Somali pirates are back in action

In a concerning development, Somali pirates hijacked the Iranian fishing vessel Almeraj 1 in November 2023, demanding a ransom of $400,000. They threatened to use the vessel for further hijackings if their demands were not met. Just two days later, another group of Somali pirates seized the tanker Central Park off the Yemeni coast. Fortunately, a distress signal sent during the attack led to the capture of the pirates by forces from a nearby American warship as they attempted to escape in a small boat.

These recent incidents have prompted the Somali government to call for increased international support to prevent a resurgence of piracy in the Horn of Africa. This fear is not new; similar concerns arose after five previous attacks in the years 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. Despite these worries, experts believe a major resurgence of Somali piracy is unlikely.

Understanding the Threat

Our extensive research into the rise and fall of Somali piracy indicates that the capacity for such attacks still exists, but a full-scale return is improbable. The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, which monitors and helps suppress piracy and armed robbery at sea, shares this assessment.

Somali piracy was a significant threat at its peak in 2011, when pirates carried out 212 attacks, costing the global economy an estimated $18 billion, according to the World Bank. The severity of this threat led to a range of anti-piracy measures that have effectively curbed the problem. These measures can be categorized into four main strategies:

  1. Naval Operations: International naval forces, including the world’s most capable navies, have conducted extensive anti-piracy operations.
  2. Self-Protection Measures: Shipping companies and flag states have implemented costly self-protection measures, such as employing armed guards.
  3. Legal Framework: An established legal framework has enabled the prosecution and imprisonment of pirates.
  4. Capacity Building: Efforts to enhance the capacity of regional authorities to patrol their waters and imprison pirates have been ongoing.

Continued Anti-Piracy Measures

Despite some scaling back, many of these anti-piracy measures remain in place.

  1. Naval Operations: While NATO terminated its anti-piracy mission in 2016, the European Union and a US-led coalition continued their efforts. Additionally, countries like China maintain independent patrols in the region.
  2. Self-Protection Measures: Most commercial ships traversing high-risk areas like the Gulf of Aden, the Somali basin, and the Indian Ocean still adhere to recommended self-protection protocols. These include reporting to maritime security centers, following designated transit corridors, and participating in group transits. Although fewer ships now carry armed guards, these self-protection measures remain effective.
  3. Legal Framework: The existing legal framework and the post-trial transfer system for prosecuting and imprisoning pirates are still operational. For instance, the pirates who hijacked the Central Park are likely to face prosecution and imprisonment, signaling to other pirates that their activities are not worth the risk.
  4. Capacity Building: International efforts to bolster the maritime security capabilities of Somalia and neighboring countries continue. The EU’s capacity-building mission in Somalia, for instance, supports the country’s maritime security sector. The success of operations by the Puntland Maritime Police Force, which has secured the release of hostages, underscores the effectiveness of these efforts.

High Risks and Low Rewards

The fate of the ransom demand for Almeraj 1 remains uncertain. However, historical data suggests that piracy off the Somali coast is a high-risk, low-reward endeavor. Of the five attacks between 2017 and 2023, none resulted in significant financial gain for the pirates. Even the capture of a Panama-flagged ship in August 2020 remains ambiguous regarding any ransom payment.

The lack of financial success in recent piracy attempts reinforces the view that a major resurgence of Somali piracy is unlikely. Should there be an increase in pirate activities, international naval forces and the shipping industry could swiftly counteract by intensifying naval patrols and reintroducing armed guards on ships.


While recent hijackings by Somali pirates have raised alarms, the comprehensive and multi-faceted anti-piracy measures currently in place make a large-scale resurgence improbable. The continued commitment of international and regional stakeholders to maintaining these measures ensures that Somali piracy remains an unprofitable and risky undertaking.

If necessary, the international community is well-equipped to respond quickly to any potential escalation, ensuring the safety and security of maritime routes in the region.

Peter Viggo Jakobsen and Troels Burchall Henningsen are associate professors at the Royal Danish Defence College. This article was first published by The Conversation.

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