May 1, 2008

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at the increasing number of attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Aden and western Indian Ocean waters off the Somali coast.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, a total of thirty-one cases of piracy were recorded in those international waters in 2007. So far in 2008, there have been twenty-three attacks. Just last weekend, the Socialist government of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero reportedly paid a reported $1.2 million ransom for the release of a Basque tuna fishing boat, the FV Playa de Bakio, which had seized along with its twenty-six crew members—thirteen Spanish citizens and thirteen African nationals—some 217 nautical miles (400 kilometers) off the Somali coast.

In his essay Dr. Pham notes, “Not only are the attacks increasing in frequency, but they have also evolved into more tactically sophisticated operations involving faster attack craft—some purchased with the proceeds of earlier successful attacks—working at ever-greater distances thanks to GPS and other new technologies.” Consequently, Dr. Pham argues for two points:

First, safeguarding vital shipping lanes like those near the Horn of Africa requires the commitment of adequate forces to actually conduct maritime security operations (MSO) there… Second, there is little point in addressing the challenge of “piracy” off the Somali coast if one is unwilling to confront the lack of legitimate and effective government which is at root of the problem.

Thus until the new local authorities which have arisen in the wake of the collapse of the former Somali Democratic Republic can stand on their own, the column suggests that “an internationally-sanctioned force should assume a protectorate over the former territorial waters, not only policing them and prosecuting violators of the peace, but also managing marine interests such as fisheries for the nascent polities among the Somali.”

To read the full text of the article, “Pirates of Somalia: The Curse of the Failed State,” click here.