Piracy in Somalia has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the Somali Civil War in the early 21st century. Since 2005, many international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization and the World Food Programme, have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy. Piracy has contributed to an increase in shipping costs and impeded the delivery of food aid shipments. Ninety percent of the World Food Program’s shipments arrive by sea, and ships into this area now require a military escort.
A United Nations report and several news sources have suggested that piracy off the coast of Somalia is caused in part by illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters by foreign vessels that have, according to Somali fishermen, severely constrained the ability of locals to earn a living and forced many to turn to piracy instead. Other articles allege that 70 percent of the local coastal communities “strongly support the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters”, and that the pirates believe they are protecting their fishing grounds and exacting justice and compensation for the marine resources stolen. Some pirates have suggested that, in the absence of an effective national coast guard following the outbreak of the Somali Civil War and the subsequent disintegration of the Armed Forces, they became pirates in order to protect their waters. This belief is also reflected in the names taken on by some of the pirate networks, such as the National Volunteer Coast Guard (NVCG). However, as piracy has become substantially more lucrative in recent years, some reports are suggesting that financial gain is now the primary motive for Somali pirates
During the Siad Barre regime, Somalia received aid from Denmark, Great Britain, Iraq, Japan, Sweden, USSR and West Germany to develop its fishing industry. Cooperatives had fixed prices for their catch, which was often exported due to the low demand for seafood in Somalia. Aid money improved the ships and supported the construction of maintenance facilities. After the fall of the Barre regime, the income from fishing decreased due to the Somali Civil War.
Also, there was no coast guard to protect against fishing trawlers from other countries illegally fishing and big companies dumping waste which killed fish in Somali waters. This led to the erosion of the fish stock. Local fishermen started to band together to protect their resources. Due to the clan-based nature of Somali society, the lack of a central government and Somalia’s strategic location at the Horn of Africa, conditions were ripe for the growth of piracy in the early 1990s.
Precise data on the current economic situation in Somalia is scarce but with an estimated per capita GDP of $600 per year, it remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Millions of Somalis depend on food aid and in 2008, according to the World Bank, as much as 73% of the population lived on a daily income below $2. These factors and the lucrative success of many hijacking operations have drawn a number of young men toward gangs of pirates, whose wealth and strength often make them part of the local social and economic elite. Abdi Farah Juha who lives in Garoowe (100 miles from the sea) told the BBC, “They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day.They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns.”
Some pirates are former fishermen, whose livelihoods were hurt by foreign ships illegally fishing in Somali waters. Most of the pirates, observers say, are not former fishermen. After seeing the profitability of piracy, since ransoms are usually paid, warlords began to facilitate pirate activities, splitting the profits with the pirates. Pirates even attack ships carrying humanitarian aid. In most of the hijackings, the bandits have not harmed their prisoners.
The Transitional Federal Government has made some efforts to combat piracy, occasionally allowing foreign naval vessels into Somali territorial waters. However, more often than not, foreign naval vessels chasing pirates were forced to break off when the pirates entered Somali territorial waters. To counter this, in 2008 (and renewed each year since then) the UN passed a resolution allowing international warships to pursue pirates into Somali territorial waters. The Royal Navy has regularly released Somali pirates, even when caught in the act, because of the risk they would request asylum if prosecuted in Europe. The government of Puntland has made more progress in combating piracy, evident in recent interventions.