Assisting Somalia to deal with its pirates Piracy is best fought with development and the law United Nations General Assembly PDF Print E-mail
UNODC Speeches (2002-2010)

New York, 14 May 2010



This statement reviews developments in the Indian Ocean related to piracy and current initiatives to counter it.  The assessment is positive, but the sustainability of ongoing efforts is in doubt as conditions, on the ground and at sea, keep evolving.


The statement shows that there is no alternative to assisting Somalia deal with its own pirates, by promoting: (i) development on land; (ii) security at sea, and (iii) the rule of law in parts of Somalia that are less insecure.


These prospects are predicated on three factors: (i) economic assistance is massively increased, (ii) the conditions in, and outside, Somalia that facilitate piracy (trafficking and money-laundering) are addressed; and (iii) the return of the UN.


Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,


Piracy off the Horn of Africa endangers lives, curbs trade, steals food aid, enriches criminals, funds insurgents and perverts the regional economy.  What are the results of current measures and the prospects for the future?


1.       Commendable anti-piracy efforts so far…


The Contact Group has built a consensus as to the most appropriate anti-piracy measures, while donors have been financing shore-based criminal justice responses in several countries in the region.  Significant naval cooperation off the Horn of Africa has become a significant deterrent.  




2.       … with important results


Pirates have been tried in regional criminal courts, rather than released (the outcome in 300 cases in 2009), or worse -- shot on sight (still reported).  Assistance programs are improving justice systems in Kenya and Seychelles, by strengthening criminal justice capacity and prison conditions.  Both Tanzania and Maldives have manifested their desire to establish piracy prosecution centres; Mauritius is not far behind.


Hence, the current problem is not finding court capacity in regional states, but about making it possible to imprison convicted pirates in Somalia itself – in view of, eventually, moving trials there.  A recent UNODC mission has concluded that the construction of adequate detention facilities in Somalia must be expedited to ensure the transfer of prisoners (up to 400 inmates for now) from other countries.


3.       Yet, the overall situation is not improving ….


Naval patrols have reduced the success rate of attacks (1 in 10 attempts succeeds now, compared to 1 in 3 earlier).  Yet, the overall number of attacks is still growing (111 in 2008 to 217 in 2009, and proportionately more in 2010), despite international naval patrolling that has displaced the assaults up to 1000 miles off-shore.


Individual pirate earnings per successful attack have increased ($15,000 per hit now, compared to $5,000 earlier).  Individual ransoms have increased also:  the January ‘09 record payment of $2m for Sirius Star was exceeded repeatedly ever since.  Aggregate payments in 2009 have approached the $100 million mark, while pirates now ask money in exchange for people, not only vessels.


Furthermore, a growing number of seized pirates have indicated that they originate from internal (South-Central) parts of Somalia:  evidence that poverty, insecurity, social distress and poor health (severe TB cases were identified) are increasing root causes of the problem.





4.       … while economic consequences are growing on the region…


Piracy off Somalia has had a limited impact on rich countries, as insurance rates have increased only marginally. Yet the impact on Eastern Africa has been severe, and growing.  Kenya and Seychelles have seen the high-value end of tourism business decimated:  Mombasa and Victoria have been particularly affected (tuna fishing is down by 40%; visits by luxury vessels down 90%). The disruption has now moved to Great Lakes states that use East African ports for trade.


5.       … and anti-piracy measures are facing decreasing returns


At the moment there are +/-500 pirates under detention, about half outside Somalia.  Yet, there is a limit to the number of pirates who can be imprisoned outside Somalia (Kenya holds 124 at present, Seychelles 31, even fewer elsewhere).  Court proceedings in the countries of seized vessels are an impractical alternative, given the distance and jurisdictional arguments.  Also the opportunity cost of patrolling the seas off Somalia is enormous:  with the daily running cost of a ship at $100,000, the annual budget of all 44 vessels operating in the Indian Ocean is $1,5b against the $3-5m budget of the Anti-piracy Trust Fund.


6.        The contextual factors that facilitate piracy must be neutered


While the improvement of the criminal justice system in the region goes on, key is the engagement in Somalia where anti-piracy work can be conducted without unreasonable risks (Somaliland and Puntland).  Basic institutional and logistical infrastructures (coast guards, police and courts) are needed to support Somali high-sea patrolling and Somali law enforcement on land. 


At the same time, anti-money laundering measures are needed to take out those who benefit from piracy more than the pirates themselves.  Make a simple calculation:  a successful hit, involving 2-3 skiffs each manned by a dozen pirates who make $10-15,000 each, will net the buccaneers $300-400,000. As ransom payments now exceed a million dollars per (successful) hit, the difference (a lot!) accrues to criminal groups that invest in, and sponsor piracy.  Robbery at sea is only part of economic lawlessness in the Horn of Africa, that has become a free (illicit) trade zone of arms, fuel, counterfeits, migrants, children, resources and drugs (40t/y of heroin alone). Piracy cannot be addressed without taking on these other crimes.


7.       The only viable long-term solution is to empower Somalia itself


In conclusion, current measures have served an interim purpose:  to mark the beginning of fixing Somalia’s many problems.  Yet, the international response has been constrained by no peace-building and little peace-keeping (the AU force is under-funded and under-equipped).


Following a recent mission in Somalia, I have concluded that sustainable anti-piracy must be part of a larger strategy, including:

•        a push towards lasting resolution of Somalia’s internal conflict and towards reconstruction of the country;

•        massive development assistance to a population that has suffered so tragically, for so long; 

•        engagement with community leaders in the provinces where pirates come from, to create jobs targeted on (vulnerable) youth;

•        establishment of criminal justice institutions in Somalia able to prosecute, try and imprison its own pirates and their sponsors;

•        energetic anti-money laundering to confiscate proceeds of crime;

•        a specialized Anti-piracy Court in Somalia staffed with well-trained nationals mentored by international experts (see SC resolution 1918.)


Somaliamust be assisted to undertake this program and deal with its own piracy problems.  This is feasible from the budgetary vantage point of rich countries, by re-deploying resources currently spent on the mighty naval force in the Indian Ocean.  The United Nations can contribute by expediting the return of its political and development presence in Somalia, starting in the provinces where security is reasonable.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 April 2011 13:33