Kennedy School. Some two dozen analysts, diplomats, scholars, military personnel and other experts came together under the auspices of the World Peace Foundation (website here) as the Cambridge Coalition to Combat Piracy. It's unfortunate there has been little public notice of this gathering, as they put together an interesting policy brief summarizing their collective ideas. You can download it as a PDF via the WPF website by clicking on "Policy Briefs". (And, for the record, I was not part of this event, though several colleagues were, including Canadian government security and justice analyst Patrick Lennox and Andrew Mwangura from the East African Seafarer's Assistance Programme.)

What the Cambridge Coalition came up with are a series of 38 recommendations dealing with everything from how to discourage pirates on land, to shutting down the money trail, making ships harder to capture and strengthening the legal responses to dealing with this maritime criminal activity. To those who have followed this blog, read my book or are otherwise well-informed about modern-day piracy, many of the recommendations will be obvious.

One of the most interesting ideas put forth is the idea of establishing a regional African judicial center to prosecute suspected pirates. Though I've mused in the past about setting up an admiralty court in someplace like London or The Hague, I now realize that this could prove counter-productive. As the Cambridge Coalition suggests, setting up a "piracy court" in somewhere like Somaliland or Djibouti would be stronger. It could be an African court, with African legal personnel dealing with African suspects. Doing so would alleviate the negative impact among the Somali people that can arise when suspects are removed to Europe or America for prosecution, leading some locals to say that that Westerners - or former colonizers - are imposing their will with a harsh manner.

Piracy can never be eradicated, contained or effectively suppressed without dealing with the root causes ashore that attract individuals to head out to sea to attack passing vessels. And while the international community cannot solve all of Somalia's problems with a quick stroke, I do believe there are a couple of other options that the Cambridge Coalition did not address, which have not been brought up elsewhere, to my knowledge.
First, I suggest that the international community declare a moratorium on all foreign fishing within 200 nautical miles of the Somali coast (that is, their Exclusive Economic Zone - EEZ). This would allow Somali fishermen who claim to have turned to piracy because of the foreign fishers to be allowed to work in safety. And it would undermine any of the claims being put forth that Somali pirate gangs are somehow "defending" their own people.

It would also mean that any Somali who really did want to just fish - not pirate - could do so without impediment. It's an opportunity in a place where few exist, so why not try it? And though such an action will cause some economic problems for a variety of foreign nations working the seas off Somalia, that's too bad. A higher price for tuna in European or Asian markets, for instance, is a small price to pay. Besides, Western nations - such as Canada - have enforced their own closed fisheries in the recent past when so required.

To enforce this concept, I suggest that the international community divert some its resources away from blue water naval patrols to littoral operations in aid of the Somali people. For less than the cost of the deployment of a single warship, several inshore/offshore patrol craft could be made available to the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). (And, by the way, we should stop calling that entity "transitional". Either it's the recognized government or it isn't. After so many years, the so-called TFG is anything but transitory.)

Patrol craft could operate - with Somali officials aboard - to enforce the no-fishing ban, as well as deterring illegal waste dumping. It would also provide training to the Somalis about international regulations and practices so that could then take over operations at a later date. International forces have been doing this for decades, in places as diverse as Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, so why not Somalia? And there are numerous American and British personnel with experience guarding coasts in the Persian Gulf, to say nothing of all the CG elements already trained in these practices in numerous other nations.

Neither of the ideas I'm putting forth will conclusively see the end of piracy off the HoA, but they are put forth as a potential means of aiding the Somali people in their own battles against criminal gangs. To date, our actions at sea have ignored the causes ashore, which is a big mistake. And the idea that we're clouded by past experiences in Somalia needs to be put aside. Politically speaking - and with respect to those who were involved - "Black Hawk Down" (for Americans) or "Belet Huen" (for Canadians) were parts of operations that should not have been forsaken. We are still picking up the pieces from our cowardly actions, and hoping that merchant sailors don't pay the price. Literally.


Mark Tempest said...

I made the suggestion that protection of Somalia's EEZ ought to be done under some form of UN protectorate here. See also here and here (Somalia asked for US aid in "fishery patrol') and at some other posts.

So, great minds and all that and welcome to the "protect Somali fisheries" very exclusive club.

Mark Tempest said...

By the way, I have to go turn off my earthquake maker . . . it's interfering with my hurricane causer.