UN: Despite Lull in Attacks, Somali Pirate Threat is Still Real

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Somali pirates depart a hijacked merchant ship, 2008 (USN)

Published Dec 6, 2021 3:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

The United Nations has adopted a resolution for continuous vigilance against threats of maritime piracy and armed robbery on the coast of Somalia. Piracy networks remain active despite long-running suppression efforts.

Despite the infrequency of attacks in the region and the reduction of the designated High Risk Area (HRA) in August, a UN Secretary General report on the situation suggests that threats remain along the Indian Ocean coastline because pirate cells are still active.

In early November, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Somali coast and underscored that it exacerbates instability by introducing “illicit cash that fuels crime, corruption and terrorism.” The Council said that investigations and prosecutions must continue for all who “plan, organize, illicitly finance or profit from pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia.”

The UN Secretary-General’s latest report on the piracy situation in Somalia illustrates that joint counter-piracy efforts have resulted in a steady decline in attacks and hijackings since 2011, but notes that threats remain real. 

The report - which covers the period from November 1 2020 to October 31 2021 - shows that no incidents of piracy were reported in the regional waters around the Somali coastline. However, an armed attack against a vessel occurred approximately three nautical miles off the coast of Middle Shabelle on August 13. Some member states also observed suspicious approaches towards merchant vessels in the region, indicating that progress achieved in combating piracy could be reversed if not consolidated.

“The continued absence of successful piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia demonstrates the effectiveness of the measures applied to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea . . .  Nevertheless, the continued presence of pirate action groups and networks remain of concern and highlight that piracy has yet to be fully eradicated,” stated the report.

Multiple threats to maritime security remain, with piracy networks having shifted their focus to less risky activities - like smuggling, which also requires attention from the international community.

Though maritime piracy is at near-zero levels along Somali shores, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing remains common. This crime is hindering multilateral efforts to foster sustainable fisheries.

Attacks attributed to Somali pirates peaked in 2011, when 237 incidents were recorded. The number fell dramatically to just 14 between 2015 and 2020, a drop widely regarded as a result of joint efforts to reduce crimes at sea.