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Developments in the Gulf of Aden

After nearly five years without significant attacks or hijackings in the Gulf of Aden the latest developments indicate a potential revitalization of Somali piracy. Within the last three weeks we registered six incidents of which four were hijackings.

It is hard to believe that this accumulation of incidents is either coincidental or temporary. The modus operandi as well as socio-economic and political circumstances are very much similar to those ten years ago. The combination of droughts, a leak in governmental structures and the strengthening of extremist militias are ideal breeding grounds for a new wave of piracy. In addition the end of NATO operation Ocean Shield could have left a vacuum the pirates seek to fill. The current situation, however,  should neither be over- nor understated. An overview:

Somalia still is considered a failed state and miles away from functioning governmental structures. The country did not have an operating federal government for twenty years, though presidential election were held in February. It remains to been seen to what extent these elections were the expected milestone towards democracy. Until now the process rather seems to be a milestone of corruption in Somali history, as an analyst claims according to the New York Times. An astonishing statement  considering  Somalia has already been listed as the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International. Even if the former president promised a direct election, an electoral college based on clan-structures took its place due to security concerns. This also simplified vote-buying, as the electors had been determined prior to the elections.

The cementation of these old and evidently failed social structures is part of a vicious cycle: the elected government is even less legitimized, the population suffers from consistent fights between militias and government, and eventually loses its basis of existence. Consequently clan-structures become even more important to the population as these are the only orientation.

An additional factor are the current droughts. The meteorological phenomenon El Niño results in extreme droughts and torrential rain making more than six million people depend on humanitarian aid. A very likely famine will hit the rural population particularly hard. If Al-Shaabab is able to provide better for their fighters than the government for the population, this would be the preliminary end of governmental reconstruction. The effects of a famine could be reinforced by a reported increase in illegal fishing activities off the Somali coast and the growing lack of perspective among the population as a consequence thereof.

How the situation off the coast of Somalia will develop for the international shipping industry is not predictable at this junction. However, pirates could use the recently hijacked cargo vessels as mother ships and thereby increase their range of motion in the Gulf of Aden. Further potential could also evolve from support from Yemen. A former official reported the supply of weapons, boats and other equipment Yemeni financiers.

It is too early for an updated assessment of the situation in the Gulf of Aden. The developments have to be observed carefully. It is, however, of utmost significance that everyone is aware of the tense situation, that BMP 4 is implemented and any incidents and sightings will be reported.

Sources: New York Times, Tagesschau, Deutschlandradio, UNOCHA, Voice of America

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