ADDIS ABABA – Piracy off the Horn of Africa coast has declined since 2012, thanks to a strategy adopted by the security arm of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African trade bloc, along with contributions from international naval forces.
“Our strategy approached the problem from early activities inland, where pirates prepare their activities and where piracy money circulates,” Commander Abebe Muluneh, head of the IGAD Security Sector Program (ISSP), told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
According to International Maritime Bureau figures, only 15 piracy incidents were registered off the Somali coast last year, down from 75 in 2012 and 237 the year before that.
Muluneh attributed the decrease to frequent patrols of the area by the European Union Naval Force.
He stresses that his outfit contributes to fighting piracy inland.
“Our bureau has made key contributions through a strategy devised in 2010 to approach the problem from a different perspective, that is to try and dry up the root causes of piracy,” Muluneh said.
“Piracy off the Somalia coast was first started by fishermen who resented their country`s fish resources being exploited illegally by foreigners,” he said.
He was referring to Somalia`s first-ever reported piracy incident in 2006, when a group of Somali fishermen hijacked a UN Development Program vessel and held it for ransom.
Since then, the phenomenon has proliferated, not only in terms of the number of ships intercepted, but also in the amounts paid in ransoms to Somali pirates.
Militant groups in war-torn Somalia, such as Al-Shabaab, have also made use of piracy for their own ends.
“Piracy and terror ambushes were some of the things Al-Shabaab engaged in when it lost in conventional ways of fighting,” Muluneh said, pointing to Nairobi`s deadly West Gate Mall attack last September.
“As Al-Shabaab shifted its strategy and tactics, it was necessary for us to counter this through a different strategy,” he asserted.
According to Muluneh, the ISSP`s anti-piracy tactics include public mobilization, vocational training, institutional capacity building, and creating alternative means of livelihood for unprivileged individuals who might otherwise be picked up by Al-Shabaab or organized criminal groups.
“The work isn`t finished; we will carry on with it. It will take some time and patience before the root causes [of piracy] can be addressed,” he said.
Muluneh cited a host of challenges that the ISSP hopes to tackle this year.
“One of the challenges will be tracing the terrorist operatives that have infiltrated Somalia`s army and security forces,” he said.
Another regional security challenge, he added, is the “interlocked nature of conflicts that spill over far and wide.”
Ethnic lines cut across the region`s national boundaries, he noted, and conflict situations in one area can easily spread into other countries.
“Conflict situations in one country in the region often affect neighboring nations,” he said.