Modern Piracy

Ambassador's Article in East Africa Diplomat July 2010

Atalanta Enlarge image (© Bundewehr)

Modern piracy is not only a threat to the Eastern - and increasingly also - Southern African coast and regions; it is a threat to international trade in general as it concerns the most important trade route of the world. It is a crime that damages economic interests and challenges the attractiveness of the ports of the Eastern African region as international trade hubs and diminishes investors' interest in their further development.

As a result, some shipping companies already use the longer route via the Cape of Good Hope. Ultimately, costs for export and import are increasing dramatically. Cruise ships are avoiding the regional ports and waters with significant damage to coast economy and tourism.

Although long term solutions need to be found to tackle the conditions onshore of the failed Somalia state which allow for piracy to evolve, the phenomenon has to be seen in the context of organised crime. Piracy needs to be addressed with means of criminal law just like any other crime. The pirates at sea, front men, middlemen and organisers in the background are ordinary criminals who form part of a more complex situation of organised crime involving inter alia armed robbery, human and drug trafficking as well as money laundering. Any mystification of the act of piracy is misplaced. On duty Enlarge image (© Bundeswehr)

The international community is engaged in a well co-ordinated effort to improve maritime security in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean as well as to repress acts of piracy at sea, the European Union's ATALANTA mission being a key element. According to the International Maritime Office, the number of incidents increased considerably in 2009 and the first months of 2010. However, the number of successful hijackings is decreasing in relative terms due to the increased efficiency and presence of the international navies, more robust action of East African countries as well as the heightened awareness of shipping industries when transiting the waters of the Indian Ocean.


With regard to the prosecution of presumed pirates, Kenya has been at the forefront of international efforts and has shown leadership in the fight against piracy. Kenya was the first country in the region which - with due consideration of both its economic interests and its proximity to Somalia - moved towards working with international navies to allow for the transfer of presumed pirates and their prosecution in its national courts. When more and more countries of the region get involved, this is not a consequence of the transfers of presumed pirates by international navies, but more so of the fact that piracy reaches their shores, their fishing fleets, their crew members and citizens.

The Kenyan flagged ship FV Sakoba was reported hi-jacked with 10 Kenyan citizens on board in March 2010. Of the forty presumed pirates currently imprisoned in the Seychelles, three quarters have been arrested directly by the Seychelles' coastguards. Pirates are increasingly using the islands off the coast of Tanzania as area for retreat. And the first cases of piracy have reached the territorial waters of Madagascar.

But also, more distant countries are making their contribution and share in the burden of prosecution. To give an example, in early April of this year the containership Taipan - German-owned, under German flag and with a partly German crew - was attacked by a group of ten Somali nationals. Thanks to the intervention of the Netherlands' navy this attack was brought to a quick and bloodless end. In response, German judicial authorities have requested the transfer of the presumed pirates to Hamburg where their trial is expected to start soon.

In parallel, donor countries are forthcoming with assistance to countries of the region in order to balance the strain on the latter's resources and to alleviate the additional burden put on them by the prosecution of suspected pirates. The European Union, and in particular Germany, have been supporting Kenya, but increasingly also other countries in the region since early 2009.

(© German Embassy Nairobi) Assistance is rendered not with the narrow perspective of combating piracy, but with the intention of providing a wider impulse to reform in the areas of police, judiciary and prisons. Examples are the public prosecution team specialising in piracy-related crimes, the courts and the Shimo la Tewa prison in Mombasa who demonstrate best practice in their endeavour to reform.

The international community has no alternative but to further cooperate in the joint development of a robust and coordinated response to piracy.

Germany and its partners stand ready to continue the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean. And  in this fight we want Kenya to be a strong partner.

Modern Piracy

Operation Atalanta