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The post-piracy hangover

In this era of relative calm, Harry Pearce from Ambrey Risk reminds us that the challenge ahead might be closer than we think.

Introspection is rife among those who once claimed a stake in the safety of seafarers transiting off Somalia. It is evidence enough that there has been a quick-fix to what was apparently an all-consuming threat to global trade. In fact, a working paper published earlier this year finds embarked security teams had a far more quickening effect on reducing piracy- and the cost of piracy- off Somalia than did the much-lauded coalition forces. And while it is not always the case that the private sector leads where others follow, consolidation has begun and naval mandates will likely retire in the months ahead.

So, as the industry now reflects with varying degrees of clarity on this dark period in history, what are the challenges that lie in wait for CSOs? They are not as you might at first think. It has nothing to do with the softening of deterrence, which some argue will lead to opportunism. It won’t; that is to confuse the means and the ends. Neither is it to do with forays by Islamic State-aligned Abu Sayyaf in the Sulu Sea, as if it will somehow piously track westwards to shipping in SOMS, or indeed the Mediterranean. It won’t; that is to confuse intent and capability. The challenge for CSOs is disassociating one from the other when commentators appear set on conflating the two. Such is the weighting towards historical events that the purchase of maritime security has not, for some considerable time, reflected an environment renowned for its ebb and flow. This devotion to consistency, rather than turning to pre-purchase rationalisation, doubles-down on a neglect of probability; at its height the risk of an attack by Somali pirates was only ever around 1% and, since then, global piracy has fallen to a new 21 year low.

Anchored in a world of acute financial pressure the status quo is more costly than ever. It obscures the relatively inexpensive intelligence and information-sharing platforms available to CSOs that may otherwise avoid post-piracy purchases of maritime security. And crucially, it is these that will guard against needless new frontiers, such as the all too human tragedy that is mass migration of refugees and economic migrants across the Mediterranean. Indeed, some would have you believe that the attack on MSF-chartered Bourbon Argos off Libya shares some similarity with the indomitable Jason and his Argonauts. Except it didn’t, did it. For those that care to look a little closer, the incident last week would appear to be an embarrassingly simple breakdown in communications, not a sacred stamp of authority (by Islamic State). Look again and you see a Libyan Coast Guard capable of posturing, and Islamic State being routed from Sirte. The fact of the matter is that an Islamist attack in the Mediterranean is not in the interest of the militants who tax smugglers; smugglers who are generating upwards of $3bn a year. This is in stark contrast to Somalia, where there are few opportune targets ashore. Nor is it in the interest of the migrants, the majority of whom are blindly retreating from the only world they know. On the other hand, all but one of the worst Islamist tragedies on the European mainland in recent times were at the hands of naturalised or second generation migrants.

And that is no coincidence.

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