The March 13 seizure of an oil tanker en route from Djibouti to Mogadishu—the first such incident since 2012—enflamed global fears of a resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia. But the tanker and its Sri Lankan crew were released without ransom or any other conditions March 16—hours after brief a gun battle between the captors and the marine force of Somalia's autonomous region of Puntland, followed by intensive negotiations brokered by local clan elders. International media reports referred to the captors as "pirates," whereas local media in Somalia called them "fishermen." In an interview with Puntland's Radio Garowe via phone to the fishing village of Alula, one hijacker said: "We are fishermen in Alula town, our livelihood destroyed by the illegal trawlers and chemical waste dumping. We were fishing and then we saw the vessel spilling waste in the sea, which reached our coast... We are not pirates as reported by the media. We are protecting our territorial waters from the international ships dumping the toxic and chemical wastes on our coast."
Last month, the New York Times reported that China is to establish its first overseas military base as part of "a sweeping plan to reorganize its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad." The base, in the Horn of Africa mini-state of Djibouti, will be used for policing the Gulf of Aden against piracy. The US also has 4,000 troops stationed at Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier—from which it conducts drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. Former colonial master France as well as Japan and other nations also station forces in Djibouti. (The Hill, Dec. 10) Now reports are mounting that China is seeking a second base in Africa—this time in Nambia, which currently hosts no foreign military forces.
The UN Security Council on Nov. 12 unanimously adopted a resolution renewing its international call to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia. Working under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, resolution 2184 (2014) calls on all able states to provide military forces to repress piracy in the region. The Security Council also continued an exemption on a 1992 arms embargo imposed on Somalia and encouraged states to adopt legal framework to facilitate the prosecution of suspected pirates. Such efforts, both inland and off the coast of Africa, have slowed the frequency of pirate attacks in the area since 2012.
The past year has seen a spate of dangerous brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, with Iran and US naval forces along with those of the Gulf's oil-rich Arab mini-states playing chicken over the strategic choke-point of the Strait of Hormuz. But in addition to this show-down over a global oil outlet, the Gulf has seen escalating militarization in the guise of narcotics enforcement. Bahrain's Gulf Daily News on Nov. 26 ran a story boasting of the exploits of a 29-nation Combined Maritime Forces group, based at the petro-kingdom's sprawling US Navy base and commanded by Capt. Robert Slaven of the Royal Australian Navy. While it claims to have "considerably reduced the number of terrorist attacks in the region" over the past decade, it's most concrete gains are hashish and heroin seizures.
Piracy on the world's seas reached a five-year low last year, with 297 ships attacked in 2012, compared with 439 in 2011, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) said in its annual global piracy report. Worldwide figures were brought down by international efforts against Somali piracy, the repor found, though East and West Africa remained the worst hit areas, with 150 attacks in 2012. Globally, 174 ships were boarded by pirates last year, while 28 were hijacked and 28 were fired upon. IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre also recorded 67 attempted attacks. The number of people taken hostage onboard fell to 585 from 802 in 2011, while a further 26 were kidnapped for ransom in Nigeria. Six crewmembers were killed and 32 were injured or assaulted.
Drug trafficking and violent crime in Central America and the Caribbean threaten the rule of law in those regions, according to a report released Sept. 27 by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The report concluded that cocaine trafficking and the associated violence are the main source of the threat. The UNODC expressed concern that addressing drug trafficking and violence through the use of increasing police presence could further threaten the rule of law by eroding civil rights and displacing organized crime to neighboring nations. The report called on nations in the region to coordinate an international effort to reduce crime, strengthen infrastructure and gain public confidence in law enforcement. It also recommended that the UN provide supplementary law enforcement and advisers to assist the region in developing a strong rule of law.
A judge for the US District Court Eastern District of Virginia on Aug. 13 sentenced a convicted Somali pirate negotiator to a dozen life sentences. Judge Robert Doumar sentenced Mohammad Shibin to serve 10 concurrent life sentences, two consecutive life sentences and two 20-year sentences, and ordered him to pay $5.4 million in restitution. Shibin was convicted in April of piracy, hostage taking, kidnapping, conspiracy, and other charges for his role in the February 2011 hijacking of an American yacht that ultimately led to the murder of the four US citizens taken hostage. Shibin was allegedly paid $30,000-50,000 for his services, which included ransom negotiations and hostage background investigations. The four hostages were killed despite attempts by the US military to negotiate their release. Shibin also served as a ransom negotiator for 22 crewmen who were taken hostage when their German-owned vessel was hijacked in May 2010. The men reported being tortured during their seven months in captivity.