Piracy lesson

Piracy off the coast of West Africa has now overtaken Somali piracy, a report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and other seafarers' groups says.
It says 966 sailors were attacked in West Africa in 2012, compared with 851 off the Somali coast. West African pirates mostly steal fuel cargo and the crews' possessions, often resorting to extreme violence. Five of the 206 hostages seized last year off West Africa have been killed, the document says.
BBC News Africa

Hands up, who thinks patrolling to suppress piracy is a sensible idea? 
To those who raised their hand(s): So patrolling the Western Indian Ocean, the Eastern South Atlantic, the strait of Malacca and probably soon the entire of Southeast Asia? Think about the cost (in)efficiency of this.

Now hands up who thinks that facing the Somali pirates by either accepting armed crews or by grabbing them directly at their (initially few) coastal villages would have been more sensible.

I know, my stance on piracy is not exactly in synch with my general stance on interventions, but I consider piracy mostly as a policing issue anyway. Piracy without official support or tolerance could be traced to bases with intelligence and police investigations in order to enable the relevant country to act against the pirates itself.
It is a topic for the military only if substantial piracy is being supported or tolerated by a harbouring country and it should then be treated as an aggression by the UN as if that country's navy had committed the piracy. This means substantial organised violence against pirate bases would be OK within my framework as national / collective self defence.

In the case of Somali pirates, some country should have raided the initially only three or four pirate villages early on. Even the Portuguese navy was an overmatch to them. Additionally, no country should have paid ransom money and any company which paid ransom money to pirates should have been seen its ships (including chartered ones) banned from our harbours for supporting organised crime.

2008-06 Piracy

2008-11 "Mission Atalanta" or: How to demonstrate incompetence

2009-04 Somali piracy, a comprehensive approach



  1. Could have done better...
    What is the best course now?

  2. Know your enemy

    Collect intel on the Atlantic Ocean pirates, and don't make up your mind early on (since humans rarely ever change their mind).

    1. and in Eastern Africa?

    2. Seriously, don't value others' mere opinions highly.

      Accumulate a background knowledge, look at the facts and then decide on your own.

  3. The only exaples I know of a pirate threat being eliminated are those where someone burnt their ports to the ground.
    Either by sailing a ship/fleet in to harbour and shelling the city flat, or by sending an army in and sacking the city.

    Its not a "police" issue, because the local police are on the payroll of the pirates, if they themselves are not the pirates, and if Dixon of Dock Green jumps on a flight, the local police will "arrest" him and demand a large fine/ransom for his return.

    I'd happily send a frigate sailing down the coast of Somali, shelling any building that could be described as a mansion, and any port infrastructure.
    Would the German Navy use collective punishment?

  4. How about keeping foreign fishing vessels out of African economic exclusion zones, compelling western companies based in Africa to adhere to some basic environmental protection regulation, and stop dumping textiles on the continent. Then there might be some viable alternatives to piracy. They might be less lucrative, but would also be more reliable.

    1. And the enforcement of these regulations would be less expensive and more successful than naval patrols why?

      Besides, to address economic troubles of an entire continent in order to keep a few thousand thugs from doing their business looks like the ultimate shotgun approach to me.

    2. Only one of those requires a military approach, which could be done through an advisory capacity to local coast guards, and keeping fishing trawlers out of the region is vastly simpler and cheaper than trying to find pirates. Everything else is legislation and legal enforcement back home.

      Arming ship crews is the most sensible way to deal with the existing problem, but it doesn't actually solve the problem. Nor does a refusal to pay ransom (although I also agree with that stance) as the pirates will shift to selling the cargo. If it's a problem we all decide we can live with, then fine - let it fester. But if we want it to go away, and maybe in the process set conditions to open up some more African countries as consumers of our goods, and possibly manufacturers of them, then it would be in our interests to help them find less violent ways of making a shilling.

  5. The pirates do receive money and intelligence and have to hand out money for intelligence. They could be fishing for ships at sea, but so far this hypothesis was eliminated. It's organized crime that starts in harbours and havens far away from Africa.
    Safe retreat rooms and denial of control of the ship seem a good way to deal with the problem.
    The stated purpose of fighting piracy off the Somali coast never made sense, but it helped all NATO members to establish facilities there that enable a presence in the Western Indian Ocean. That's the southern sea route to the current areas of occupation such as Afghanistan, Iraq and later on Iran. The connection from European bases is pretty good because supercarriers are within Suezmax.
    Why don't we make a fuzz about the Street of Malacca?
    Why does Western Africa not receive promptly the same good reply as East Africa?
    Why does the policy for East Africa naval patrols change so little over the years?