Though the situation has improved, passage through the area off the coast of Somalia is still dangerous.
Some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes trace along the North Western Arabian Sea, where it laps the Horn of Africa and narrows toward the Gulf of Aden. Since the second phase of the Somali Civil war began around 2005, this area has been teeming with pirates. In 2008 alone, pirates launched 111 attacks on ships, 42 of which succeeded. The ships and their crews were hijacked and held for ransom. The pirates upped the ante in 2009: the rate of attacks increased ten-fold in January and February of that year, as compared to the same period in 2008.
Seeking to stop the hijackings, the international community established in January 2009 the Contact Group on Piracy off of the Coast of Somalia. This diverse group brought together numerous countries, international and non-governmental organizations to coordinate their efforts to counter piracy off the Horn of Africa.
“Since then, the Contact Group has grown to an open and vital architecture of 80 nations and organizations, including the entire spectrum of stakeholders – different ministries, international and nongovernmental organizations, many sectors of the maritime industry, and representatives of civil society,” said Donna Hopkins, U.S. State Department Coordinator for Counter Piracy and Maritime Security.
“The figures speak for themselves. There has been no piracy hijacking off the coast of Somalia since May 10th 2012, over 20 months. This is the lowest rate of attempted hijackings in over six years, and certainly since the peak of the crisis in 2011.”
This remarkable turn of events is due not only to the multi-national counter-piracy operations preventing and disrupting pirate attacks but also because commercial ships are helping by protecting themselves, including the use of armed security teams.
Nonetheless, though the situation has improved, passage through that area is still dangerous. The Group continues to prevent pirate attacks at sea, but it also works to undermine support for the pirates on shore, and works with the Somali government to offer alternate employment to would-be pirates.
“This is an international law enforcement effort to bring to justice the handful of kingpins who operate this terrible enterprise,” said Donna Hopkins. “The fundamental conditions along the Somali coast have not yet changed, and if we drop our guard, piracy will return.”