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29th Feb 2024

EU mission alone cannot solve piracy problem, says admiral

  • In 2009, EU's naval mission arrested 75 piracy suspects and sent them to prosecution in Kenya (Photo: German navy)

The EU's naval mission off the coasts of Somalia has had a deterrent effect on pirates, but alone will not be enough to solve the problem, its commander said on Tuesday (2 February).

One year after it kicked off in the Gulf of Aden, the EU's first naval mission comprising seven ships and three aircraft was successful in protecting United Nation food supply ships from pirate attacks, rear admiral Peter Hudson told journalists in Brussels.

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"Our priority task is to protect World Food Programme vessels, which is time consuming, as they are small and slow, but very important for the stability of the population in Somalia," Mr Hudson said.

But he also conceded that the pirates have simply moved from the narrow Gulf of Aden to the much larger Somali basin, stretching all the way to the Indian Ocean.

If the number of seized ships and pirate attacks has dropped in the Gulf of Aden in the last four months, it has increased in the broader Somali basin, an ocean which Mr Hudson said is 10 times the size of Germany.

Nine commercial ships remain hijacked by pirates, while the overall ransom paid out in 2009 for seized vessels lies somewhere between $60-80 million (€42-57 million).

"That kind of money fuels the desire to give it a go. If you are an 18 year old on the Somali shores with no prospects, why wouldn't you become a pirate," the admiral asked rhetorically.

As to the estimated number of pirates, the British commander said it around several thousand, "but not tens of thousands." It includes people onshore, helping the pirates with the seized ships and logistics.

Last year, the EU mission arrested 75 suspects and sent them to Kenya for prosecution. But Mr Hudson conceded that many of the pirates intercepted at high sea are released, if they are not caught in the act of hijacking.

"Even if their boat is full of weapons, ammunition and ladders, and it is obvious they are not out fishing, we can't arrest them, because there are very few governments and judges who will prosecute against conspiracy to piracy."

The EU mission has only the mandate to seize and destroy the weapons and give them enough food, water and fuel to get back safely on land.

"It's impossible to eradicate piracy in such a huge sea," he said, noting that his home country, Great Britain, was fighting pirates in the Indian Ocean for hundreds of years.

"Piracy is not going to be solved by racing around with warships in the Indian Ocean," he pointed out.

The deterrent effect on pirates has also made them switch to "alternative revenue streams," such as human trafficking, he said.

"With the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) saying there are roughly 20,000-24,000 people in northern Somalia trying to get across to Yemen, you can see there is a lucrative revenue stream for criminal gangs and we have diverted some of their attention there," Mr Hudson said.

EU aid on land

During the briefing, other EU officials outlined the humanitarian aid in Somalia and police training mission for Somali security forces sponsored with community money. It was the first time that the three types of EU actions were pooled together, although the speakers had little interaction themselves.

Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been scarred by civil wars and insurgencies ever since the overthrow of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Mogadishu has seen daily attacks and fighting between government forces and the insurgents, leading to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

"The piracy issue that has grabbed international headlines is a symptom of deeper issues that have gone un-addressed ever since the collapse of the national government in 1991," Noah Gottschalk from Oxfam International told this website. "Without economic opportunities offering alternatives to criminality and without law and order to curb these activities, then the massive economic returns of hijacking ships will continue to drive piracy," Mr Gottschalk said.

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