From outset of the international community’s efforts to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia, a wide range of options have been under consideration. In an article written in 2009, I identified eight possible counterpiracy options, which are as follows:
- Accepting piracy as a cost of doing business
- Tracing and targeting pirate finances
- Increasing the defenses of merchant vessels
- Addressing legal impediments to combating piracy
- Continuing multinational naval patrols
- Pursuing kinetic operations on land
- Building local and regional maritime security–sector capacity
- Building local and regional security-sector capacity on land
I then attempted to determine the positive and negative implications of each course of action.
Earlier today, European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia launched its first raid of pirate bases on land. This operation was a dramatic shift in the traditional sea-based approach to counterpiracy and was conducted entirely from the air. Although this type of operation was conducted in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1851, some of the countries and coalitions involved in sea-based counterpiracy operations had been reluctant to target pirate operations on land.
In my article, I argued that the unequivocal attractiveness of kinetic methods applied ashore was that piracy is a land-based problem, and as pirates and their support networks reside ashore, they should be targeted there. (To be clear, I did not agree with this, but was evaluating it as a potential way to counter piracy.)
Admittedly, in that section of the paper, I overlooked a very important potential implication of kinetic operations ashore – violence against the hostages. Somali pirates are believed to be holding 17 ships and 300 crew members. While pirates make money from ransoming both the ships and the crew, they will need to send a message to deter future EU NAVFOR strikes ashore – as well as any other countries or coalitions considering a similar course of action. It is therefore possible that they might decide to make an example of a handful of crew members not only as a reprisal for damage done to their bases and equipment at Harardhere, but also to reinforce that kinetic operations ashore may put the lives of other hostages at risk.
Therefore, EU NAVFOR’s strike against pirate bases at Harardhere represents a potential game changer for the treatment of current and future hostages.