Thursday, October 25, 2012 | By David Blair | The last time I was in Somalia, I marvelled at the sight of three cargo ships sailing with brazen confidence along the Indian Ocean coast near Mogadishu. Were they not risking capture by pirates? Well, the latest figures confirm that Somalia’s pirates are in retreat. According to the International Maritime Bureau, the number of attacks has fallen by two thirds since last year. There was only one attempted hijacking in the third quarter of 2012. In the first nine months of this year, 70 incidents of piracy took place, compared with 199 in the same period of 2011.
Why has this happened? Partly because of a big naval deployment off Somalia’s coast. A small armada of warships from countries across the world now operates in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. In addition, normal merchant ships now bristle with private security guards, making them far more able to look after themselves. All this has made piracy a far riskier business.
There may also be a prosaic explanation: the weather this year has apparently been unusually bad. The pirates could be staying at home because the seas are too rough.
But the big question is whether the return of some measure of stability to areas of southern Somalia, notably Mogadishu, is also having an impact. Today, al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate that once dominated southern Somalia, has been expelled from the capital and reduced to a largely rural insurgency, albeit one that still controls many thousands of square miles. Meanwhile, the country’s official Government is steadily extending its influence, backed by the African Union soldiers who can take the lion’s share of the credit for defeating al-Shabaab. It’s too early to say whether the restoration of some form of governance in southern Somalia is bearing down on piracy. If that does turn out to be the case, then Somalia will have genuinely turned a corner.
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