Somali Pirates Successful Business Model, Trade with Terrorists
The Somali pirates are growing their business – expanding their area of operation, managing public relations, reinvesting in the enterprise – and appear to have a growing relationship with militant Islamic groups, says University of Maryland researcher, Jana Shakarian, who monitors political, social and security conditions in Africa.
“Piracy in Somalia represents the most profitable business on the Horn of Africa,” Shakarian says. “Its success could make it a model for other regions in the world, such as Asia. It has become far more than a regional nuisance; it’s a major international concern.”
Shakarian conducts her research at Maryland’s Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics, a division of UMIACS, the UM Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.
Shakarian explains more in the following analysis.
And here are other UM experts available on the subject.
Indicators of the Somali Pirates Growing Enterprise
By Jana Shakarian, University of Maryland
GROWTH AND CONNECTIONS WITH ISLAMISTS
The piracy off the Somali coast is growing in a number of respects – economically, politically and in terms of the sophistication of the operation. The number of acts perpetrated this year is at least 60 and the radius of activity is widening. The recent seizure of a Saudi oil tanker took place 450 miles off Somalia’s coast. Also, the pirates’ prey keep getting bigger – most recently the oil tanker and a Ukrainian weapons freighter. We can assume the ransom they receive is getting reinvested in the enterprise.
By monitoring the hijacked vessel’s movement it can be assumed that the majority of perpetrators are based in North-East Somalia – hitherto a relatively stable part of the country called Somaliland. Nevertheless, some hijacked ships seem to have anchored in Southern ports – a part of Somalia that is currently controlled by Al-Shabaab (“The Youth”). This Islamic militant group started out as the military wing of another organization called the Islamic Courts Union. But internal frictions have led the two groups to split.
Al-Shabaab is suspected to entertain relations with Al-Qaeda. This linkage accounts for the U.S. airstrike against its leader last May that decapitated the outfit, though only for a short time. Al-Qaeda ties are regularly denied by the group, and some investigators believe it is affiliated rather with Hezbollah. Al-Shabaab seems to profit from the piracy business, engaging in some kind of weapons trade with the pirates, providing them ‘safe havens’ and of course money.
PIRACY AND PUBLIC RELATIONS
A recent radio interview from the freshly hijacked weapons freighter proved that the head of this particular pirate group is well versed in the Western media. He knew they’d find it hard to resist a mysterious pirate tale: A freighter loaded with weapons and tanks of ‘shady’ origin and an unknown destination. He also tried to rehabilitate the pirates’ negative images by claiming to provide law and order off ‘lawless’ Somalia.
Politically, the piracy benefits Al-Shabaab and the Islamic Courts Union. It spotlights the weakness of the Transitional Federal Government and the persistent volatility of the situation, which essentially remains unchanged since 1991.
The growing piracy and its connection with terrorist or militant groups help explain the heavy international concern. This is not just a regional nuisance. Worse is the exposed weakness of the Somaliland government, which has labored for years to achieve international recognition as a separate country. Somaliland also was the target of a sophisticated bomb attack about two weeks ago.
Piracy in Somalia represents the most profitable business on the Horn of Africa. Its continued success could make it a model for other regions in the world, especially Asia.
Jana Shakarian, is a researcher at Laboratory of Computational Cultural Dynamics at the University of Maryland, where she monitors political, social and security conditions in the Horn of Africa.
UM LABORATORY FOR COMPUTATIONAL CULTURAL DYNAMICS
The University of Maryland Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics, a partnership among sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, linguists and health care professionals, develops theory and algorithms required for tools to support decision making in cultural contexts.
The labs faculty and staff are from many different academic units, including UMIACS (UM Institute for Advanced Computer Science), the Center for International Development and Conflict Management, the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Department of Government and Politics, the Institute for Systems Research, the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Department of Psychology, and the R. H. Smith School of Business.
In its work, the lab also collaborates with the university’s Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), its Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM).