Wednesday 19 Sep 2018 | 15:36 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 19 Sep 2018 | 15:36 | SYDNEY

Somali piracy: Time for US leadership

14 April 2009 16:26

Jim Terrie is a former Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group and risk management consultant.

The release of the captain of the Maersk Alabama after US Navy snipers killed the three pirates holding him hostage brings to an end another chapter in the continuing saga of piracy off the Somali coast. This incident, like those involving the capture of a Ukrainian ship loaded with arms bound for Sudan and that of the super-tanker the Sirius Star, continually remind us that the problems of Somalia and piracy are not going away.

In this case the capture of a US citizen took the problem direct to the White House where President Obama is being closely watched for how he will act in just such a crisis. Whether the US will now take the lead in a more robust response to Somali piracy remains to be seen.

The options include: increasing the naval fleet's presence in the region, more robust rules of engagement, greater international coordination, establishing a legal framework for detention and prosecution, use of private security companies by shipping companies and the possibility of action against known pirate ports (whether blockading and/or action onshore).

It is axiomatic that piracy is symptomatic of the anarchy that exists on land and that the solution lays in (Somalis) resolving the political problems of Somalia.  However, this does little to frame responses to the immediate threats emanating from Somalia; it has largely been in an anarchical state for nearly 20 years and there is no sign that it will be any different for the next 20! 

In the short term, while international efforts need to continue to seek a glimmer of hope in Somalia, the clear and present threat to lives and commerce off the Somali coast must be dealt with. While Somali piracy threatens nearly every trading nation and there is a broad consensus for action, as is often the case, it will require US leadership. Whether President Obama will now act decisively  in light of the successful (and fortuitous) rescue of Captain Richard Phillips remains to be seen.

Photo by Flickr user [hailey]herrarasaurus, used under a Creative Commons licence.