Somali Piracy: A Failed State in the High Seas

Helen Filanowski, `14
Helen Filanowski, `14

By: Helen Filanowski ’14

In our globalized world where 90% of world trade is transported by commercial shipping, and over $2 trillion worth of goods are imported per year to the United States, today more than ever we are heavily dependent on merchant shipping. Consumers rely on merchant shipping to safety and promptly deliver vital commodities like oil, agricultural products and material items to the United States.  Piracy, especially in the Gulf of Aden, threatens the ability for the shipping process to run smoothly, delays the arrival of our products, places an unnecessary burden for shipowners, and endangers the lives of crew members laboring onboard such vessels.

Many pirate attacks are reported in the Gulf of Aden, directly off the east coast of Somalia.  These attempted and often successful attacks target vessels passing through shipping lanes traveling across the Gulf of Aden, through the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Ocean, out the Straits of Gibraltar, across the Atlantic to our eastern shores stateside, if the vessel’s charter prescribes.  In this way, piracy that occurs thousands of miles away has a direct effect on American economic interests, as the economic penalty for delay can be serious in the event of a pirate attack.

In addition, the average reported ransom collected by pirates on a successfully hijacked ship is $2.7 million, the majority of which the individual ship-owner and insurance company is responsible for paying off.  The only way to avoid traveling through the Gulf of Aden is to plot an alternate transport route around the Cape of Good Hope to the Strait of Gibraltar, which adds an extra 2,700 miles to the voyage.   This alternate route can cost up to $3.5 million extra per year to pay for bunker fuel for the vessel, and this figure does not account for late delivery fees incurred by this mode of transport.

Alternately, if the ship-owner decides to travel through this dangerous area that reported 176 pirate incidents in the year 2013, the owner must pay for faster steaming and a privately hired security detail for the ship to protect it from pirates.  Consequently, this dangerous crime is negatively affecting people around the globe by providing unnecessary expenditures adding up to $7 billion per year.

This paper focuses on the factors that explain the rise in piracy that took place on the Gulf of Aden.  It argues that the sources of the problem lie not on the high seas, but on the political and economic challenges that Somalis have faced in recent decades.  Piracy in this part of the world is closely tied to the failure of  the Somali state.



Somali Piracy: A Failed State in the High Seas

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