Piracy in Somalia: Statistics and Consequences


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Statistics: The Increase in Attacks

Attacks grew significantly in the period from the ‘first’ attack in 2005 until the period of decline in 2011 (The World Bank, 2012, pp. xi). Daxecker and Prins quote IMB as stating that as of 2004 there have been 2,600 “incidents” involving pirates (Daxecker and Prins, 2013, pp. 940). Attacks are aimed at a variety of vessels. According to the World Shipping Council, “In 2010, 32 liner vessels [fast ships with a high deck line] were attacked and six were hijacked. In 2011, 65 liner vessels were attacked and one was hijacked. As of spring-2012, eight liner vessels have been attacked and one has been hijacked” (World Shipping Council, n.d.). Furthermore, according to the World Shipping Council, what accounts for the increasing range of Somali attacks is that Somali pirates seized merchant vessels under the guise of a “mother ship” in order to conduct operations further out to sea, “more than 1500 nautical miles from Somalia” (World Shipping Council, n.d.). Over time, and as I surmise due to greed (i.e. losing their “coast guard”-like veil and opting for money), Somali piracy has migrated from the coast of Somalia to seas such as the Indian Ocean (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 2).In 2009, according to Anderson who quotes International Maritime Bureau (IMB) statistics, there were 217 attacks compared to 111 registered attacks in 2008 in the Gulf of Aden or off the coast of Somalia (Anderson, 2010, pp. 323). Interestingly, and as Anderson points out, there was significant decline in piracy in South East Asia around this time (Anderson, 2010, pp. 323). Global attacks in 2011 were 439 with over half attributed to Somali pirate operations regionally (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 1) and (Daxecker and Prins, 2013, pp. 941); according to Nelson and Fitch piracy peaked in this year with 544 vessels attacked (Nelson and Fitch, 2012, pp. 1). The World Shipping Council attributes 237 of these 439 attacks, and 28 of 45 hijackings, to Somali pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean (World Shipping Council, n.d.). The World Shipping Council avers that, “As of spring-2012, there have been more than 51 attacks off Somalia (121 worldwide), 11 hijackings off Somalia (13 worldwide), and over 158 hostages taken off Somalia” (World Shipping Council, n.d.). Despite these high numbers early in the year, attacks and hijackings lessened dramatically. By September there were “63 reported attacks and 15 hijackings as of September” (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xi). According to Addis Ababa, writing for The Economist, “The last hijacking of a merchant vessel occurred in May 2012” (Addis Ababa, 2017, pp. 1). Ababa then presents that Somali pirates claimed five attacks in the March-April period of 2017 which to some could be viewed as a return of the pirates (Ababa, 2017, pp. 1). However, Ababa, agreeing with Timothy Walker of the Institute for Security Studies, expressed that the piracy issue never went away but rather international attention became focused elsewhere (Ababa, 2017, pp. 2). Then again, a Blog Post by a Guest Blogger writing for John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations has argued that this, “uptick” in attacks by Somali pirate in 2017 was the result of complacency in security measures, fading memory, miscalculation of the environment, and general complacency (John Campbell, 2017, pp. 1-3). With these significant numbers of attacks and hijackings occurring over half a decade, certainly there should be a resonance in the global economy.

The Consequences of Piracy

The economic cost of piracy has been debated by several authors and institutions, and it varies significantly depending on the year and vessel attacked. According to Alessi and Hanson, writing for CFR and quoting a report by One Earth Future’s Oceans Beyond Piracy, “the global cost of piracy for 2010 to be in the range of $7 to $12 billion for 2011”, and $7 billion in 2011 (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 1). The World Bank reports that as of 2005, “149 ships have reportedly been ransomed for an estimated total of US$315-US$385 million” (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xi). Additionally, further costs burden the international community with “[i]ncreased insurance premiums, expenditures for on-board security measures, and rerouting or cancellation of shipments (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xiii). In total, The World Bank estimates that there is a loss of some $18 billion USD to the world economy each year due to piracy (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xiv). Piracy has also impacted nearby economies who witnessed a decline in tourism and in their fishing industry (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xiv). To be sure, Anderson states that piracy could have actually hurt the fishing industry as catches of tuna, a major harvest in the region, declined by some 30% in 2008 (Anderson, 2010, pp. 327). Another cost, which was not significantly addressed in other literature being reviewed, was the cost concerning individual humans. The World Bank reports that “As many as 3,741 crewmembers of 125 different nationalities became victims of these pirates, with detention periods as long as 1,178 days. Reportedly, 82 to 97 seafarers have died either during the attacks, in detention after poor treatment, or during rescue operations” (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xiii).

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Possible Links to Terrorism

According to Alessi and Hanson some experts allude to collusion between the pirates in Somalia, and the terrorist group Al-Shabab also operating in Somalia and regionally (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 4). As one example, they offer an article by Bruno Schiemsky written for Jane’s Intelligence Review, presenting the links between the two organizations. However, according to Martin Murphy, and quoted by Alessi and Hanson, the links between the pirates and Al-Shabab are limited at best due to lack of hard evidence. Murphy proffers that if there is a link, it is strictly economic and exploitative in nature in that the pirates are reduced to simply “another source of finance” (Alessi and Hanson, 2012, pp. 4). The World Bank presents some kind of linkage between pirates and Islamist insurgents and presents further or enhanced cooperation as a concern (The World Bank, 2013, pp. xiv).


With the growing threat posed by pirates to the sea lanes, regional stability, possible links to terrorism, and increasing global costs, certainly the international community had to intervene in some capacity to limit, or outright prevent pirate activities.

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