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Somali Pirates Raising the White Flag?

By: Martin Sigalow

Barring a swift intervention from Johnny Depp, it seems Somali piracy is spiraling towards its end in the short term.

The modern world’s piracy drama has been, for the last ten years, playing itself out in Africa, specifically near Somalia and the strategically critical trade corridor called the Gulf of Aden. A far cry from the romantic depictions paraded around television and movie media sources, modern piracy is far from happy go lucky, Keira Knightley filled romp through picturesque Caribbean paradises. Instead, it is a story of financial despair and ruin in the depressed “nation” of Somalia, where lack of any coherent governmental authority has pushed people to acts of international terrorism in centers of global trade.

This phenomenon, for the first time in recent memory, is now on the decline. Reported incidents of piracy in the international arena have plummeted in the last year. Reported incidents are down more than half from 2011. The last three months, in particular, have been remarkably pirate free; there was a total of one reported incident from June through September. [1] In a recent, atypical, yet illustrative scene, a Dutch/NATO merchant vessel recently responded to an attack by a suspected pirate vessel by blasting it into a flaming wreck.[2] Whether these individual instances evidence of growing boldness and desperation on the part of pirates, or whether they indicate a decreased emphasis on the part of NATO ships of obeying rules of engagement protocols, only Davy Jones can know now.

This decrease in the faithless looting of our merchant vessels has occurred for at least three reasons. First, the international community has stepped up its coordination to disrupt piracy networks on the ground, disrupting their bases of operation and their launch points. [3] This has taken the great advantage of pirate tactics, the anonymity and sheer speed of their ships, and made them irrelevant by hitting them off-water. Second, the proliferation of private military contractors that specialize in anti-piracy operations has deflated the concern associated with violating international rules of engagement; thus far, there has not been a single successful attack against a private military contractor protected vessel.[4] This has led to both the deterrence of attempted piracy attacks as well as a decrease in the success of whichever attacks move past this psychological barrier. Third, the largely useless Somali government itself has made a concerted effort to stamp out piracy at home, or at the very least has ceased hiding these buccaneers from international legal sanctions.[5] This represents a positive trend since historically the government has been very hands off dealing with piracy because of the loosely defined economic benefits it brings. The government seems to have decided that these pirates are net harmful to society. [6]

What does this mean for the future of the world economy? Maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden has a significant economic impact on the world economy. The Gulf of Aden is an extremely important transit corridor for global trade at all levels of the global supply chain.[7] For oil specifically, the Gulf of Aden is key to the transportation of millions of barrels of oil per day.[8] Instability in this critical region deal damage to the economy, and halting transportation altogether would be terminally crippling.

Some factors, though, do warn against exaggerating of the impact the alleviation of Somali naval piracy will have on the world. Other financial troubles, such as the default of Spain and Greece, very much soften, and likely overwhelm, the positive gains accrued from piracy efforts. Moreover, even though piracy in the Gulf of Aden has decreased, it has actually risen in the Gulf of Guinea, where violent, coordinated attacks typically target oil transports.[9] Additionally, previous experience with the dynamics of Somali piracy indicates that the decreasing success of naval piracy efforts will cause pirates to simply scale up land operations, such as kidnapping for ransom.[10] All of these factors complicate the tangible effects on aggregate human welfare that will result from this decrease in piracy.

All in all, though, the current drop in international piracy has had an undoubtedly positive impact on the world economy. Today’s world can sleep more peacefully at night as it knows that the marauding scallywags with their one functional eye on our oil seem to have a bad case of scurvy.


[1] Krumova, Kremena, “Somali Piracy Declines, Danger Shifts to Other Regions,” The Epoch Times, October 25, 2012, accessed October 29, 2012.

[2] Silva, Cristina, “NATO fires on fishing boat off Somalia after being attacked” Stars and Stripes,October 25, 2012, accessed October 29, 2012,

[3] Hopkins, Donna, “The Changing Threat from Somali Pirates and their Major Centers of Activity in 2012,” Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, June 2012, accessed October 29, 2012,

[4] Carlson , Benjamin, “Shiver Me Timbers” The Daily, July 30, 2012, accessed October 29, 2012,

[5] Ibid 3

[6] Ibid

[7] Kraska, James and Wilson, Brian, “Combating Piracy in International Waters,”, February 23, 2011,  accessed March, 2011,

[8] Yuriditsky, Lev, 09/28, “Yemen's Chaos - August 2011,” Lev Yuriditsky, September 28, 2011, accessed February 2012,

[9] Ibid 1

[10] Ibid 3

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