The European Union, not often thought of as a warlike body, has done the international community an important service by making the first armed attack, from the air, on the onshore refuges of Somali pirates last week – a new, but overdue step in the protection of commercial shipping around the Horn of Africa.
Though German parliamentarians expressed some misgivings, in late March the EU authorized such action by its Naval Force. The Somalia naval mission is commanded by Duncan Potts, a British rear admiral.
It was not a large raid, but it damaged some of the pirates’ boats and facilities at the village of Haradhere, and sent a strong message. Haradhere is on the southeast coast of Somalia, where there is no effective government apart from local elders – the “transitional federal” government has little power outside Mogadishu, the capital.
The independent enclave of Puntland on the north coast of Somalia has its own unrecognized but quite effective government, and is a haven for pirates, who benefit from a degree of onshore law and order to enjoy the fruits of their crime. It is to be hoped that the EUNF will find a suitable occasion to do damage to the assets of pirates on the coast of Puntland.
Some observers diminish the usefulness of this and future potential raids of this kind, because commercial ships are increasingly hiring private security forces. The gravity of piracy crimes may have moderated, but the actual incidents have increased. Moreover, private security is often less professional (as may seem tautological) than the professional military.
After all, human beings are land-based creatures. The “floating republic” of 18th-century pirates was largely imaginary.
It is important to pursue criminals to their homes. Air and sea raids on the Somalian coast are no panacea for the piracy around the Horn of Africa, but the hitherto unprecedented attack at Haradhere is significant and welcome progress.