The suppression of Somali piracy

Obviously it is possible to permanently suppress piracy. After all, there are no longer pirates roaming the coasts of England, North Africa and the Caribbean. 


Ten years after the internationally-backed Somali piracy suppression began, it continues today. The piracy suppression section described how historically difficult meeting the challenges of exerting authority over individuals at sea can be. Piracy suppression remains just as difficult, time-consuming and expensive as suppressing all the piracy that came before it. 

At the heart of the Somali piracy problem lies the challenge of solving the problem on land.


Who is responsible for suppressing piracy when there is no 'state'?

In the 21st century, the only acceptable authority to undertake piracy suppression comes from the ‘state’ and the strength of its institutions, including the government, judiciary, police force, navy, and coastguard.


To those affected by Somali piracy, the weakness of the Mogadishu-based Somali state’s representative, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2008, severely compromised suppressing piracy on land. As the section on Mogadishu shows, clearly the TFG had far greater problems to worry about then a few pirates hijacking foreign ships a thousand kilometres away. The perception that  the Somali state remained failed ignored locally formed administrative ‘state-like’ structures with some capacity to exert authority over pirates, such as Somaliland and Puntland.

As the piracy epidemic took hold, the United Nations faced a quandary: since the failed Somali ‘state’ had no capacity to suppress piracy, who was responsible for suppressing it?

In December 2008, the UN’s Security Council passed a series of resolutions authorising member states to undertake naval intervention against Somali pirates. It also encouraged the organisation of a piracy suppression strategy that included capture and prosecution of alleged pirates. In taking these actions, the UN took responsibility for suppressing Somali piracy.

Many member states clambered to join the suppression effort. It was spearheaded by the US State Department-sponsored Contact Group for Piracy of the Coast of Somalia. But it soon became clear that despite all its good intentions, the UN could not control how its member states undertook their piracy suppression obligations.

To begin discussing Somali piracy suppression, it’s important to set the international community’s perception of the ‘state’ in Somalia.  And at the outset of the Somali piracy epidemic, the international community expected this to emanate from Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. And Mogadishu was in chaos.

Next: Mogadishu