Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
on your Newsreader!
Format for print or mobile
USA/Africa: A Rare Policy Success
Nov 15, 2012 (121115)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"In 2011, the number of successful pirate attacks fell by
half compared to 2010. This year, in 2012, the number of
successful attacks off the Horn of Africa has continued to
decline. To date, pirates have captured just ten vessels
this year, compared to 34 in 2011 and 68 in 2010." - U.S.
Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro
There are many grounds for criticizing U.S. policy toward
Africa under the Obama administration, which has for the
most part continued established themes in such areas as
counter-terrorism, rigidly free-market economic policies,
refusal to recognize international responsibility for
economic and social rights, and a selective approach to
violations of political rights and human security.
Strikingly, however, the administration has resisted the
temptation to militarize the approach to anti-piracy, and
has instead played a leading role in a multilateral and
multi-dimensional approach to the issue. The successes are
perhaps modest, but they are real. They are perhaps due to
the fact that they reflect new structures and policies,
without the paralyzing weight of past precedents. In any
case, they are worth noting.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a recent
speech by Andrew J. Shapiro, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of
Political-Military Affairs, on "Turning the Tide against
The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia
(CGPCS), created in January 2009 pursuant to UN Security
Council Resolution 1851, has been the key international
instrument for coordination of anti-piracy policy. It
includes over 60 countries and 21 international institutions
(see http://www.thecgpcs.org/about.do?action=structure for list).
They include, to give only a few examples, all five
permanent members of the United Nations Security Council,
Ethiopia, Somalia, India, NATO, EU, Arab League, African
Union, the International Seafarers' Union, and the
International Maritime Organization.
Reports from the CGPCS are available at
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on peace and security
issues, visit http://www.africafocus.org/peaceexp.php For
previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia, visit
For particularly relevant articles on Somali piracy, see
http://www.africafocus.org/docs08/som0811.php, from November
22, 2008, and "The Somalia Crossroads
Piracy and an insurgency tempt Washington to get it wrong -
again," by William Minter and Daniel Volman in In These
Times, June 29, 2009, at http://tinyurl.com/bo9hwfy
Many thanks to those subscribers who have recently sent in a
voluntary subscription payment to support AfricaFocus
Bulletin. If you haven't yet sent in such a payment and are
able to do so, please help AfricaFocus reach more people
with reliable information on Africa. Send in a check or pay
on-line with Paypal or Google Checkout. See
http://www.africafocus.org/support.php for details.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Turning the Tide on Somali Piracy
Andrew J. Shapiro
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Remarks to the Atlantic Council, Washington, DC, October 26,
[Excerpts. Full text available at:
. . .
This morning I want to talk about the significant progress
that we have made in combating piracy off the coast of
Somalia. When the Obama administration came to office, the
problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia was spiraling out
of control. In 2007 and 2008, attacks off the coast of
Somalia began to escalate suddenly and significantly. A
vicious and reinforcing cycle was forming. Motivated by
escalating ransom payments - which grew into the millions of
dollars - and a lack of other employment opportunities, more
and more Somali men took to piracy. As a result, the problem
of piracy metastasized from a fairly ad hoc, disorganized
endeavor into a highly developed transnational criminal
enterprise. Flush with money, pirates were also able to
improve their capabilities and expand their operations
further and further away from shore.
This presented a perfect storm for the international
community. Somalia, a failed state, provided pirates with a
safe haven on one of the most strategically important
shipping lanes in the world - where there was virtually an
endless supply of potential targets to prey on. In an
interconnected world, the impact of piracy in one area can
ripple across the globe. People around the world depend on
secure and reliable shipping lanes for their food, their
energy, their medicine, and consumer goods brought by
tankers and cargo ships. By preying on commercial ships in
one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, pirates off the
Horn of Africa were threatening more than just individual
ships. They were threatening a central artery of the global
economy - and that in turn means that they were threatening
global and regional security.
As a result, action had to be taken. While there seemed to
be no limit to the growth of piracy, through the collective
effort of the: United States; the UK; NATO; the EU; the
broader international community; and the private sector, we
are now seeing signs that we may have turned the tide on
Now let me be clear. Pirates at sea are searching for ships
to target as we speak. And an attack may succeed at anytime,
anywhere. In fact, just this week a Dutch NATO warship
reportedly detained a possible pirate mothership. But while
the threat remains, the progress that has been made in
addressing the threat is real and remarkable.
The numbers tell the story. According to figures from the
U.S. Navy, we are on track to experience a roughly 75
percent decline in overall pirate attacks this year compared
with 2011. Independent, non-governmental sources, such as
the International Maritime Bureau, also indicate a dramatic
drop in attacks.
We are seeing fewer attempted attacks in no small measure
because pirates are increasingly less successful at
hijacking ships. In 2011, the number of successful pirate
attacks fell by half compared to 2010. This year, in 2012,
the number of successful attacks off the Horn of Africa has
continued to decline. To date, pirates have captured just
ten vessels this year, compared to 34 in 2011 and 68 in
2010. The last successful Somali pirate attack on a large
commercial vessel was more than five months ago.
The lack of success at sea, means that Somali pirates are
holding fewer and fewer hostages. In January 2011, pirates
held 31 ships and 710 hostages. Today, pirates hold five
ships and 143 hostages. That is roughly an 80 percent
reduction in ships and hostages held by pirates since
January 2011. While this is still unacceptably high, the
trend is clear. We are making tremendous progress.
Today, I want to talk about the U.S. government response to
piracy. I want to talk about how our response provides a
model for dealing with shared global challenges and is an
example of "smart power" in action.
This is a challenge where deliberate and concerted action by
governments, international organizations, and the private
sector resulted in a truly multilateral campaign that has
suppressed piracy off the coast of Somalia to levels that
seemed impossible only 18 months ago.
To understand our approach toward combating piracy, one has
to look to the strategic direction provided by President
Obama and Secretary Clinton. There was a recognition by this
Administration that the complex nature of transnational
challenges required a more multifaceted and integrated
approach. At her confirmation hearing, Secretary Clinton
outlined the need for what she called "smart power" - noting
that we must use "the full range of tools at our disposal -
diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and
cultural - picking the right tool, or combination of tools,
for each situation." A key feature of Secretary Clinton's
approach was that the U.S. government had to operate in a
more effective and integrated manner to address new and
And in April 2009, shortly after taking office, Secretary
Clinton called for a "long-term strategy to restore maritime
security to the Horn of Africa." She stated that "we have to
act swiftly and decisively" to combat the threat of piracy.
And that "we may be dealing with a 17th century crime, but
we need to bring 21st century solutions to bear."
This is exactly what we have sought to do in combating
piracy. We have pursued an integrated multi-lateral and
multi-dimensional approach. This "smart power" approach has
involved utilizing every tool in our tool kit. ...
This cooperation has resulted in an integrated and
comprehensive approach to combating piracy that has focused
- Military power: by expanding security at sea through the
use of naval assets to defend private vessels and to disrupt
- Collaboration with the private sector: by encouraging and
empowering industry to take steps to protect itself;
- Legal enforcement: by using our legal tools to deter
piracy through effective prosecution and incarceration;
- Targeting networks: by utilizing our investigative and
financial tracking capabilities to target pirate networks,
their financing and their ringleaders ashore;
- And lastly development and governance: by working with our
Somali partners to build responsive and credible governing
institutions as well as effective law enforcement in
I will talk about each of these areas in a bit more detail.
But first, at the heart of each of these components has been
our diplomatic engagement.
Secretary Clinton has noted that "with smart power,
diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy." That is
certainly the case with our counter-piracy efforts.
Diplomatic engagement has been critical to every piece of
our strategy - whether that's coordinating and encouraging
military action or pushing maritime states to allow armed
guards aboard merchant vessels. ...
This is exactly what the United States has done when
addressing the problem of piracy. All countries connected to
the global economy have an interest in addressing piracy.
And at a time when the United States was engaged in two
wars, this was not a challenge that should simply have
fallen on our shoulders alone. The United States has helped
lead the international response and galvanize broad,
coordinated, and comprehensive international action. Our
response to piracy is an example of how we are seeking to
lead in new ways, by reaching out to new actors and build
new kinds of partnerships and coalitions.
In January 2009, the United States helped establish the
Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. The
Contact Group is based on voluntary membership of states
looking to act and was established concurrent with the UN
Security Council's passage of Resolution 1851. It now
includes over 70 nations as well as international and
maritime industry organizations. The Contact Group is an
essential forum. It helps galvanize action and coordinate
the counter-piracy efforts of states, as well as regional
and international organizations. A number of specialized
working groups were established within the Contact Group to
address a variety of subjects, including: naval coordination
at sea; judicial and legal issues involving captured
pirates; and public diplomacy programs in Somalia to
discourage piracy. While we don't always agree on
everything, we agree on a lot, and this coordinated
international engagement has spawned action.
Additionally, to utilize resources effectively and prevent
duplication, a UN-managed Trust Fund to support counterpiracy
initiatives was established. . . .
This takes me to a second area of emphasis - the expansion
of naval forces in the region.
Critical to the decline in piracy has been the deployment of
naval forces. Encouraging the international community to
take military action has been an essential component of our
diplomatic efforts. For our part, on the high seas, the
United States established Combined Task Force 151 - a
multinational naval effort charged with conducting counterpiracy
patrols in the region, covering an area of over one
million square miles.
But in addition to our efforts, there are a number of
coordinated multinational naval patrols off the Horn of
Africa. NATO is engaged with Operation OCEAN SHIELD and the
European Union has Operation ATALANTA. Other national
navies, including several from Asia and the Middle East
conduct counter-piracy patrols and escort operations as
well. These are independent from the multinational efforts
but are coordinated through participation in Shared
Awareness and Deconfliction meetings known as SHADE, which
helps ensure that everyone is on the same page.
On any given day up to 30 vessels from as many as 22 nations
are engaged in counter-piracy operations in the region. This
includes countries like China and Japan. International naval
forces have thwarted pirate attacks in progress, engaged
pirate skiffs, and successfully taken back hijacked ships
during opposed boardings. We have worked together to create
safer shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden for commercial
shipping vessels by establishing the Internationally
Recommended Transit Corridor. The transit corridor is
heavily patrolled by naval forces and has helped reduce the
number of attacks within the Gulf of Aden.
. . . But military power, while necessary, is not sufficient
on its own. Given the demands on U.S. forces, we also needed
to look to other tools to combat piracy.
This leads me to a third area of emphasis for the U.S.
government - and that is working with, and empowering, the
maritime industry so that they can better protect themselves
from attack. Here too our diplomatic efforts have played a
critical role. Perhaps the most significant factor in the
decline of successful pirate attacks has been the steps
taken by commercial vessels to prevent and deter attacks
from happening in the first place.
The widespread adoption of Best Management Practices has
clearly had a significant positive effect. These include
practical measures, such as: proceeding at full-speed
through high risk areas and erecting physical barriers, such
as razor wire, to make it more difficult for pirates to come
aboard. These measures help harden merchant ships against
pirate attack. Recognizing the value of these measures, the
U.S. government has required U.S.-flagged vessels sailing in
designated high-risk waters to fully implement these
But perhaps the ultimate security measure a commercial ship
can adopt is the use of privately contracted armed security
teams. These teams are often made up of former members of
various armed forces, who embark on merchant ships and guard
them during transits through high risk waters. The use of
armed security teams has been a potential game changer in
the effort to combat piracy. To date, not a single ship with
armed security personnel aboard has been successfully
For our part, the U.S. government led by example, as early
on in the crisis we permitted armed personnel aboard U.S.-
flagged merchant vessels. We also mandated that U.S. vessels
transiting high risk areas conduct a risk assessment with
specific consideration given to supplementing onboard
security with armed guards.
When privately contracted armed security emerged on the
scene a few years back, there were widespread reservations.
Many feared that armed guards would escalate the level of
violence during pirate encounters, further endangering
merchant mariners. In fact, it appears that the opposite has
happened. From the evidence that we have seen, in most
engagements, attempted attacks are usually halted by the
pirates as soon as they realize an armed security team is
aboard. Pirates often break off their attempt to board and
turn their skiffs around to wait for another less protected
ship. These teams therefore have served as an effective
However, armed security teams come in varying sizes and, to
be frank, in varying degrees of quality. . . .
Fully unraveling legal and policy conflicts related to armed
security will take some time - and we are continuing to push
for progress on this issue. Last month the State Department
hosted a working level meeting of policy specialists from 23
nations and international organizations. The intent of the
meeting was to share information about national or
organizational policy and to give us a more complete picture
of the overlaps and gaps in policy from country to country.
This is an important step in figuring out a way forward that
addresses the thorniest differences.
While we are finding ways to deter and suppress pirates and
better protect vessels at sea, some still do not take all
available security precautions. Approximately 20 percent of
all ships off the Horn of Africa are not taking proper
security measures. And predictably, these account for the
overwhelming number of successfully pirated ships.
Hijackings will therefore remain a danger for the
In a hostage situation our foremost concern is always about
the safety of the entire crew. However, every ransom paid
only further institutionalizes piracy and increases the
likelihood that others will face the threat of hijacking in
the future. The United States has a long tradition of
opposing the payment of ransoms, and we have worked to
discourage or minimize ransom payments. When a hostage
taking occurs we strongly encourage those involved to seek
assistance from appropriate government authorities.
The American public should also know that this
Administration will do everything it can to ensure the
safety and security of American citizens threatened by
pirates. We have made clear that we will act aggressively to
rescue and protect American citizens threatened by piracy.
For example, just months into office, President Obama was
confronted with the hostage taking of the American captain
of the MAERSK Alabama. The President authorized the use of
force to rescue the captured captain and after a long
standoff, U.S. Navy Seals successfully freed the captain.
And in January this year, just hours before the State of the
Union address, President Obama ordered U.S. Special Forces
to rescue an American and a Danish aid worker being held
hostage on the ground in Somalia. This dangerous mission
clearly demonstrated our resolve. If you attack or capture
an American citizen, we will act vigilantly and aggressively
to make sure you face justice.
Now let me turn to another aspect of our response - our
efforts to deter piracy through effective apprehension,
prosecution and incarceration of pirates and their
supporters and financiers.
Today, over 1,000 pirates are in custody in 20 countries
around the world. Most are, or will be, convicted and
sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
An important element of our counter-piracy approach has
involved a renewed emphasis on enhancing the capacity of
states - particularly those in the region - to prosecute and
incarcerate suspected pirates. . . .
Prosecution is crucial and several regional nations have
been bearing the lion's share of the burden in this area.
Kenya, Seychelles, and the Maldives have each accepted for
prosecution dozens of pirates captured by naval forces
patrolling off the Horn of Africa. They have also agreed to
incarcerate convicted prisoners until more durable solutions
are found. These countries deserve both commendation from
the international community and support for their judicial
Going forward, however, we cannot expect Somalia's neighbors
to host trial after trial and continue to absorb large
numbers of imprisoned pirates. Many nations have laws that
allow them to prosecute piracy as a crime of universal
jurisdiction. Whenever possible, nations affected by piracy,
even if only tangentially, should exercise that jurisdiction
and help ease the burden.
Furthermore, it is imperative that the maritime industry do
everything it can to support prosecutors trying to bring
cases against pirates. Too often prosecutors decline cases
because they do not believe the required witnesses will be
available when a case goes to trial. With pirates from one
country; prosecution in a second; a shipping company from a
third country; and a merchant-mariner witness from a fourth;
prosecutors often have little standing to compel testimony
and instead must rely on voluntary cooperation. Crew members
should be able to participate in the trials of their
tormentors secure in the knowledge that their employers
support their decision and will hold their job for them. To
that end, the State Department and the United Nations Office
on Drugs and Crime have worked together to support
prosecutions. Together we recently provided funding and
technical support for Kenyan judicial officials to hear
testimony from crew members by video teleconference from
their home countries for hearings held in Mombasa, Kenya.
Ultimately, the majority of Somali pirates belong in Somali
prisons. That is the most durable and cost-effective outcome
for most piracy cases. To the extent we in the international
community can help build the capacity of Somali judicial
institutions, we are helping ourselves while also making a
contribution toward a more peaceful and stable Somalia.
As piracy has evolved into an organized transnational
criminal enterprise, it is increasingly clear that the
arrest and prosecution of rank and file pirates captured at
sea is insufficient on its own to meet our longer term
counter-piracy goals. Most pirates captured at sea are often
low-level operatives. The harsh reality of life in Somalia
ensures there are willing replacements for pirates
apprehended at sea. Prosecutions are essential but they must
also include the masterminds along with the gunmen. After an
intensive review of our strategy last year, Secretary
Clinton approved a series of recommendations that
constituted a new approach. A focus on pirate networks is at
the heart of our strategy.
We are using all of the tools at our disposal in order to
disrupt pirate networks and their financial flows. We are
focused on identifying and apprehending the criminal
conspirators who lead, manage, and finance the pirate
enterprise. We are making progress in this effort. For
instance, this past August, Pirate negotiator Mohammad
Saaili Shibin received two consecutive life sentences from a
U.S. federal court for his role in the attack that ended in
the deaths of four Americans aboard the S/V Quest. This kind
of sentence is exactly what is needed to create strong
disincentives to piracy. Moreover, it is an important step
against the upper tiers of the pirate hierarchy and
demonstrates that individuals beyond the gunmen in skiffs
are culpable and prosecutable.
The Contact Group also endorsed the focus on pirate networks
and formed a new working group to facilitate multilateral
coordination. This effort includes tracking pirate sources
of financing and supplies, such as fuel, outboard motors,
and weapons. For example, working closely with INTERPOL's
National Central Bureau in Washington, we have helped to
develop a comprehensive database on Somali piracy that will
make information accessible to law enforcement and help
further criminal investigations against pirate ringleaders.
We are also supporting the effort to stand up an information
fusion center in the region to facilitate the capture and
prosecution of the financiers, investors, and ringleaders of
Somali piracy. The Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions
Intelligence Coordination Center known as RAPPICC is located
in the Seychelles and in August broke ground on the Center's
new facility, which will be located on an old Coast Guard
base in the Seychelles. RAPPICC will be part of a larger
"Crime Campus" with a 20-person holding facility for use in
conducting interviews. We are confident that it will help
prosecutors around the world, by equipping them with the
evidentiary packages they need to win convictions against
not just rank and file pirates, but the middle and top tier
Lastly, the most durable long-term solution to piracy is the
re-establishment of stability in Somalia. The end of
Somalia's political transition with a new provisional
constitution, new parliament, and new president is a hopeful
sign of a new era of Somali governance. This, combined with
the continued security gains by the Somali National Security
Forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia, presents
new opportunities to move forward with Somalia's
stabilization. Once Somalia has a viable government capable
of policing its own territory and its own waters, piracy
will fade away. Supporting the emergence of effective and
responsible governance in Somalia will require continued,
accountable assistance to the Somali government to build its
capacity to deal with the social, legal, economic, and
operational challenges it faces. To that end, the United
States continues to support the newly established government
in Mogadishu, as well as other regional authorities working
toward these same goals, a "dual-track" policy we have
pursued for the better part of two years now.
In the immediate term, we are also working to dissuade
people from taking up piracy. Our public diplomacy messaging
to the international community and to Somalis in both
Somalia and the diaspora strives to deglamorize and
ostracize the pirates. It aims to show how piracy violates
cultural norms and destroys traditional Somali values and
society. At the same time, we balance the message by
communicating the economic development efforts the
international community is undertaking to create
alternatives to piracy.
I would like to close with a bit of warning. While we have
made great gains against piracy, it remains an ever-present
threat. A ship or vessel could be pirated tomorrow. More
hostages could be taken and brutalized. Somali pirates have
shown how little it takes to cause mayhem - just a skiff and
some light weapons. Therefore, should the vigilance of
mariners at sea wane, should governments and navies turn
their attention and resources elsewhere, pirates are certain
to get back in their skiffs. Piracy is a crime of
opportunity and will flourish again if we open up the space
for them to operate before the new Government of Somali is
ready and able to police its shores.
The comprehensive, multilateral approach that we have
pursued has helped turn the tide on piracy and has provided
an example of how the U.S. government and the international
community can respond to transnational threats and
challenges in the future. We have made great strides and we
need to ensure that those gains are not discarded - only
leaving us to fight for them once again. Let us now stay
vigilant and let's work to close the book once and for all
on Somali piracy.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic
publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on
African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and
international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by
AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to
the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more
information about reposted material, please contact directly
the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other
resources, see http://www.africafocus.org