About the Author: Robert W. Maggi serves as Coordinator for Counter Piracy and Maritime Security in the Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
In the waters off the Horn of Africa, the summer monsoon season is coming to an end and pirates are returning to sea to target humanitarian aid and commercial vessels transiting one of the world's busiest shipping corridors.
Through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, the United States has partnered with more than 50 nations and international organizations to work towards realizing Secretary Clinton's vision of “a 21st century solution to the 17th century crime of piracy.” Since its creation in January 2009, the Contact Group has doubled in size, reflecting the broad international consensus on the need to safeguard the seaways. Together, we have made several positive contributions toward curtailing piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin.
The State Department has worked closely with our colleagues at the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard to partner with the International Maritime Organization and the shipping industry in developing simple, cost-effective self-protection measures that individual vessels can take to deter would-be attackers. These measures include briefing crew members and increasing watches, adding additional lighting and blocking access to the vessel while at sea, and taking evasive maneuvers if confronted by would-be attackers.
Contact Group participants have also helped establish a 20-nation joint naval patrol to establish an Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor for vessels transiting the region. The U.S. Navy partners with the Republic of Korea and several other nations in a Combined Task Force, as well as through the NATO-led Operation Ocean Shield. Both these efforts coordinate closely with Operation Atalanta, a maritime security mission led by the European Union, as well as additional naval contributions from fellow Contact Group participants China, India, and Russia to safeguard the shipping lanes.
As we work to combat piracy's impact at sea, we are also working to address the conditions in Somalia that have allowed piracy to take root. To this end, the Contact Group on Piracy works in parallel with the UN's International Contact Group on Somalia in support of the Somali-led Djibouti Peace Process and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. The United States has consistently been the largest single-country provider of humanitarian assistance in Somalia as well, providing more than $180 million in food and non-food emergency aid since 2008. Additionally, the United States continues to support the Djibouti Peace Process and Somali-led efforts to stabilize Somalia, which can ultimately provide the governance structures necessary to end piracy from its land-based origins.
Recent months have seen several positive developments toward curtailing piracy, including:
• On April 12, President Obama issued Executive Order 13536 blocking the property of certain persons contributing to the conflict in Somalia, including two pirate leaders.
• Abshir Boyah, an admitted pirate ringleader who was among the individuals designated in the U.S. Executive Order, was arrested by authorities in the northwestern Somalia region of Puntland.
• The Department of State works closely with its partners from the Departments of the Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, and other interagency partners, to engage our Contact Group counterparts on how best we come together to track and disrupt the financial networks that support the pirates' illicit activities.
• Kenya and the Seychelles continue to prosecute suspected pirates in their national courts, and Tanzania has taken steps to amend its national law to facilitate the prosecution of suspected pirates in its national courts, regardless of whether the particular piracy attack has a Tanzanian nexus. We urge other states in the region to join these states in their efforts to prosecute suspected pirates or imprison convicted pirates. The United States also sits on the board of the UN Trust Fund Supporting the Initiatives of States Combating Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which helps provide capacity building assistance to countries in the region to support their efforts to prosecute and imprison pirates while improving the rule of law and their own security more generally.
Piracy off the Horn of Africa is an international problem that requires an international solution. Much work remains ahead, but so far, we are making solid progress in combating this shared security challenge.