Somali pirates remain a serious threat to international shipping. A new report from The International Maritime Bureau says Somali pirates carried out almost half of the 300 piracy incidents reported worldwide this year. Just this week, in fact, Somali pirates traded gunfire with International Naval Forces and the European Union's anti-piracy force reported that pirates attacked, but failed to hijack, a French-flagged ship off the coast of Tanzania. Currently, the EU says pirates are holding 19 ships and more than 400 hostages. But experts are saying solving the problem extends beyond just dealing with the pirates.
Sailors aboard a U.S. naval destroyer conduct a live-fire exercise, as part of a multinational anti-piracy task force, patrolling the waters off the Somali coast. But despite such international efforts, attacks by Somali pirates continue. To some extent, officials say, the piracy situation off the Somali coast is part of a larger problem. Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, points out the upsurge in piracy is just one of the ripple effects of what's happening on land.
"The reason why there is piracy is the fact that there is no effective deterrent to prevent those individuals from carrying out criminal activities. There is a weak economy and poor government structures/// the naval [forces] can do a lot /// but it is not the ultimate solution," he said.
Carson says over the the past three years, 450 ships have been attacked. Pirates have seized nearly 2,400 hostages and have received an estimated $100 million in ransom. Many countries have sent naval forces to patrol the region. But since nearly 30,000 ships transit the Gulf of Aden each year it is a difficult area to protect. Silvia Kofler, Head of Public Diplomacy with the European Union Delegation in Washington, says the EU has been involved in the region since 2008 when it launched its first naval operation called "Atlanta."
"Presently we have over 1,800 military participating it's over 20 vessels and aircrafts. It's quite a huge force we have there," she said.
Kofler says the naval forces' main task is to protect vessels that are carrying food aid for displaced people in Somalia. They also prevent, deter and repress other armed attacks off the Somali coast. The International Maritime Bureau says the naval presence has helped control piracy but notes the pirates have expanded their range to attack ships in the northern Indian Ocean and in the Southern Red Sea. "The area of operation is indeed very big. It's almost comparable to the Mediterranean. In our latest conclusion, the European council is looking into the possibility of expanding the operations into the South and into the East," she said.
Kofler says the EU is trying to focus on reconstruction and reconciliation inside Somalia because it realizes that without that, the wider problem of piracy can not be solved.
She says the EU currently has 100 projects under way, with a total involvement of about $250 million.