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Giacomo Morabito

Independent expert

Will Libya become another Somalia? According to Italian Interior Ministry, the Islamic State has already taken control of ports and maritime assets in key Libyan territories, prompting real concerns that such actions could lead to a boom in piracy and maritime crime. Imitating pirates around the Horn of Africa, the Islamic State could launch its own piracy operations in the Mediterranean.

Will Libya become another Somalia? According to Italian Interior Ministry, the Islamic State has already taken control of ports and maritime assets in key Libyan territories, prompting real concerns that such actions could lead to a boom in piracy and maritime crime. Imitating pirates around the Horn of Africa, the Islamic State could launch its own piracy operations in the Mediterranean.

Piracy around the Horn of Africa, which affected container ships, fishing vessels and cruise ships traversing the strategically important location, has been brought under control since its peak in 2009, with only two failed attempts to intercept pirate boats in 2014 and no activity recorded thus far in 2015. The decline in Somali piracy is attributed to the large numbers of coalition forces, best practices by ships and private armed security guards. Indeed, with Somalia unable to control its waters, piracy became a problem that governments saw as theirs to solve, especially because of the strategic role of the Gulf of Aden, where crude oil is shipped regularly from Persian Gulf to Europe and America.

Three coalitions of naval forces have been fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean. There’s the EU’s NAVFOR Operation Atalanta, comprising ships from Spain, Germany, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Italy and Estonia. NATO’s Operation “Ocean Shield” brings together Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Ukraine and United States; and the Combined Task Force 151, uniting Australia, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States. There are also the “independents”, navies working to deter piracy which are not part of any official coalition (China, India, Iran, Japan, Malaysia and Russia).

In October 2014, the 4th annual Anti-Piracy Conference held in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) brought together Counter-Piracy experts from across the world including government Ministers, armed forces personnel as well as academics to discuss the progress and challenges of fighting piracy across the world, including off the coast of Somalia. During this meeting, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion of Somalia, Abdirahman Dualeh Beileh, acknowledged the cost of Somali piracy for international trade globally and national budgets of states in the immediate vicinity. In fact, the negative effects of piracy in the Horn of Africa for those who are trading via the Gulf of Aden are not the same. Partners exposed to pirate-infested waters are prone to greater trade losses, if compared to more distant countries. The latter ones can easily take alternative trade routes more appealing and secure. Thus the impact of Somali piracy seems to be quite limited geographically and the burden of trade costs not equally distributed across countries.

“Oceans beyond Piracy”, an American non-profit organization, releases an annual report on the total costs of Somali piracy. In 2013, not a single merchant vessel was successfully hijacked by pirates, with 23 unsuccessful attempts recorded. It’s a significant decline from the peak in 2010, when 47 merchant vessels were hijacked, and more than 200 attempts recorded. Compared with 2012, the overall cost of Somali piracy is down by almost 50% in 2013, from $5.7-6.1 billion to $3-3.2 billion.

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