Piracy resurges off Somalian coast

Piracy may have returned to the coast of Somalia.

In a press conference at Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. naval base in Djibouti and the only U.S. military base in Africa, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Marine General Thomas Waldhauser announced that they were monitoring an increase in recent instances of piracy.

“The bottom line is there have been a half dozen or so (incidents),” said Waldhauser, according to Reuters. “We’re not ready to say there is a trend there yet but we’ll continue to watch.”

While piracy off the Horn of Africa spiked in 2011 and 2012, there have been few to no incidents in recent years. In part, this was due to a United Nations sanctioned naval coalition increasing patrols.

“(It was) the first time since the founding of the United Nations you had all five security council members in a naval coalition,” said Robert Griffith, associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, who studies security issues in Africa.

This joint naval effort is ongoing.

“The EU Naval Force, Atalanta, remains active off of the Somali coast to deter, prevent, and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery,” said a State Department official in an email to The Guilfordian. “We cannot speculate at this time on if/how other resources may be deployed in the future with regards to piracy.”

Now, two vessels have been captured and a third rescued in a month, according to Reuters. Mattis has said he does not expect a U.S. military response.Waldhauser attributed the rise in attacks to an ongoing famine, which is threatening about 5.5 million people, or half the population of Somalia.

“When people are starving, and they’re desperate, they’ll steal, they’ll rob, they’ll do whatever they have to to provide for their kids,” said Robert Duncan, assistant professor of political science.

South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen are also facing drastic food shortages.

“Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations,” wrote Stephen O’Brien, U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, in an open letter to the Security Council. “Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine.”

Somalia was the last country to experience a formally declared famine, when 260,000 people died in 2011.

The U.N. is currently trying to raise over $4 billion to address the current crisis. As of the end of last month, however, they had just 32 percent of the funding they needed for Somalia, according to The New York Times.

“We are deeply concerned about the potential for famine in Somalia and are rapidly scaling up relief efforts to provide emergency assistance, including food; vital malnutrition treatment; responding to disease outbreaks and other health needs; and ensuring communities have access to safe drinking water and appropriate sanitation,” said the State Department official. “Over the last 18 months, the U.S. has provided nearly $364 million to humanitarian organizations meeting urgent humanitarian needs across Somalia.  This includes approximately $178 million in new funding to help prevent famine this year.”

According to Griffith, there are two factors that have caused the famine. One is ongoing fighting in Somalia, especially in the south against the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabaab. The other is erratic weather patterns and drought.

“Farmers are forced to leave their land,” said Griffith. “Obviously, they can’t farm.”

Imported food is expensive and difficult to get into the country, in part because of the security situation, according to Griffith, and so people starve.

While the famine may be the most obvious cause of the recent attacks, there are also other, related reasons, according to Griffith.

The first is that Somalia simply remains a very weak state. Even the U.S. mission to Somalia resides in Nairobi, Kenya.

“The fact (that) we don’t have an embassy in Somalia shows just how weak and fragile that state is,” said Griffith.

The other issue is that international fishing vessels have taken advantage of the weak regulation to fish off the coast, making it difficult for local fisherman to make a living.

“Somali fishermen are really outraged over the exploitation of their fishing resources,” said Griffith. Some of this outrage gets taken out on the international vessels in the form of attacks.

These three interrelated issues all come back to the weakness of the central government in Mogadishu, the capital city, despite recent gains for democracy.

After the government collapsed in 1991, making Somalia perhaps the most famous failed state in the world, Somalia finally approved a new constitution in 2012.

This year, their parliament elected a new, popular president, Mohammad Abdullahi Mohammed.

“My understanding is that conditions have improved somewhat in Mogadishu,” said Griffith. But Al Shabab still launches terrorist attacks into the capital city, and the African Union mission to clear the terrorist group out has, so far, been unsuccessful.

“(The AU) mission has been in place for some time now, and if the situation has been improved, it’s only been marginally,” said Griffith.

The pirate attacks may not be the start of a new trend, but they are symptom of Somalia’s ongoing challenges.

“You blow up the pirate ships and kill all the pirates, that’s not the issue,” said Duncan. “The issue is that they’re freaking starving. So give them some help.”