This report explores several of the most commonly stated causes of Somali piracy, as well as the history and structure of Somali piracy, showing that piracy is rather a spatiotemporal and geographically constrained phenomenon than a general Somali phenomenon, which started after the collapse of Somalia in 1991. Solutions must take this into consideration, focus on local conditions in the pirate areas and the causes that made piracy explode, first in 2004-2005, and most recently in 2008 and onwards. Solutions should be geographically focussed on piracy areas, and the international powers must liaise more efficiently with local institutions, preferably by putting liaison officers on the ground.
During August 2008, the frequency of Somali piracy exploded and the drastic increase in frequency meant that waters adjacent to Somalia became the most pirate-infested waters in the world. However, Somalia as a whole is not pirate infested; the pirates operate out of only some regions, using less than a handful of ports to anchor their hijacked ships. This report argues that one has to look into the specific local traits in the pirate areas in order to both curtail and explain piracy. Current policies against piracy seems to be flawed because such policies largely focus on rebuilding the Somali state, and a central Somali coast guard, rather than focus on building stable local institutions in the regions that have pirate ports – regions outside the control of the western-backed government. A solution in the pirate-infested regions will be a solution that can curtail piracy where it is needed. A central state is not the only remedy against piracy. Local Somali institutions such as Sharia courts and the Somaliland entity have prevented piracy before and are handling piracy today, and regional institutions might function as building blocks in a future Somali state.
The analysis is based on three types of data. The first type is piracy statistics from the region. The second type of data consists of interviews with locals, crew, and with pirates themselves. The third type of data consists of analyses of existing research. These analyses are based on a triangulation of these three types of information.
Its key findings are the following:
- There is no single solution to Somali piracy, and none of the above approaches is entirely without merit. However, piracy cannot be handled in areas in which piracy does not exist, a fact that hampers the GNU anti-piracy programmes. Nor can piracy be combated offshore only, leaving escaping pirates to shelter and ride off the storm to try another day.
- The main finding of this analysis is that pirates are decentralized; moreover, that pirates are a product of the lack/decline of local institutions rather than the lack of a state. Although the two are correlated, they are not the same; local institutions have existed in Somalia despite the absence of a state and still exist.
- There are centres of power onshore in Somalia and they can be allies in the struggle against piracy; that is if they have power adjacent to the pirate bases and some interest in fighting it. Today, these centres of power are an untapped resource that could be used in the struggle against the pirates. They could also be used to monitor pirate groups on shore, to register pirate groups, and to prevent piracy. However, there has to be something in it for the local partners, either through active fishery protection or through local purchases.
- So far, focus on a centralized solution has limited the international fleets’ access to information from onshore sources. It has also limited the international fleets’ ability to cooperate with entities that de-facto hold power close to the pirate bases. This approach is reminiscent of an attempt to control crime in London by patrolling the streets of Warszawa. In short, relevance is lacking. Onshore liaisons, and not only with the GNU, must be built up. Simply put, the international operations deserve to have the information needed for their operations.
- The key to ridding Somalia of piracy seems to be a strategy that was popular in the late 1990s. Known as the building-block approach to the Somali problem, the strategy supported local structures with local legitimacy that could handle local problems. Grand, national conferences creating cabinets that in the end become dependent on foreign support are not the answer.