Gates highlights an anti-pirate success story

With the world’s navies asking how to stop piracy in the Gulf of Aden in recent months, it’s about time someone took notice of the most recent pirate-fighting success story: the Malacca Strait. Robert Gates did just that today, citing the Pacific Rim as an example to be followed. The success story goes like this: ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
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585393_090601_pirate2.jpg
JAKARTA, INDONESIA: Special Navy Force patrol boat sails past Indonesia's West Fleet ships near the port in north Jakarta, 15 February 2006. High-seas pirate attacks fell last year amid enhanced vigilance but Iraq emerged for the first time as a new piracy hotspot with the waters off Indonesia remaining the most dangerous in the world, an international watchdog reported. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said the total number of piracy attacks worldwide dropped to 276 last year, from 329 in 2004, the lowest number reported to its Piracy Reporting Centre since 1999. Indonesian waters, with almost 30 percent of the world's attacks, were the most treacherous despite a drop in attacks to 79, from 94 the year before. Attacks in the notorious Strait of Malacca also fell significantly to 12, from 38 in 2004, prompting the IMB to credit governments for increased patrols aimed at curbing piracy. AFP PHOTO/ ADEK BERRY (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

With the world’s navies asking how to stop piracy in the Gulf of Aden in recent months, it’s about time someone took notice of the most recent pirate-fighting success story: the Malacca Strait. Robert Gates did just that today, citing the Pacific Rim as an example to be followed.

The success story goes like this: in the early part of this decade, the Malacca Strait was like today’s Gulf of Aden. Pirate attacks were pushing up insurance rates, re-routing ships, and annoying the world’s shipping and naval fleets. So great was the threat that Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia decided, in 2004, to invest signifant naval power to curtail the pirates. It seems to have worked; pirate attacks are down this year for the fourth year running — to just 28 along Malaysia’s coast (compared to 121 just a few years ago).

The good news is that the Pacific Rim is a lot safer. The bad news is that none of this is likely to work in Somalia — let me count the ways. First, none of the countries in the Pacific are failed the way Somalia is — meaning that the countries could also combat the core of the problem on land, without fearing a “safe haven” ashore. Not so in Somalia, where pirate havens are essentially untouched.

Even more important, while lots of countries want piracy in the Gulf of Aden to stop, no one or two of them are at such peril that they want to invest the resources to get the job done. In the Pacific, the three countries’ economic survival as port hubs depended on their safety. No such pressure in Somalia. 

So good job Malacca, but sorry Somalia. It’s a good lesson for someone — but probably not you. 

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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