Pirates Plague Seas Beyond Somalia

While global attention on piracy has locked onto Somalia and the Horn of Africa, kidnappings, hijackings, and attacks by pirates elsewhere have gone largely unnoticed by the public eye.

In addition to the notorious Gulf of Aden, most pirate attacks are concentrated around the Gulf of Guinea, the Malacca Strait, and the Indian subcontinent, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Other active areas include the Bay of Bengal, the coast of Kenya, the Arabian Sea, and locations around the northern half of South America, among others.

What’s behind global piracy is a lot more complicated than the “failed state” line commonly used to explain the crime, according to Swadesh Rana, senior fellow of the World Policy Institute, and One Earth Future’s project adviser for Oceans Beyond Piracy.

For example, Rana notes that piracy in Somalia predates its failed governance. Therefore, forming an international approach to dealing with piracy based on the political situation in Somalia “would be unfortunate.”

“We don’t want to make a mantra of the failure of governance in Somalia, as a model of dealing with piracy,” Rana said. “It sounds very sophisticated, very convincing, to say that an act of piracy on the sea off the coast of a failed state is anexpression of the failure of the state itself on land.”

“But would you consider Indonesia to be a failed state? Would you consider Kenya to be a failed state? India? Bangladesh? … Sri Lanka?” she asks. “I would avoid making a theoretical connection, or a theoretical model based upon Somalia.”

The study of the causes of global piracy hasn’t advanced far beyond the failed governance narrative of recent years. Since situations vary in countries where piracy is more common, reasoning is left largely to speculation.

Beyond the Law

The global cost of piracy is still unknown, and estimates vary. “Some analysts suggest the cost is close to $1 billion a year, while others claim losses could range as high as $16 billion,” states a Council on Foreign Relations report.

More than a dozen countries have naval ships in the Gulf of Aden in an attempt to thwart piracy largely based out of Somalia. The international pressure, however, has had little deterrent affect on the pirates.

“The number of attacks off the coast of Somalia has steadily increased since 1991, and over the past two years has increased from 111 vessels attacked in 2008 to 217 vessels attacked in 2009,” says a July 26report from the United Nations Security Council, adding, “There were 30 attacks during the first quarter of 2010.”

Other approaches are still being considered by the U.N. One option mentioned in the report is to help Somalia itself develop the ability to prosecute and imprison pirates. Others have argued that passing legal responsibility for pirates on to Somalia—where piracy is not typically viewed as a stigma, but rather as a response to poaching and pollution—would be a poor decision.

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