Somali Piracy: The Next Iteration

Somali Piracy: The Next Iteration

by Peter Lehr


The article describes the escalation of acts of maritime piracy emanating from the coast of Somalia, comparing them to the wave of aerial hijackings in the 1960s and 1970s in terms of demands, including political demands. The advantages for the pirates to gang up with land-based al-Shabaab terrorists are discussed and likely developments sketched.


Since the brazen attack of Somali pirates on the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit in November 2005, and in the wake of the successful hijacking of the French luxury yacht Le Ponent, the M/V Faina or the super tanker Sirius Star in 2008, scores of articles and op-eds have been published on the subject of modern piracy. These usually highlights the more spectacular aspects of this form of maritime crime, such as the brazen modus operandi of the pirates, the parachuting of huge sums of money on the hijacked vessels, or the operations of naval special forces against some of the pirate gangs.

Modern piracy is nothing new: [1] the phenomenon reemerged during the 1980s for a variety of reasons.[2] Piracy emanating from the coasts of Somalia is also nothing new. Somali piracy can be traced back at least to the mid-1990s when inshore and offshore fishing vessels started to be attacked at 'knife-point' – and occasionally at 'gun-point' as well. This initial wave of piracy emanating from Somali shores largely went unnoticed by the international community for a decade: only smaller, mostly local, vessels came under attack - various trawlers allegedly involved in illegal fishing activities in coastal waters, or tramp ships with no fixed schedule and other coast-huggers. For the latter category, the Kenyan-based Motaku Shipping Agency is an example: several of their vessels fell prey to pirates in 2005, prompting the company to call for outside help. International bodies such as the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), BIMCO and NUMAST also lobbied for an international initiative to tackle the worsening problem. However, these initiatives did not lead to robust action. The UN passed a series of resolutions, and general advice was given to stay as far away from these dangerous waters as possible – advice which is in any case less than helpful given the confined waters of the Gulf of Aden. Interestingly, even the attack on the Seabourn Spirit only managed to put Somali piracy on the international agenda for a short time: after a couple of weeks, international attention turned elsewhere – especially after it became clear that this attack was piracy pure and simple - not an attempted act of maritime terrorism.

Only the most recent wave of Somali piracy, triggered by the successful hijacking of the French luxury yacht Le Ponant in Spring 2008, prompted international actors to intervene. The fact that the pirates netted a ransom of two million US dollars did not go unnoticed – neither by international media covering the story, nor by Somali militia men, clan fighters, and fishermen. In short, this act of piracy resulted in a kind of Somali 'gold rush', or 'feeding frenzy' (to use a more appropriate maritime simile): scores of willing recruits – young militia- and fishermen in the age-range of 20-35 years[3] – flocked to the pirates' lairs to get a piece of the action, or rather: a share of the booty. As a result, the frequency of acts of piracy – both successful and unsuccessful – rose from one or two attacks per month to several attacks per week. Somali pirates' milestones include the attack on the main battle tank-carrying MV Faina (captured 25 September 2008, released 6 February 2009; reported ransom US $ 3.2 m), the Saudi super tanker Sirius Star (captured 15 November 2008, released 9 January 2009; reported ransom: US $ 3m), the German-owned Hansa Stavanger (captured 3 April 2009, released 3 August 2009,;reported ransom: US $ 2.7m), and the US-flagged Maersk Alabama on 8 April 2009. However, this particular hijacking went less smoothly for the pirates. Faced with the determined resistance of an alert and prepared crew, the pirates had to abandon the ship rather hastily, holding its captain hostage in one of its life boats. After a stand-off lasting four days, US Navy SEAL snipers killed the three pirates holding the captain in the life boat while a fourth one was negotiating on board of the US Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge.[4]

International and Regional Responses

The pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama – one of very few US vessel targeted by pirates since the end of the Barbary Coast wars of the early 19th century – is noteworthy not only for the successful anti-piracy operation which ended it. In September 2008, for example, the French Navy Commando Hubert successfully retook a hijacked private yacht, killing one pirate and capturing six, while rescuing the two hostages, Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne.[5] The case of the Maersk Alabama is noteworthy for convincing the new US administration of President Obama that resolute and robust action was needed to combat this new scourge. This guaranteed the continuation of multinational anti-piracy operations launched in the wake of the MV Faina and Sirius Star hijackings of Autumn 2008, amongst them the newly formed NATO Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, the NATO Operation Allied Provider, and EU Operation Atalanta. Also, the most recent wave of piracy resulted in a flurry of diplomatic action such as the passing of several further UN resolutions, the formation of a UN Contact Group tasked to co-ordinate anti-piracy efforts, and the signing of bilateral agreements between several Western states and Kenya and the Seychelles in order to bring apprehended pirates to justice.[6]

Furthermore, a regional-based anti-piracy patrol conducted by Arab states under the lead of Saudi Arabia is under discussion at the time of this writing. As the case of the Malacca Strait Patrol (MSP)[7] in Southeast Asia shows, pooling one's scarce resources with those of one's neighbors suffering from the same problem makes eminent sense: the joint anti-piracy patrols of Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean and Royal Thai navy vessels led to a considerable decrease of piratical acts – both with regard to overall numbers as well as in the severity of such attacks: from gun-point (organized piracy), back to knife-point (opportunistic piracy), so to speak.[8] Even more importantly with regard to long-term solutions to piracy, efforts are made to train and equip a Somali naval force and coast guard to be based in the more secure parts of the war-torn country. The intention here is to empower Somalis to re-establish a modicum of law and order at sea by themselves.

As such, enough initiatives to combat piracy seemed to be in place to make life more difficult for pirates: short-term 'quick-fix' solutions such as the various armadas patrolling the dangerous waters or the agreements with Kenya and the Seychelles to bring pirates to justice; medium-term solutions such as the Arabian anti-piracy task force; and long-term solutions to address the root causes of piracy on the shore by way of re-establishing law and order at least in parts of Somalia. However, medium-term solutions will take at least another year to come to fruition – if at all – and the long-term solutions mentioned above are even farther away. And with regards to the naval patrols on station at the moment, they appear to be out-maneuvered by ever more audacious pirate raids. The recent attack on the oil tanker BW Lion is an impressive case in point: the attack occurred at high sea, about 1,000 nautical miles (1,800 km) off the coast of Somalia.[9] Suspicious approaches have been reported off the coast of Oman as well as in the Mozambique Channel – about a 1,000 nautical miles away from their own shores. The waters of the Seychelles have seen several successful pirate attacks, such as the hijack of the British yacht Lynn Rival in October 2009.[10]

Securitization of Somali Piracy: Introducing the 'T-Word'

Thus, not everybody is happy with the seemingly sluggish pace of current anti-piracy operations. Some hardliners even lobby for preventive land strikes in addition to more robust action at sea. The objective of such strikes would be to destroy the pirates' infrastructure, and to eliminate known high-profile leaders of pirate gangs. Supporters of such strikes cite the targeted killing of al-Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayrow in May 2008 as an example or the September 2009 strike against Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan involved in the Mombasa hotel bombing of November 2002. The French land strike at pirates involved in the Le Ponant hijack is also mentioned in this regard. Broadening the scope of land strikes to include the destruction of pirates' infrastructure would be the next logical step: without suitable boats… no piracy – for the hardliners, it's as simple as that.

In this context, it needs to be pointed out that the phenomenon of Somali piracy has been successfully securitized during the last year from 'above' – i.e., the international community: first, a regional maritime crime problem was turned into an international security threat; and second, Somalia was depicted as yet another safe haven for Al Qaeda. Not surprisingly, some observers connected the dots by commenting on a possible nexus between Somali piracy and Al Qaeda terrorism in the shape of maritime terrorism.[11] Mentioning the 'T-word' usually proves enough to put a problem on the international (Western) agenda. It also serves to justify calls for more robust actions – in the present case, strikes against the shore bases of the pirates, and probably even surgical air strikes against known pirate captains. Such a strategy would be roughly comparable to the actions taken against the North-African Barbary Coast pirates during the first decades of the 19th century: after having ransomed captured sailors for many years, a squadron of the fledgling US Navy bombarded the harbors used by the pirates in what is now known as the First Barbary War (1801-1805), culminating in a daring raid by then Lieutenant (later Commodore) Stephen Decatur in the famous Battle of Tripoli Harbor in July 1804.[12]

'Doing a Decatur' would come with a considerable risk, however: it could drive the pirates into the arms of militant Islamists such as al-Shabaab – an outfit allied with Al -Qaeda aspiring to be the "Al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa". As such, a 'quick fix' in the shape of land strikes could create a problem much worse than piracy. True, so far there is only circumstantial evidence of contacts between pirates and al-Shabaab. With regards to an imminent wave of maritime terrorism emanating from the shores of Somalia, there is no evidence at all – although the country's geo-strategic location athwart major sea lines of communication (SLOC) and in the vicinity of a formidable maritime choke point, the Bab el-Mandeb, makes it a viable launching pad for such acts. One should keep in mind that two successful maritime suicide attacks already took place in the waters of the Gulf of Aden: the attack against the USS Cole in October 2000, and the attack on the super tanker Limburg in October 2002.

We do not need to speculate about the still farfetched possibility of Somali maritime terrorism at this point. It is, however, necessary to discuss the not so farfetched possibility of Somali piracy going through yet another iteration: a move from 'private' piracy (i.e. conducted for private gain only) towards a more politicized form of piracy – here loosely defined as acts of piracy according to the IMO definition given above but acts which also include some political demands aimed at achieving more than just 'private' gains. Such a development would have far-reaching consequences for international, regional and local efforts to curb piracy. At the time of writing, there is already enough evidence to suggest that this move towards political piracy is taking place right now.

Gradual Politicization of Somali Piracy: Demands other than Money

Consider the recent spat between Somali authorities and the government of the Seychelles, triggered by an obvious swap of hostages for prisoners: three Seychellois crew members who have been kept since February 2009 were released after two private planes returned 23 Somali prisoners held in the Seychelles for piracy to Mogadishu. Although the Seychelles are in denial, most observers agree that this was the first successful exchange of hostages for prisoners, thus establishing a precedent, comparable to the first multi-million US $ ransom – which, in fact, triggered the current wave of piracy. It can, in any case, be taken for granted that this exchange was duly noted by other organized pirate groups operating from Somali shores – it was not only reported by major international media sources such as the Associated Press[13] but also by regional, Somali-language (online) newspapers.[14]

Here, it is important to recall that Somali groups – pirates being no exception – usually are tightly knit, clan-based 'ventures'. As such, and with regard to the scores of Somali prisoners in various – mostly Kenyan – prisons, it is plausible that this precedent will lead to more such demands, being made on top of the usual demands for money ransom. Demanding the release of fellow pirates in itself is not a political demand. However, it is safe to assume that it won't stop there: as soon as pirates learn that demands going beyond the usual exchange of money are negotiable – and acceptable – they may be tempted to press even further, using the hijacked vessel and the act of hijacking itself as a platform to air other, and more specifically political demands – not necessarily only on behalf of themselves – as we shall see below.

As it relates to kidnappings and hijackings carried out for political reasons, hostages-for-prisoners exchanges are not exactly a new phenomenon. The wave of politically motivated aviation hijackings from the late 1960s onwards is a case in point: apart from demanding amounts of money usually ranging in the million dollar range, aviation hijackers frequently demanded the release of prisoners from the hijackers' organization or prisonera from an allied group. Aviation hijackers were also very adroit at using the ongoing drama of the hijacking – during which scores of civilians were held in a confined space for days, sometimes weeks, besieged by police or armed forces – as platforms to communicate their political demands to an international audience. In cases of aviation terrorism, Wilson isolated five primary demands:

  • The demand to travel as an end in itself (not to evade capture);
  • The request for the release of specific, named prisoners;
  • The request for the release of a general group of unnamed prisoners;
  • The demand for publicity in a variety of forms; and
  • The demand for money to be paid to the terrorists themselves. [15]

The primary demand "to travel as an end in itself" and not just to evade capture is rather peculiar to cases of aviation hijackings but does not apply in our case: It is obvious that 'being flown to Cuba' makes sense, but being 'shipped to Cuba' does not. With regard to demands for free passage, however, such demands are also made by Somali pirates since they are in the same boat (literally, here) as their hostages: slipping away into the night is quite difficult when the hijacked vessel is still at sea and shadowed by warships and helicopters. Of course, if the vessel has been forced to drop anchor near the pirates' home base, this demand may not feature high on the list. In any case, this particular primary demand seems to be self-evident enough for both politically and criminally motivated hijackings and requires no further discussion. The same is true with regard to the money to be paid to the hijackers themselves: as we already established, this is, so far, the main driving factor behind piracy as maritime criminality. The Somali pirates are no exception. The demand for publicity is something else, though.

In the case of essentially politically motivated terrorist hostage situations, specialists such as Rubin and Friedland[16] argue that publicity is the main driving factor. In the case of hijackings with criminal intent, in our case the Somali shipjackings, the main driving factor is financial gain. Publicity does not seem to be particularly welcome since it potentially hampers smooth transactions between the hijackers and third parties negotiating on behalf of the ship owners. With the exception of the botched hijacking of the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit in November 2005 Somali pirates actually managed to stay largely outside the limelight of international public attention until the successful hijacking of the French luxury yacht Le Ponant in Spring 2008. Prior to that, nobody bothered too much about frequent acts of inshore piracy targeting tramp ships. As a result, early Somali piracy achieved what organized crime groups usually aspire to: "function completely under the radar screen of the state apparatus [since gaining] public attention is not part of their motivation."[17]

The Le Ponant attack and all the subsequent high-profile attacks more or less forced Somali pirates into the limelight. However, it is important to note that some pirate groups used this attention to gain publicity for their – or rather, the Somali fishing communities – grievances, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and (alleged[18]) toxic waste dumping in their coastal waters and on their shores. Their attempts to sell themselves as something akin to maritime Robin Hoods has not been altogether unsuccessful, by the way. Even some Western newspapers have been taking a sympathetic stance. For this reason it may be a bit too hasty to dismiss their political declarations as mere acts of grandstanding by individual pirate captains only. Furthermore, names such as Somali Marines or National Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia adopted by certain pirate groups should also not be dismissed as pure irony: some pirate groups emerging in the early 1990s actually were formed on the behest of warlords controlling coastal areas in order to defend Somali maritime interests after the downfall of the central government and the disappearance of the 'official' Somali Navy. Thus, there may just be a kernel of truth behind these publicity stunts, and a sliver of political motivation behind the criminal acts.[19]

This leads us to the last of the primary demands remaining on Wilson's list above: those pertaining to the release of specified, named prisoners, and the release of a general, unnamed group of prisoners. So far, there is only one clear incident in the former category of (probably) specified prisoners, as described above. Two other recent cases seem to include demands for the release of prisoners as well: the case of Spanish fishermen captured on board of the tuna trawler Alakrana, and the British couple taken hostage on board of their yacht Lynn Rival in October.[20] At the time of writing, the British couple is still being held hostage. The crew of the Alakrana, however, has been released, and a ransom of US$ 3.5 million was reportedly paid. However, the two Somali prisoners kept in a Spanish jail were not released. Thus, one of the pirates' key demands apparently went unheeded without any ill effect for the hostages. This begs the question whether demands other than money from pirates should actually be taken at face value. On the other hand, Spanish authorities announced that the two arrested pirates will be deported to Somalia to serve their prison sentence there after having been sentenced in a Madrid court.[21] Deporting the pirates to their home country after having sentenced them may well be a concession from those negotiating on Spain's behalf with the capturers of the Alakrana – but in the absence of evidence, all we can do is to speculate that the demands for the release of prisoners played a role in the protracted negotiations.

Again, it needs to be emphasized that Somali organized pirate gangs follow a very similar modus operandi: approaching vessels at high sea in wolfpack-style or 'swarming' attacks, forcing them to stop, boarding them, and forcing them to set course towards Somali pirate bases where additional pirates come aboard to reinforce the original boarding party. Crew members are kept captive either aboard their own vessels or somewhere at land until ransom monies are paid – which can take months. They clearly copied tactics from each other - launching ever more daring raids, demanding ever higher ransoms – currently in the 2-3 million US dollar range. Recently at least two groups apparently moved beyond mere financial objectives, demanding the release of imprisoned fellow pirates. Oter groups appear to be on the point of doing the same. Since pirates are learning from each other, it can be expected that more such demands will follow, driven by clan-based solidarity – as stated above.

Politicization of Somali Piracy: 'Mujahideen at Sea'

Interestingly, al-Shabaab also plays a role in politicizing Somalia's pirates, now even calling them "mujahideen because they are at war with the Christian countries"[22], defending "the coast against Allah's enemies".[23] Al Shabaab's politicization of piracy is reinforced by the impact of recent anti-piracy actions on the pirates themselves:

"Ever since American snipers shot dead three pirates to rescue the captain of the US-registered freighter Maersk Alabama on Easter Sunday, the pirates have been calling for revenge – and they suddenly sound very much like the Islamists. The US is now 'our number one enemy', says Jamac Habeb, a pirate from Eyl. 'We are now out to get Americans,' says a pirate named Ismail from Haradhere. 'And when we have them, we'll slaughter them.'" [24]

Americans are not the only ones under threat: after a shoot-out between escaping Egyptian fishermen and their Somali capturers left several pirates dead, the pirates announced:

"'We have found seven of our dead colleagues floating in the sea,' said the associate, who gave his name as Farah, by telephone from one of the gangs' strongholds, Las Qoray. 'The Egyptian crew members killed them ... we used to welcome them and treat the Egyptians better than other hostages, but if we capture more of them we shall get our revenge.'" [25]

Of course that may be nothing more than grandstanding. After all, there is no profit in killing hostages. However, the stakes appear to be higher than before, and so is the likelihood of hostages getting murdered. For example, on 25 September Somali pirates killed the Syrian captain of a hijacked ship because he "refused the pirates' demand to turn the ship away from the port [of Mogadishu, t he ship's destination]." [26] Also, the North Korean master of the chemical tanker MV Theresa VIII hijacked on 16 November is said "to have died after being shot during the hijack" when he and the crew attempted to fight off the pirates.[27] Refusing pirates' orders used to be punished by non-lethal force, including savage beatings. All in all, the chance for crew members to survive their ordeal unharmed used to be quite good. This may have changed now. And as the chilling threat against the Egyptians as fellow Muslims indicates, belonging to an 'infidel nation' may not be the only criteria for getting killed in the future: anybody could be a target for a revenge killing in the context of a blood feud or vendetta – not uncommon in Somalia.

Having said that, ostentatiously fighting for a bigger cause in the shape of a maritime Jihad against the West obviously provides the pirates with at least grudging and temporary tolerance by al-Shabaab – Somalia's leading Islamist militia, allied with al-Qaeda. Selling themselves as Mujahideen is clearly in the interest of Somalia's pirate groups - at least those operating in al-Shabaab's zone of influence. Therefore, even if we still agree with Ignatieff that "[there] will always be a gap between those who take the political goals seriously and those who are drawn to the cause because it offers glamour, violence, money, and power"[28], there is considerable scope for a further politicization of Somali pirates and a move towards political piracy. That would be piracy still carried out mainly for financial gain, but for political ends as well – as serious or as imaginary as these ends may be.

Thus, it is plausible that the next wave of Somali pirates may well act in a more politically aware manner. They may even find out sooner rather than later that hostages are not only "money on two legs", or human shields, or bargaining chips to release imprisoned fellow pirates, but that they can also be instrumentalized for demands of a much more pronounced political nature. "Withdraw from our waters, or we will start killing hostages" for example would be a possible demand directed against Western – or "crusader" – warships, on behalf of their 'patron' al Shabaab. And for that reason, pirates could start to be more than just tolerated pro-forma allies by Islamist militias: they could be useful for al-Shabaab as their own maritime arm, waging a pirate's war not too dissimilar to the one along the so-called 'Barbary Coast' in the early 19th century, where pirate groups acted on behalf of the political powers, but also as independent entrepreneurs who "used their connections with states to advance their interests at the same time as they have advanced those of their patrons and protectors."[29] Being the only Somali groups that are actually able to carry the fight to the so-called "infidels", "crusaders" or "Allah's enemies" at the moment – al Shabaab could only target the few remaining staff members of Western NGOs after having been hit by US air strikes like the ones mentioned in the introduction – the pirates could be crucial for al Shabaab's future. For example, captured crew members might end up in the hands of al Shabaab, to be used as political bargaining chips and/or human shields.

In this context, it needs to be pointed out that hostages essentially are a "commodity". At the time of writing, it still makes sense for the pirates to 'sell' them – both crew members and ships – back to their employers/owners. But if this money dries up due, say, to an enforced ban on paying ransom, it may make sense for the pirates to sell them to the highest bidder – al Shabaab, for example. Examples of such a behavior abound: organized crime groups in post-invasion Iraq sold hostages to various militias or to al Zarqawi's group; and so did North African tribesmen in January 2009: they captured a group of Western travelers to sell them to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). While most of the other hostages have been released, the British hostage was beheaded – most probably because no ransom was offered for him.[30]

Conclusion: Implications for International Shipping

It is quite obvious that such cooperation between organized crime (pirates) and terrorism (al Shabaab) would have serious implications for international shipping passing through the pirates' extended area of operation, which nowadays includes the coast of Oman, the Seychelles, and the Mozambique Channel. Until now, it made eminent sense not to resist boarding if the targeted vessel had no chance to outmaneuver or outrun the pirates: hardly any hostage was harmed, and although crew and ship were in the hands of pirates for weeks and sometimes even months, they had a good chance to eventually walk away to tell the story, after ransom had been paid. For the same reason, it also made sense not to arm one's vessel: that could have resulted in a counter-productive arms race between pirates and crews, and thus an increase in casualties on the seafarers' side.

It is doubtful whether this will still be true in the future. To begin with, the newest wave of Somali pirates appears to be more willing to resort to deadly force. Secondly, the thought alone of being handed over to al Shabaab is for a hostage quite a chilling one; as cases from Iraq or the Maghreb show, the risk of losing one's life in a gruesome way is considerable. Thus, not resisting to be boarded may not be the wisest tactic any longer. Whether some shippers like it or not, outfitting vessels with at least defensive devices such as rolls of razor wire, keeping an around the clock anti-piracy watch while in the Northern Arabian Sea, and staying close to warships – i.e. sailing in a convoy – may well be the shape of things to come in the new pirates' season. In addition, employing armed security guards or even escort vessels from private security firms may well make sense - at least for vessels transporting high-value cargo. However, this is quite an expensive solution. Yet another option would be to form "specially trained security teams from the ship's crew, led by a highly trained licensed officer".[31] Many seafarers' organizations and bodies such as IMO are opposed to such an option for a variety of good reasons, be they legal, liability/insurance-related, or practical.[32] Still, ships of certain nations are known to be well armed; they are hardly ever attacked by pirates.[33] In the United States at least, some ship owners appear to be reassessing the risks involved in arming sailors. For example, the Washington Times reported the following:

"Many ship owners appreciate that armed crews would protect their ships, cargo and personnel. In May 5 [2009] Senate testimony, Philip J. Shapiro, chief executive officer of Liberty Maritime Corp., said: "In light of the recent threats to U.S. merchant mariners, we respectfully request that Congress consider clearing the obstacles that currently block ship owners from arming our vessels.""[34]

Admittedly, arming sailors still is a very unpopular solution for most. However, against the backdrop of ever increasing risks to life and limb while sailing through the Arabian Sea, such a drastic course of action is starting to make sense – at least for some. And with regard to the usual counter-argument that this would lead to an escalation in violence: whether we like it or not, that has already happened. Now the ball is in our court….

About the Author: Dr.Peter Lehr is Lecturer in Terrorism Studies at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St. Andrews, Scotland/UK.


[1] The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, Article 101, defines piracy as: "(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft and directed (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons and property on board of such ship or aircraft; (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State[…]The text of the Convention is available at (accessed 11/11/2009).

[2] A discussion of reasons for piracy can be found in Murphy, Martin N.: Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money. Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World. London, Hurst 2009, pp. 24 passim.

[3] See, for example: Robyn Hunter, "Somali pirates living the high life", BBC News, World, Africa, 28 October 2008, at (accessed 11/11/2009).

[4] "Hostage captain rescued; Navy snipers kill 3 pirates",, 12 April 2009; at (accessed 15 September 2009). The fourth pirate is currently in jail in New York, awaiting trial.

[5] The German Federal Police elite unit GSG9 was deployed to recapture the Hansa Stavanger, but the operation was deemed to risky and aborted. See "German Elite Troop Abandons Plan to Free Pirate Hostages", Spiegel Online International, 04 May 2009; at,1518,622766-3,00.html (accessed 15 September 2009).

[6] See for example James Kraska. "Fresh Thinking for an Old Problem. Report of the Naval War College Workshop on Countering Piracy", Naval War College Review, Autumn 2009, Vol. 62, No. 4, pp. 141-154.

[7] Official name: Malacca Straits Coordinated Patrols (MALSINDO)

[8] For a critical view on MALSINDO and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Anti-Piracy ReCAAP), see Catherine Zara Raymond: "Piracy and Armed Robbery in the Malacca Strait – A Problem Solved?" Naval War College Review, Summer 2009, Vol. 62, No. 3, at (accessed 11/11/2009)

[9] "Mid-ocean pirate attack on tanker", BBC News, World, Africa, 10 November 2009, at (accessed 11/11/2009).

[10] "Government rules out ransom deal", BBC News England, 31 October 2009, at (accessed 11/11/2009).

[11] See the interesting discussion on the securitization of Somali piracy in Tsvetkova, Bilyana: "Securitizing Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia", Central European Journal of International and Security Studies, Vol. 3, Issue 1, May 2009, at (accessed 29/09/2009).

[12] An easily readable description of this war can be found in London, Joshua E.: Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation. Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley and Sons, 2005.

[13] "Somalia, neighbouring Seychelles clash over pirates", see for example ABC News, 7 September 2009, at (accessed 11/11/2009).

[14] See, for example: "Puntland 'seizes Kenya-bound planes that transported pirate suspects'", Garowe Online, 6 September 2009, at (accessed 29/09/2009).

[15] Margaret A. Wilson, "Toward a Model of Terrorist Behavior", The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 44, No. 4 (August 2000), pp 417.

[16] Rubin, Jeffrey Z./Friedland, ,Nehemia.: "Theater of Terror", Psychology Today, Vol. 20, No. 3, (March 1986), pp. 18-28.

[17] Dipak Gupta, Understanding Terrorism and Political Violence. The life cycle of birth, growth, transformation, and demise. London, Routledge, 2008, p. 148.

[18] The UN's rather perfunctory survey on Somalia's coasts – the environment simply is too hostile for a more detailed study at the moment – could not really establish the origin of the containers found: as a result of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, these containers could theoretically come from anywhere.

[19] If one applies the well-known definition for politics, "who gets what, when and how", the pirates' behaviour is eminently political in a very pragmatic sense in any case.

[20] It is however highly unlikely that Somali pirates would include a demand for the release of unspecified prisoners not belonging to their own clan or group: there is not much cooperation between the various pirate groups, hailing from different clans and sub-clans, with a high fluctuation of members.

[21] "Somali pirates free Spanish boat", BBC News, 17 November 2009, at (accessed 19/11/2009).

[22] Sheikh Hassan Turki, leader of Hizbul Islam, as quoted in "Terror on the High Seas. Somali Pirates Form Unholy Alliance with Islamists"", Spiegel Online, 20 April 2009, at,1518,620027,00.html (accessed 15/09/2009).

[23] Muqtar Ali Robow, al-Shabaab, as quoted in "Terror on the High Seas".

[24] "Terror on the High Seas", op. cit.

[25] "Somali pirates find 7 bodies, blame Egyptians", Garowe Online, 17 August 2009, at (accessed 29/09/2009).

[26] "Pirates attack ship off Mogadishu", BBC News, 25 September 2009, at (accessed 26/09/2009).

[27] Tristan McConnell, "Hijacked captain dies as pirates free trawler crew for £2m ransom", The Times, 19 November 2009.

[28] Michael Ignatieff. The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Princeton, NJ, University Press, 2003, p. 122.

[29] Martin N Murphy. Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World. London, Hurst 2009, p. 10.

[30] "Al Qaeda 'kills British hostage'", BBC News UK, 3 June 2009, at (accessed 19/11/2009).

[31] Jeffrey Kuhlmann. "Piracy: Understanding the Real Threat", Counterterrorism. Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International Vol. 15, No. 4 (Winter 2009/2010), p. 36.

[32] See, for example: "IMO worried about arming ships to fight piracy", Reuters Africa, 18 May 2009, at (accessed 25/11/2009).

[33] Israel and Russia are usually mentioned in this context.

[34] Editorial: "Arming sailors. Gun-free zones are dangerous at sea", Washington Times, 11 May 2009, at (accessed 25/11/2009).


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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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