Land-based efforts to stop Somali piracy

From 2007, the United Nations made concerted diplomatic efforts to secure the Somali state in Mogadishu. But finding a land-based solution to piracy this way proved a difficult and time-consuming process. In the meantime, the piracy escalated.


Around 2010, many Puntland-based Somalis organised themselves to try and stop their young men turning to piracy. Worried about their international credibility, the leaders of Puntland and Somaliland also made considerable effort to suppress piracy.  Eventually in 2011, these efforts attracted support from the international community.

Forming a suppressive force in Puntland


For much of the Somali piracy epidemic, most outside observers did not recognise the difficult security situation facing Puntland, especially the significant threat of Islamic extremism from the south (Al-Shabaab). Nevertheless, in 2010, President Farole initiated the Puntland Maritime Police Force (with funding from the United Arab Emirates) to reign in piracy.


One arm of the UN questioned the PMPF’s legitimacy because of its ‘flagrant breach of the [arms] sanctions regime, lack of transparency, accountability or regard for international law.’ However, the UN also described it as a ‘well-equipped elite force, over 1,000 strong, with air assets used to carry out ground attacks, which operates beyond the rule of law and reported directly to the President of Puntland.’ 


Graduates of PMPF training pose with local officials.

Funding for training is now supplied by the Arab League and 300 men graduated in 2017.

According to the IMB-PRC, Puntland's Maritime Police Force successfully intervened to release the Wael H, a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship from pirates in October 2008, and the Al Shahir, a Yemeni-flagged fishing vessel hijacked in April 2009. Unfortunately, the PMPF proved susceptible to corruption, with reports pirate gangs paid PMPF personnel to hijack ships they were guarding.


Nevertheless, their presence did have an effect on pirates. When interviewed for Last Hijack Interactive, Mohammed Nur reported after 2010, people received rewards for turning pirates into police. The pirates' days of impunity were numbered.

Finding alternative livelihoods to piracy

One of the historic motivators of piracy is unemployment. The ongoing conflict in Somalia had severely affected the provision of formal education opportunities and training to young, unemployed Somalis. Like their historic predecessors, Somalis realised the necessity of finding would-be pirates alternate sources of employment to counter the lure of piracy.

In 2011, members of the local community in Garowe started re-education programs with the support of the Puntland Government. Classes in electrical engineering and woodwork helped young men gain marketable skills. The initiative attracted Japanese Government and UNICEF support and by 2017, it aimed to equip over 1,500 out of school youth with technical and vocational skills in seven regional areas.


Graduation banner from the Garowe Vocational Centre's Alternative Livelihood to Piracy program

The success of the ALP initiative hinged on the Puntland government's increased investment in a security force like the PMPF. The presence of an organised, authoritative force to hold them to account for their actions increased the risk/reward ratio for potential pirates. With more adverse consequences for their actions combined with more secure potential employment, the allure of piracy for some people diminished. 

The UN changes its approach

By 2011, Ban ki-Moon realised the UN’s adherence to the centralised state in Mogadishu was not going to stop the pirates any time soon. The shift in his position was strongly influenced by his Special Adviser, French politician Jack Lang. Lang drew attention to the status of Puntland and Somaliland as separate entities within Somalia and outside the chaos of Mogadishu. Lang’s influence meant for the first time, the UN targeted these administrations as a potential long-term solution to the piracy problem. Lang urged a ‘comprehensive multi-dimensional plan’ targeting the economic, security and jurisdictional/correctional components of both entities.


Puntland prosecutes pirates


Lang proposed the building of a specialised court in Puntland conferred with universal jurisdiction and the building of a prison there to accommodate prosecuted pirates. President Farole had already realised that aligning Puntland with the goals of the UN's piracy suppression strategy by prosecuting pirates offered access to development aid Puntland desperately needed.

In December 2010, the Puntland Parliament passed Somalia’s first Anti-Piracy Law, specifically addressing piracy crimes. The UN assisted in drafting the legislative detail, although found it ‘was amended in terms that are not consistent with the definition of piracy set out in UNCLOS.’


By March 2011, judges in the Puntland towns of Bossaso and Garowe had already convicted 240 people in 30 cases for piracy. It is highly unlikely these trials met international prosecution standards, but since neither Somaliland nor Puntland held any international legitimacy, their enthusiastic and swift prosecution of pirates came under no scrutiny. 

Lang’s report helped the UN realise that increased international investment in its judiciary would help Puntland’s administration gain prestige and control over its inhabitants, the core component of piracy suppression. The UN’s Monitoring Group described how several hundred junior pirates languished in UN-funded Puntland prisons after arrests and seizures by other Puntland security forces.

In recognition of Puntland’s efforts against pirates, the United Nations Development Programme provided Puntland with training and equipment for investigators, judges and legal professionals, suggested ‘enhancements’ to the protective capacity of police and security forces, assisted with the drafting of legislative instruments, provided legal aid, IT equipment and vehicles. By April 2014, a new UN-funded prison in Garowe opened, built primarily for convicted pirates repatriated from other jurisdictions.