New Business Model? Somali Pirates Sell Security To Poachers

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Written by Dana Sanchez

With the success rate of Somali pirates dropping dramatically over the last year, pirate gangs in search of new revenue are now providing armed protection for ships illegally fishing Somali waters, according to a report in AsharqAl-Awsat.

Thanks to increased security on ships and more effective international naval patrols, maritime hijackers have been frustrated by a string of failed attempts, the report said. Somali pirates have turned to a “new” business model – selling “security” to poachers — the same scourge that launched the Horn of Africa’s piracy era eight years ago.

Pirates are also trafficking in ammunition, drugs and humans, according to a report published this month by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

This brings piracy full circle. Somali pirate attacks were originally a defensive response to illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping off Somalia’s coast that evolved into clan-based, ransom-driven business.

Officials say up to 180 illegal Iranian and 300 illegal Yemeni vessels fish Puntland waters, along with a few Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and European-owned vessels.

“Security” teams help illegal vessels cast nets and open fire on Somali fishermen, driving away competition, the U.N. reports. “The prize is often lucrative and includes large reef and open water catch, notably tuna,” the report says.

Somalia’s president said the U.N. report was full of mistakes.

From April 2005 through 2012, 149 hijackings netted pirates an estimated $315 million to $385 million in ransom payments, according to an April World Bank report.

Some pirates see themselves as saviors of the sea, and might argue that the attacks were bringing back money stolen from Somalia, the report said.

Piracy peaked in 2009 and 2010, when 46 and 47 vessels were hijacked, according to the European Union Naval Force. Hijackings dropped to 25 in 2011 and five in 2012. The 2012 hijacking netted pirates an estimated $32 million in ransoms, the U.N. report said.

Smuggling is the current pirate money-making business of choice because ship hijackings have failed, a pirate commander told AsharqAl-Awsat. “If you drop one business, you get an idea for another,” he said.