Somali pirates’ eastward expansion by Ben West*

*Moderator's Note: An article entitled was released on 6 December by Strategic Forecasts [STRATFOR].  STRATFOR analyst Ben West examines the reasons why Somali pirates have increasingly looked to the Indian Ocean for hijacking targets.  My thanks to CFPS Research Fellow Dr. Stan Weeks for bringing this article to my attention.  It is reproduced here with the permission of STRATFOR.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Somali pirates hijacked the Bangladeshi vessel MV Jahan Moni on Dec. 5 off the coast of India. This latest incident represents a growing trend in which Somali pirates are targeting vessels farther east.

The expansion of Somali pirate activity farther east off the coast of India doesn’t necessarily represent a new capability on the part of the Somali pirates. As we’ve seen they’ve been hijacking ships to the south an equal distance away from India down by the Seychelles and Madagascar for several years now. What’s allowed them to do this is the acquisition of larger motherships such as large fishing trawlers and midsize cargo ships. We’ve also noticed more recently they have been leapfrogging. For example, they can hijack a fishing vessel or a cargo ship maybe 500 or 600 miles from the coast of Somalia and instead of taking it back to Somalia, expanding on that and going farther east.

The increased geographic scope of Somali pirate activity is likely attributed to the greater maritime security force that has been deployed in the Gulf of Aden in past years. By providing protection for cargo ships traversing the Gulf of Aden, the international maritime forces that have been deployed there are making it harder for Somali pirates to target those ships. This has forced the pirates to move their operations elsewhere, namely the Indian Ocean. So far, international forces have really only focused on the Gulf of Aden for providing secure transit for international trade. While this disperses the threat it certainly doesn’t do anything to remove the root causes of piracy that is based out of Somalia.

The reason for expansion eastward toward India is likely opportunistic in nature. We don’t have any indications that Somali pirates are interested in the strategic implications of their expansions. They’re simply out to make money.