The Horn of Africa is one of the most important hubs for maritime traffic in the world today. Raw goods, including oil, that are departing the nations of the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East must pass through this area in route to Europe and the West. Three-fourths of the Earth is covered in water and roughly eighty percent of global economic goods are transported via commercial maritime shippers. The volume of maritime trade is highly congested in this region. Ships must pass through either the Gulf of Aden and ultimately to the Mediterranean or proceed south from the Arabian Sea towards the southern trip of Africa via the Indian Ocean. Piracy in the region has increasing dramatically in the last decade, largely because Somalia and Yemen can be considered failed states. The lack of government involvement in suppressing pirate activities has indirectly allowed them to flourish. The sheer size of the area, roughly two and a half billion square miles, goes predominantly unpatrolled. The scope of the problem piracy poses pales in comparison to the size of the ocean in which they successfully operate.
Discrepancies arise in the strategic analysis of the security threat piracy and terrorism in the Horn of Africa actually poses. The amount of attacks that can be directly attributed to identified terrorist organizations are remarkably few. Nevertheless, piracy against both private and commercial vessels has increased. In 2012, according to the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), successful pirate seizers of merchant vessels were reduced from thirty-eight to twenty-one. However, the same report shows a near twenty five percent increase in the number of attempted attacks. On its official website, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has described piracy in the Horn of Africa as a “deteriorating security situation in the seas off Somalia, the Gulf of Aden, and the wider Western Indian Ocean . . . ” The potential security implications of piracy in the region surround the expansion of local terrorist groups into maritime operations. Cells of Al-Shabaab in Somali and Al Qaida in Yemen could use the lucrative piracy ventures of local groups to fund and further their own political objectives. Arguments differ as to the global economic ramifications of piracy in the region and the existing or potential links between piracy and terrorist organizations.
It is important to discern the difference between acts of maritime terrorism and pirate activity, and why one is increasing and the other stagnant. Terrorist actions at sea can be similarly defined to that of terrorism in general, or “acts of violence committed by politically motivated groups to inspire their supporters or induce feelings of fear among their enemies . . . “ While acts of maritime terrorism by this definition are rare, the potential for growth must be recognized and understood.
Terrorist attacks are politically driven, with a clear purpose or objective instilled in the...