Maritime piracy costs the global economy between $7 billion and $12 billion annually, and since January 2010 pirates working from ports in Somalia have received approximately $75 million to $85 million in ransom payments in what has become a seemingly increasingly lucrative profession in the failed state. The United States is working with other entities in the international community to help build governance, security and economic livelihoods throughout the horn of Africa country.
The United States has adopted a multilateral approach to deal with the “significant and urgent” problem of maritime piracy, a growing challenge with global implications, says Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro.
“We live in an era of complex and integrated global supply chains where people in countries around the world depend on safe and reliable shipping lanes for their food, their energy, their medicine and basic consumer goods. By threatening one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, piracy off the Horn of Africa threatens not just specific ships, but has broader strategic implications,” Shapiro said March 30 in remarks in Washington at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Maritime piracy costs the global economy between $7 billion and $12 billion annually, according to a December 2010 report from the U.S.-based One Earth Future Foundation. The group totaled the estimated costs of paying ransoms with the increased costs of insurance premiums, re-routing ships, security equipment, naval forces to combat piracy, prosecutions of pirates, piracy-deterrent organizations and the impacts on regional economies.
Shapiro, who is the State Department’s assistant secretary for political-military affairs, said that since January 2010 pirates working from ports in Somalia have received approximately $75 million to $85 million in ransom payments. He stressed that the international community must find a way “to shut down this ballooning criminal enterprise that makes piracy an increasingly lucrative profession, especially for the impoverished Horn of Africa.”
According to a United Nations report released in January, Somalia’s “piracy-driven economy is gradually overtaking the traditional economy, owing to the development of activities on land in support of the pirates, the lack of job-creating investments in a context of widespread insecurity and the destructive effect of piracy on Somali society.”
Shapiro called the state failure in Somalia “the root cause of piracy,” and emphasized the problem cannot be resolved exclusively through naval patrols and interdictions.
“There will be no end to piracy at sea until there is both political reconciliation and economic recovery on the ground in Somalia and a local government capable of and willing to enforce law and order on land and offshore. Achieving stability and good governance in Somalia represents the only sustainable long-term solution to piracy,” he said.
The United States is working with others in the international community to help build governance, security and economic livelihoods throughout Somalia.
However, Shapiro added, addressing “the challenge of the situation ashore does not preclude progress at sea.” The international community “can make advances in combating piracy, irrespective of the situation in Somalia.”
Meeting the challenge
Shapiro outlined several approaches the United States has identified to combat piracy in the near term.
“These center on four key areas: pursuing additional mechanisms to prosecute and incarcerate pirates; aggressively targeting those who organize, lead and profit from piracy operations; exploring expanded military options that will not place undue risks or burdens on our armed forces; and intensifying efforts to encourage the shipping industry to employ best-management practices,” he said.
Shapiro emphasized the importance of implementing these anti-piracy measures immediately, as he said the problem is rapidly growing worse.
“Last year, 2010, witnessed the highest number of successful pirate attacks and hostages taken on record. And thus far, 2011 is on track to be even higher,” he said. Nearly 600 mariners from around the world are being held hostage, some for as long as six months.
While much work remains in the coming months and years, Shapiro expressed confidence that through the shared commitment of the United States and the international community, “the challenge of modern-day piracy is one that we will surely meet.”