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Have U.S. relations with Somalia improved since stronger maritime security measures have decreased piracy?

Question submitted by Charlotte Stafford, from Columbia University, March 12, 2013

Answered by: Captain Peter Troedsson, USCG, Military Fellow, U.S. Coast Guard

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The United States restored official relations with Somalia in January 2013 after years of civil unrest there, reflecting an increasingly stable Somali political environment. Better relations with Somalia, however, have little to do with the decrease in piracy, and the drop in offshore piracy cannot be attributed to Somali government efforts.

Piracy is a serious threat to international shipping and a rising concern for many nations because it increases the costs of shipping, drives up insurance rates, and—most importantly—often costs the lives of ships' crews. Though the International Maritime Bureau calls the waters off the coast of Somalia particularly dangerous, the number of piracy incidents in the area reached a five year low last year because of deterrents fostered by two major changes: 1) the introduction of international naval patrols to enhance maritime security, and 2) the shipping industry's adoption of best practices in security, such as the use of armed security personnel on commercial vessels (since incorporating this practice, no vessel has been successfully hijacked). Several nations, including the United States, deploy naval forces to the area to provide surveillance and interdiction capabilities.

By establishing their own maritime constabulary forces, developing countries in the Horn of Africa can disrupt these persistent attacks and deny pirates the use of safe haven anchorage. This type of law enforcement presence can deter maritime criminal activity, prosecute those who commit crimes in territorial waters, and protect national marine resources. The United States and its allies can assist Somalia and other developing nations to build basic capabilities by providing training and equipment to improve maritime security.