West plans new hi-tech crackdown on Somali pirate gangs
Satellite pictures reveal areas transformed by ransom riches
> Daniel Howden Author
Friday 13 January 2012
A modern-day treasure map of pirate strongholds in Somalia may hold the key
to solving the maritime crisis off the Horn of Africa. Experts using
satellite images of the main cities and ports in Somalia's most active
pirate havens have traced the money trail from the multimillion-pound
ransoms earned from captured ships.
The results suggest that while cash is trickling down from pirate gangs to
the wider economy, comparatively little of it is benefiting the coastal
areas used by the pirates to launch attacks on international shipping.
The findings, published yesterday in a report from the London-based
think-tank Chatham House, could be the basis for a new strategy to turn host
communities against the pirates, its author suggests. "A negotiated solution
to the piracy problem should aim to exploit local disappointment among
coastal communities... and offer them an alternative," says Dr Anja
The surge in piracy off Africa's longest national shoreline over the past
decade has seen hundreds of ships hijacked and up to 1,000 seafarers taken
hostage each year. Ransoms amounting to $250m were paid last year, while the
total cost of the crisis, including international counter-piracy measures,
has been estimated at up to $12bn for 2010.
Nato declared this week that its fleet of warships - in a joint operation
with the EU - helped to reduce the number of successful attacks last year by
almost half, from 45 to 22. However, independent analysts say the crisis is
not going away and that 26 larger foreign vessels, plus 18 smaller ones, are
still being held in Somalia, with at least 418 hostages.
The new research finds that real incomes in the areas most associated with
piracy have recently caught up with and overtaken those of other previously
wealthier parts of the country. The semi-autonomous region of Puntland has
been the main haven for pirates and satellite images suggest its capital,
Bosasso, has been a major beneficiary of the buccaneers' success.
High-resolution photographs show large-scale investment in Bosasso and
Garowe, which is also linked with piracy, coinciding with the period in
which ransom income has increased. New cars, which local interviews have
connected with ransom earnings, are also visible.
In addition, night-time satellite images show that since 2007, while the
rest of the country was getting darker as people couldn't afford electric
light, Garowe and Bosasso were the only towns to buck the trend.
However, the same pictures scotch rumours of pirate palaces being built in
the coastal havens of Eyl and Hobyo which are launching ports for many of
the high seas attacks. Neither town registers night-time light emission or
anything other than small-scale building work. "The nightlights data
demonstrate that smaller coastal towns have gained little from the pirate
business carried out in their local waters," the report concludes.
Among the reasons for this is the estimate that more than half of pirates'
earnings go to foreign and regional investors and that many of the pirate
gangs recruit gunmen and shore-based support teams used in hijacking and
guarding captives from the interior and employ local fishermen only to pilot
their attack craft.
Most experts agree that only a land-based solution can solve the crisis.
Military solutions such as Ethiopia's invasion in 2006 and last year's
incursion by Kenya have been attempted - and neither worked.
Somalia is carved up into competing regions, many of which have been in a
state of civil war since the collapse of the last central government 20
years ago. Its main earnings are foreign remittances from its large
diaspora, cattle export and charcoal trading.
In a country with an average yearly income of $300 and ranked joint bottom
of the UN's global development index the income from piracy puts it on an
As the Somali proverb "The man who owns 100 goats but his relatives have
nothing, he is poor" demonstrates, there is a tradition of sharing wealth
across family and clan alliances. Pirate ransoms can be spread among gangs
as large as 500 people, meaning the proceeds are trickling down into the
Dr Shortland makes the controversial suggestion that buying off coastal
communities with aid money or recruitment to local coastguard or security
services could save billions compared to the ongoing naval presence: "Even
if Somali communities received all the ransom money, replacing this source
of income would be considerably cheaper than continuing with the status
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Fri Jan 13 2012 - 16:17:44 EST