The international community currently relies on a costly, heavy military presence around Somalia in order to keep shipping lanes safe. However, a new academic study suggests a more sustainable way to tackle piracy would be to build new roads and harbours so clans in the remoter areas of Somalia do not miss out on legitimate trading opportunities. Put simply, a new paper, published in the British Journal of Criminology, argues that local communities are usually protecting pirates when they have no comparable alternative source of income.
The study by the University of Oxford and King’s College London argues that policy makers have focused too much on the motives of the pirates without looking at why they are receiving protection from the local elites (clan leaders). Somali clans protect legitimate interests, such as trade flows through their territory and ports, by issuing licenses to traders and charging ‘taxes’ at road-blocks and harbours. This can provide them with a steady flow of income, but the paper argues that they can switch the taxation of legitimate business to taxing the criminal activities of pirates (thus providing them with protection) if and when it provides them with a better source of revenue.
The researchers mapped the locations of pirates’ moorings of hijacked ships across the whole of Somalia, using World Bank data of moorings for hijacked ships between 2005 and 2012 based on local interviews of which coastal villages sheltered the pirates. They found that the pirate anchorages were in areas cut off from regional trading routes and harbours - chiefly in areas of disputed territory on the coast of Puntland and Central Somalia. Within these areas the researchers found that the changing face of local politics determined the intensity of piracy activity.