Written by Dalmar Kahin
Efforts to link Somali pirates to terrorism, capture and showcase them in American, European, and African courts, shoot them and hail trigger-happy Marine snipers as heroes as well as deploy International navies to Somalia run their course, yet no solution to sea piracy. And U.N. condemnations and anti-piracy resolutions remain a mere symbolic while the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) outcry grows louder. Now, although the U.S. admits defeat in the hands of pirates, the U.S. and the rest of the International community overlook a simple solution to sea piracy: Somaliland coastguards and ground troops can effectively do the job that the combined world navies fail to undertake miserably, up to now. How is that possible, you may ask?
One thing that the International community has yet to realize is that Somaliland achieves much more success in combating against piracy than the multinational navies do. Why pirates fail to hijack ships travelling on Somaliland waters? And why pirates never succeed in launching attacks from Somaliland’s coast? The answer to the first question is that Somaliland has few hundred coastguards supported by Britain. They successfully and repeatedly thwart pirate attacks in Somaliland waters. The answer to the second question: the local fishermen despite being poor remain law-abiding citizens. For one thing, the Somaliland culture doesn’t tolerate or condone piracy. For another, the government with its meager resources does its best to help the local fishers to discourage them joining piracy. Also, Somaliland coastguards protect their marine resources from heartless European and Asian fishing fleets’ illegal incursions into Somaliland’s waters. The illegal fishing expeditions—the condoned piracy, the multimillion dollar business, and toxic dumping—without a doubt, remain the root cause of piracy. Nonetheless, Somaliland coastguards battle against not only Somalia’s high seas thugs but also European and Asian pirates looting Somaliland’s rich marine resources.
According to U.N. monitoring group’s report on Somaliland/Somalia, “…unlike Puntland, the Somaliland authorities and community leaders have adopted a firm and decisive posture against piracy. Visiting Hargeysa and Berbera in October 2009, the monitoring group had the opportunity to observe the counter-piracy efforts of the Somaliland authorities. Despite very limited means, 64 the coastguard patrols 850 km of coastline and maintains a dozen manned observatories, which are alerted and informed by the local community of any suspicious activity in the area.” “Somaliland…pursues and prosecutes pirates with genuine vigour.” adds the report. Evidently, Somaliland’s anti-piracy approach: deploying coastguards, licensing foreign fishing trawlers, and helping the local fishers remain a true success.
Understandably, International laws and other legal challenges could complicate the multinational navies’ possible military operations against pirate bases and perhaps this explains why so far they stayed away from hitting the pirates’ dens. But what about cooperating with Somaliland? After all, Somaliland is still, theoretically, part of Somalia and if Somaliland coastguards and ground troops launch simultaneous attacks against pirates, Somaliland won’t violate any International laws. Even better, Somaliland already offers its port Berbera in the Red Sea to be used as a launch pad to attack pirates, not just as a dumping ground for pirates—something Somaliland people will resolutely reject.
Given the resources, navy boats and helicopters, military hardware for its ground troops, and trainings Somaliland forces are the most suited to engage the pirates on land and at sea. Somaliland army knows the terrains, the local clans, and their culture. If provided adequate resources, Somaliland security forces could plant a ring of agents acting as pirates among the real pirates operating in Somalia’s coastal communities, where every move they make, every word they whisper, and every attack the plan will be monitored. Evidently, Somaliland cannot directly curb pirates on the high seas, but it can eliminate their bases and deny them safe areas to operate—subsequently, reducing piracy in high seas.
Ignoring the root cause of piracy and portraying pirates as a fungus that should be eradicated still dominates the news. In 2009, I write, “The ignorance towards the root cause of Somali piracy is amplified by the insipid response to piracy from the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Shestates, “These pirates are criminals…they are armed gangs on the sea, and those plotting attacks must be stopped and those carrying them out must be brought to justice.”
I continue, “But what the Media and Hillary Clinton conveniently avoid informing their ever gullible audiences as well as TV worshipers of North America is: Somali piracy stems from the unabated European and Asian illegal fishing expeditions and toxic dumping into Somalia’s waters. Portraying pirates as savage criminals while putting a lipstick smudge on the vicious vultures pillaging Somalia’s fish and dumping nuclear waste into its waters is a testimony of how the scheme is rarely mentioned much less condemned.”
In 2011, again Hillary Clinton’s failure to combat piracy effectively is summarized her frustration as she expresses, “I’m fed up with it,” “We need to do more, and make it clear that the entire world better get behind what we do and get this scourge resolved.” She adds. This is the something she says in 2009. Back to square one, no progress, whatsoever!
In fact, if anything, piracy got worse. With four innocent Americans dead, a number of hapless Danish children and adults in captivity, and 815 desperate seafarers and 50 ships held, mainly, in Puntland, pirates and their foreign-business counterparts reap millions of dollars.
Once again, I will reiterate the same appeal that I echo in 2008. In 2008, I write, “However, rarely ever do military approaches alone work without offering alternative economic incentives to those who are involved in piracy. Just as military strategies alone failed to eradicate terrorism, and so will they fall short to prevent piracy. But reconstructing the devastated Somali fishing communities, providing local fishers training and fishing equipments, cleaning up the toxic waste dumped as well as stopping the incursions of illegal foreign fishing fleets into Somalia’s sea waters, is yet another effective tactic to minimize piracy in the region. This strategy will give the Somali pirates a reason to be decent citizens again.”
Doubtless, the root cause of piracy is the least understood or addressed. No one in Somaliland or Somalia—including the pirates—is, however, convinced that the world is serious about curbing piracy and finding a lasting solution. After all, piracy is a big business, with many actors from all over the world. And Somalis are the biggest losers, despite the nonsensical arguments aired by the Media. Somalis lose approximately $500 millions worth of tuna to foreign trawlers; Somalis receive only %15 percent of the ransom money paid to pirates; ships travelling to Somaliland and Somalia pay higher maritime insurance rates; consequently, ships charge double or triple the fees to ship goods to Somaliland and Somalia. And above all, for many generations to come, Somalis will have to deal with the toxics littered in their seabed and their diseases.
Finally, if the world is serious about eliminating piracy on Somalia’s waters, Somaliland is better suited and cultured to engage Somali pirates on land and at sea. It is not just about who posses the bigger guns and navy ships, but it is also about who knows the coastal communities, their culture, and their language, where pirates roam freely.
With its proven record of putting pirates on leashes, Somaliland so far achieves much more success than the International navies do. Since Somaliland doesn’t violate any International laws, its coastguards and ground troops could serve as a lethal weapon against pirates. However, few years from now, will the U.S. still echo its frustration with pirates as it does in 2009 and 2011, or will the U.S. cooperate with Somaliland to get to the bottom of the problem?
Strong, well-armed and trained Somaliland navy could serve a dual purpose: it could reduce piracy to almost nonexistence after all pirate bases are annihilated. Even better, the navy could protect Somaliland and Somalia’s waters. Lack of protection is after all the biggest grievance that Somalis have. But such a navy could also undermine the multibillion dollar businesses: the illegal fishing industry, high maritime insurances, cheap toxic disposals, and lucrative piracy—which benefit none other than some of the countries that keep their navies in Somalia’s waters, under the pretext of curbing piracy.
Shrewdly, Britain is the only nation that understands how to beat pirates in their dens, without launching military campaigns—by simply strengthening Somaliland coastguards. Will the rest of the world follow in suite?