JEFCAS Seminar (summary)

 ‘Somalia and Piracy: The Problems with International Response’

Pirate attacks have become more aggressive.  Consequently the ransoms have gotten higher and the international community has been faced with a rapidly expanding crisis.  This months JEFCAS seminar was delivered by Roger Middleton from Chatham House.  Mr Middleton spoke on ‘Somalia and Piracy: The Problems with International Response’. Piracy around the coast of Somalia has increased significantly since early the mid 2000s.  Using the 2008 report produced by Chatham House on the issue as a starting point for the seminar Mr Middleton emphasised the need to understand the historical and regional context of Somalia. Briefly explaining how Somalia has faced direct engagement and interference from neighbouring states, big powers and regional institutions for decades. Its history has been marked by intervention, the emergence of war-lordism and internal conflict. The current government, the TFG based in Mogadishu has not been a resounding success and does not have actual governing control over the entire country.  Numerous factions and armed groups operate within its boarders.  In addressing the history of piracy in Somalia Mr Middleton noted that Somalia itself is a country with several ‘autonomous’ regions including Somaliland, Galmudug and Puntland. Much of the piracy stems from Galmudug and Puntland.   While there is not a direct link between these regional governments and piracy it does highlight how there is no negative economic impact for Puntland and Galmudug which has contributed to a lack of preventative measures from these governments.

With the historical context laid out Mr Middleton discussed why piracy was so popular in the region. Stating that Piracy is driven solely by money and is a highly organised business creating a new and emerging economy.   Somalian GDP stands at $600.  A junior pirate can earn up to $10,000 per successful kidnapping.  For many, it is a rational economic choice that outweighs any other options or opportunities.  Mr Middleton went on to address why piracy had increased so much since 2007.  Simply put, the majority of ships are unarmed. Most of these pirate crews are comprised of 8 to 10 armed men in a power boat.  The vastness of the Indian Ocean combined with the fact that international naval ships that are not designed to fight piracy has lead to about 250 attempted attacks per year.  Even if naval ships adapted their resources to allow for proper counter piracy measures, the ransoms are generating $4-5million.  Piracy is the second biggest income after Somali Diaspora donations, re-emphasising that piracy is an economically dominated issue.

The emergence of an international response appeared after an attack on a French vessel in 2008.  The EU, NATO and the US attempted to form a protective corridor in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden.  The military response while helpful has not solved or addressed the root causes of piracy. This has also resulted in piracy attacks being more dispersed over a wider area.  While the international community has engaged in legal action –there are currently 1500 people in prison globally for piracy related crimes, Mr Middleton again pointed out the economic importance of piracy. Many pirates are imprisoned in western prisons or facilities that are monitored by international agencies where certain international standards regarding food, healthcare and general well being are adhered to.   While recognising that not all prisoners are treated in accordance with international standards, prison is not a deterrent to these individuals.  As a further counter measure to piracy many ships have been hardened mainly through the use of barb wire. As recently as October 2011, the British government declared that all UK registered ships could carry licensed armed guards.  Potentially creating an adverse impact in the area as the pirates will acquire harder weaponry, use increased fire power to over come armed guards.  Mr Middleton closed the seminar by stating that these measures taken by the international community to address the issue of piracy in Somalia are only dealing with the symptoms not the root causes.  In order to tackle the issue preventative measures must incorporate aspects of development in the area.  Economic development in marine communities through job building projects should be explored.  The international community can also focus on political engagement with the regions government, encouraging them to become more active on the issue.  External solutions will not address this issue.  There must be internal solutions back by external support.

Further Reading

House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, 2011, Piracy off the coast of Somalia, London: House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee available at

Middleton, Roger, 2008, Piracy in Somalia, London: Chatham House, available at

More information can be found on Chatham House’s website under ‘Piracy and Armed Non-State Actors’

Laura O’Connor

JEFCAS  Seminar Coordinator


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