Somali Maritime Piracy Continues to Be Big Business

In spite of international maritime patrols and despite all the right noises by the Somalia government about reining in piracy, Somali pirate gangs have no shortage of fresh young recruits who want to join what is right now, one of the country's biggest industries. According to a report in the Washington Post, far from deterring piracy and discouraging young Somali youths from joining pirate gangs, piracy in the region is actually on an upswing. Pirate leaders speaking to the international media have confirmed that they are flush with funds to continue their business operations, and are actually looking to expand piracy operations outside Somali waters. Last year, shipping companies worldwide paid out more than $60 million in ransom payments to Somali pirate gangs. The largest ransom payment of between $5.5 million to $7 million was made for the release of a Greek-flagged tanker earlier this year. Once an attack is successful, and pirates have managed to seize control of a vessel, shipping companies often have very little choice, but to make ransom payments to these gangs. It's clear that piracy has evolved from desperate acts by a raggle taggle group of thugs, into a well-run lucrative business. Currently, there are estimated to be approximately 1,500 pirates working for seven major syndicates in Somalia. They are also a number of smaller gangs that are financed by brokers, not only in Somalia, but also in Lebanon and Dubai. Right now, there are 242 seamen on 20 vessels being held hostage by Somali pirates. Besides, the gangs are getting bolder, and are putting together their resources and strengths to conduct daring heists thousands of miles away from their bases. Several pirate attacks have occurred near the Seychelles archipelago, hundreds of miles from the Somali coastline. There are been sporadic attacks across the Indian Ocean, and these waters are turning into some of the most dangerous for ocean going vessels.With millions of dollars pouring in from ransom payments, the Somali gangs are investing in more sophisticated equipment. Obviously, there are no simple solutions to the piracy problem. Right now, shipping companies can do nothing more than shore up security on their vessels to prevent attacks in the first place. As a maritime lawyer, I also feel that Western governments could be doing more to pressure the Somali government to rein in these pirate gangs.

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