The piracy phenomenon started with the collapse of the Somali government in 1991 when land lords and militia forces gained control over the coastal regions of the country. The absence of a centralized authority led Somalia into a civil war. With chaos spreading fast across the country, the shores became vulnerable to foreign French, Spanish, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and other giant fishing ships to invade.
Somali coast is the longest in Africa with 330 km of very rich marine life. Foreign ships took advantage of the political situation in Somalia, as well as dumped toxic waste in the area. Reports from international news agencies indicate that European companies were dumping poisonous and toxic waste in Somali waters. Also according to studies by UNEP in 1997, European countries such as Italy and Switzerland were getting rid of their waste products by dispatching it in Somalia.
In Somali society, being a pirate is considered a prestigious profession. Among the richest people in Somalia that enjoy the best of luxury are pirates. The immense amount of ransoms they receive from Europeans and other states insures their security and that of their families as well.
Governmental chaos and statistics
Because Somalia is not a fully functioning state, the pirates can operate freely from their harbours in the north, mostly in the breakaway territory of Puntland. Although ships from over 25 countries patrol the area and maritime law equips naval vessels off the Horn of Africa with powers of arrest, bringing pirates to justice is frustrated by cost, restrictive rules of engagement and politics. Hence 90% of captured pirates are released quickly and without sanction. And the foreign patrols' effectiveness is declining as the pirates move ever farther offshore.
In 2010, pirates took 1,181 people hostage off the Somali coast. About half were released after the payment of ransoms, a few have died of abuse or neglect and around 760 are still held in captivity. Most of them remain on their own hijacked vessels, some of which are employed as mother-ships from which the pirates stage further raids. The problem has worsened sharply in recent years.
There were 219 attacks in 2010 compared with 35 in 2005. Ransoms paid last year climbed to $238 million, which makes an average of $5.4 million per ship, compared with $150,000 in 2005.
United Nations have shown concerns that Somali pirates were becoming the masters of the Indian Ocean. The economic cost of piracy is estimated at $5 billion-7 billion per year. In October 2008, NATO, the European Union and the United States committed significant naval forces to patrol the main shipping routes. Thus began the international community involvement.
The Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor, a heavily patrolled safety zone, now runs for about 400 miles along the Yemeni side of the Gulf of Aden. Outlawing ransoms is neither feasible nor in the hostages interests. Stationing armed guards on vessels or training crews to use firearms could provoke a more brutal response from the pirates, creating more bloodshed in process.