Members of the International Somalia Contact Group held an ad hoc meeting on the Financial Aspects of Somali Piracy in Seoul last week. The meeting, the second one since the first session in Washington in March, was focused on the growing need for international cooperation to stop the flow of money to Somali pirates, prevent money laundering and gather information about the de facto powers behind the pirates, that is, the instigators of pirate activities and their sources of funds. The 80 participants, under the stewardship of Moon Ha-young, Korea’s ambassador for global counterterrorism cooperation, agreed to build a database on intelligence concerning Somali pirates and their financiers. All member governments of the Contact Group will be given access to the information in the database when it is completed and are encouraged to increase teamwork within their law enforcement agencies when investigating piracy.
Such proactive and cohesive action by several nations is a positive step toward countering the ever increasing threat of Somali pirates. However, as I had argued in this op-ed for The African Executive, piracy is a relatively cheap activity making it difficult to crack down on all the sources of illicit funds. Additionally, targeting pirates’ source of funds may have undesired impacts if they join hands with branches of al Qaeda or al Shabaab operating in the region to replace their lost income. Therefore, it is essential to also consider alternative methods, such as using the threat of sanctions and freezing corporate assets in cases of non-compliance, to stop ship owners from paying ransoms. This will serve as an incentive for shipping companies to choose safer sailing routes around the Cape of Good Hope and hire armed personnel to accompany their crew while long term measures that focus on helping Somalia and its neighbors achieve economic and political stability begin to take effect. The Office of Foreign Assets Control in the United States has taken explicit steps in the direction of sanctions and freezing assets of shipping companies that give in to pirate demands but the Contact Group must encourage other countries to do the same because US policies in isolation are unlikely to prove beneficial.