Making Progress in Combating Piracy Off the Horn of Africa

Posted by Donna Hopkins
November 9, 2010
U.S. Navy Personnel Patrol for Pirates in Waters off the Coast of Somalia

About the Author: Donna Hopkins 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, pirates continue to target humanitarian aid and commercial vessels transiting one of the world's busiest shipping corridors. This week, I will be traveling to the United Nations in New York to lead the U.S. delegation to the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, a partnership of 60 nations and international organizations working to realize 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 off Somalia. 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 about potential threats and increasing watches, adding additional lighting and blocking access to the vessel while at sea, and taking evasive maneuvers if attacked.

Contact Group participants from around 20 nations have helped establish a multinational naval patrol to safeguard vessels transiting the region. The U.S. Navy partners with South Korea, which will chair this Contact Group meeting, and several other nations in a Combined Task Force, as well as through the NATO-led Operation Ocean Shield. Both of 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, including China, India, Japan, Russia, and others, 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 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:
- 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.

- The Department of State is working with our partners from the Departments of the Treasury, Justice, and other interagency partners to engage our Contact Group counterparts on how best we can come together to track and disrupt the financial networks that support the pirates' illicit activities.

- Many countries in the region, including Kenya and the Seychelles, continue to prosecute suspected pirates in their national courts, and Tanzania and Mauritius have taken steps to amend their national laws to facilitate the prosecution of suspected pirates in their national courts. We urge other states to join these states in their efforts to prosecute suspected pirates and/or imprison convicted pirates.

- The United States also sits on the board of the 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.



Christopher P.
Virginia, USA
December 7, 2010

Christopher P. in Virginia writes:

The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia may need to expand their focus to include Sudan in the greater horn of Africa region. While most of the piracy is originating in Somalia and directed towards humanitarian assistance to Somalia, upcoming events in Sudan may require an increased need for aid into this region. As a result of the 2005 Naivasha Agreement, the referendum for Southern Sudanese independence scheduled for January 9, 2011 may spark a civil war within Sudan. Recent events such as the suspected airstrikes by the Sudanese Army along the proposed border against Southern Sudanese targets, should the referendum pass, point toward the North not letting go peacefully. The North has a great deal at stake in this referendum to include oil revenues from fields in the south and the possible follow on attempt by the Darfur region to seek their own independence. If the North engages in military action after Southern Sudan gains its independence there will be a great need for humanitarian assistance in Sudan that could be greatly affected by piracy off the coast of Somalia.


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