Somali piracy has been around for a long time, and the perspectives of the different communities surrounding the issue are different. This article explores the background of Somali piracy and how the Combined Task Force 150 is patrolling the waters around the country. In addition, it discusses the role of Islamist groups in funding Somali pirates.
Combined Task Force 150 patrols waters around Somalia
Combined Task Force 150 is a multinational naval task force made up of warships from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Denmark, and other Coalition nations. The mission of the force is to detect and stop suspected shipping and to maintain law and order. The unit is based in Bahrain and currently conducts operations in the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa.
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, Task Force 150 was part of the U.S. Naval Forces’ Central Command, but after the attack on the World Trade Center, it was turned into a maritime patrol force for the Horn of Africa region. In May 2002, Germany took command of the force, and the leadership of the unit was given to German Admiral Gottfried Hoch. In December 2002, the Task Force intercepted a cargo ship called the So San off the coast of Yemen as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The CMF has expanded its maritime patrol operations in the Horn of Africa, adding a fourth joint task force. The new force will consist of two to eight ships at a time, making it more effective than its predecessor.
Pirates are protected from illegal foreign fishing trawlers
There is a conflict brewing in the Indian Ocean between the pirates of the Somali coast and the foreign fishing trawlers. Both sides have armed themselves and overpowered the local fishermen. In turn, the local fishermen have revised their tactics and modernized their hardware to fight back. This cycle of warfare is ongoing since 1991. This cycle will continue unless something is done.
The waters off Somalia are home to some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, yet they are largely untapped. However, since 2012, foreign fishing trawlers have returned to the region. The vessels come from Asia, Yemen, and Egypt, and often engage in illegal fishing practices.
There are calls from many countries in the region for a ban on this illegal activity. But the Somali government cannot solve the problem alone. International support and assistance is needed to stop piracy off the Somali coast. The US, EU, Japan, and Russia are all in on the campaign against piracy. But the piracy problem is far from over, and illegal foreign fishing trawlers continue to scavenge for valuable fish.
Pirates can be retrained as coast guards
Somalia needs a coast guard that is effective and can defend its coastline from pirates. The country is ravaged by civil wars and has a 1,900-mile coastline. Maritime piracy is an ever-present risk, but there are steps the country can take to address the problem. Retraining Somali pirates to become coast guards is a promising way to combat the problem and to provide a more effective coast guard.
In recent years, the country’s coast has suffered as a result of unregulated and illegal fishing. The trawlers of illegal foreign nations have outmuscled the Somali fleet, which has deprived the Somalis of their livelihood. Meanwhile, the unemployed youth have turned to piracy as a means of earning money.
International naval patrols and armed guards have greatly reduced the threat posed by Somali pirates, but the long-term solution relies on strengthening Somali security forces. Over the last decade, international donors have attempted several programs to build the Somali coastguard, but none have made lasting gains.
Islamist groups are funding piracy
There is a vast lack of information about the Somali piracy crisis, and some reports suggest an uneasy co-existence between Islamist groups and pirates. The Islamists are concerned with preserving their religious ideology, while the pirates are concerned with profit. Piracy is haram, or illegal, under Islamic law.
Currently, pirates have taken over eight ships and captured at least 130 crew members. They have also taken over a strategic southern port known as Kismayu. The piracy trade is a major source of funding for a growing insurgency in Somalia.
Recent figures show that pirates in the Gulf of Aden are earning as much as $240 million a year in ransom payments. That is a huge sum of money, but it is not clear where that money is going. Somali stability advocates are concerned that the money could be diverted to violent Islamist groups. While this is oversimplifying the problem, understanding how pirate money is spent is a crucial step toward limiting its destabilizing effects.
While there is little direct evidence to suggest that Islamist groups are funding Somali piracy, they do have a strong political and military presence in the region. While al-Shabaab is currently battling the weak Somali government, the group relies on an ongoing flow of weapons and fighters from foreign nations. US forces have 50 troops in Somalia and one US Navy SEAL was killed in a raid against al-Shabaab in May.