International Maritime Security is under Attack in the Horn of Africa

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Recent events in the horn of Africa indicate the rise of Sea piracy in the region after a relatively long period of calm.  Analysts refer the rising piracy incidents (five to six attacks within two months) in order to explain the current situation of the Horn of Africa. As Navy Capt. Richard Rodriguez, chief of staff of the U.S. task force in the Horn of Africa comments, this is a significant rise since 2012 and presents a threat on the maritime security of the region, which has strategic importance on the global trade.

The Horn of Africa intersects important maritime trade routes. It links the Suez Canal and the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. This passage is the quickest route to connect Europe and Asia. Since recent times, however, its strategic importance’s on the international business have been affected by instabilities and pirate attacks. Reports pointed out frequent pirate attacks on the Red Sea and Bab el-Mendeb strait during the past two months. On March 2017, for instance, Somali pirates stormed an Indian ship and took eight Indian sailors as hostage. Besides, a Chinese navy ship supported by an Indian navy helicopter thwarted an attack on a merchant ship, and secured the safety of all 19 Filipino crew members. In another report, Somali officials announced the death of two pirates in an attempt to hijack a ship.

In 2010 and 2011, when sea piracy reached to its climax in the region, international trade had suffered a lot. According to the international Maritime bureau, in 2011 there were more than 230 pirate attacks along the Red Sea region which resulted in loss of maritime business worth $8 billion, while the pirates earned $160 million in ransom.This severely deterred the flow of the international trade and caused price escalations on several goods including oil. A coordinated international response against sea piracy, however, finally led to the decline of piracy in the region.

The recent rise of piracy attacks in the Horn of Africa attributedto various factors, as analysts argue. According to Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the Marine officer in charge of the U.S. Africa Command, spike in attacks is caused by the widespread drought and famine gripping the region. In many countries of the Horn of Africa, millions of people have been suffering from life threatening shortage of food and water. The humanitarian crisis in countries of the Horn of Africa due to the absence of rain for consecutive years is becoming more severe. Nevertheless, however, the response of the international community for this crisis is too slow. This obliged people to commit illegal acts and save their lives. The rise in targeting ships in the horn of Africa that carried goods such as food and oil is a good manifestation for this.

For other commentators, on the other hand, the important factor for the recent rise of pirate attacks in the Horn of Africa is the war in Yemen.

Regional instabilities caused by fighting between Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition led to a decline on international naval presence in the region and more readily available weaponry to carry out pirate attacks.

As reports noted, the military capacity of the Iranian-backed Houthi militiamen is reached to target vessels and war boat. In October 2016, for instance, Yemeni Houthifighters destroyed a military vessel operated by the United Arab Emiratesin the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.A week after the attack on the UAE vessel, there was also a failed missile attack against the US navy. These frequent anti-ship missile attacks of the Houthi fighters indicate the potential threat against the international maritime security.

The recent rise of pirate attacks in the Horn of Africa region has significant impact on the international trade.This is mainly derived from the region’s strategic significance as main corridor for important goods including oil. As reports highlight, approximately 90 per cent of the world’s goods are transportedvia maritime shipping. In the case of the Red Sea and Bab el-Mendeb strait, goods that worth approximately $700 billion annuallytransported through this route.Similar reports also indicate that between 3.5-4 million barrels of oil passed through the Bab el-Mandeb on a daily basis.

Hence any security threat in this strategic corridor of the Horn of Africa would seriously affect the international maritime trade route. This in turn would lead to price escalation on important goods at global level.

Together with the rise in price, security threats in the region may also lead to a major oil supply disruption and its subsequent impact on the global economy.

In general, recent spike in pirate attacks has posed major threat on the international maritime security of the horn of Africa. These attacks potentially led to heavy damages in the international business. Hence, in order to mitigate or at least to minimize this risk a coordinated effort of the international community is essential. Part of this effort should focus on enhancing the presence of the international naval base along the Red Sea and Bab el-Mendeb strait. Together with this, strengthening regional countries security power to contain pirates is also worth to mention. In this regard, the recent fresh interest of countries such as India, Japan, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia towards the Republic of Somalia is a good start. These countries should work in collaboration with the government of Somalia in order to keep the safety of international maritime trade which otherwise threatened by the resurgence of piracy, severe drought and famine and the war in Yemen. Finally, efforts to contain the flow of arms to Houthi fighters should be done in a coordinated manner. Since most of the anti-ship missiles are provided by Iran, persuading Tehran to fulfill its responsibilities in keeping the safety of international maritime trade should get maximum attention.

Dr. Muzeyen Hawas SEBSEBE
Muzeyen Hawas Sebsebe was born in 1977, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He attended his primary, junior and highschool education at Addis Ababa. In 1999 he has joined Bahir Dar University, History Department. In July 2002 he has defended his thesis entitled the Biography of Aklilu Habtewold and grduated İn BED degree. In 2008 he has obtained his MA degree in Social Anthropology from Addis Ababa University. He wrote His MA thesis on the Provision of Household Food Security and Womens Pivotal Role. From 2009-2011 he has worked as lecturer at Dilla University, School of Social Science and Humanities, Department of Anthropology. During his stay at Dilla University, he has provided various Anthropological courses. Currently, he is writing his PhD dissertation entitled Diversification of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy: Post-Cold War era Ethio-Turkish Relation as a case Analysis. His research interest areas includes foreign policy, regional integration, regional and international organizations. Together with his academic activities, he is also active on various Ethiopian students activities in Turkey. He actively engages in founding organizations such as Habeshistan Development and Cooperation Association and Horn of Africa Strategic Study Center