African Sea Pirates:

Acts of piracy off the east coast and the horn of Africa started rising as early as the late 1980's and early 1990's.

For most of the time these acts have been taking place relatively close to the coast of Somalia.

In the attacks of late 80's and early 90's the Somali pirates posed as law enforcement officers in order to board ships.

They were not sophisticated as the pirates operating a long the Somali coast now a days.

They were loosely organised ad hoc groups and lacked sophisticated communictation procedures,equipment and methods of operations.

They took possesion of vessels for their own narrow use,stealing whatever money and cargo onboard,such as;crew belongings,fuel and ship stores.

They did not ask for ransom money neither take hostage the crews of the vessels.

During the said period the pirates were targeting vessels dumping toxit or fishing vessels fishing illegally in Somali waters.

Today the pirates are operating further or deeper into the sea with one such attack taking place some 390 naitical miles away from the coast.

The pirates are also not targeting any particular type of vessel but all vessels.

The attackers have aquired increased capacity through the use of mother 
ships which can reach greater distances and launch smaller attack vessels some of which have long range firing missiles.

The gunmen are aided by information on vessels movements from international piracy network and even sources within Kenya,the UAE and other countries in the region.

The Somali pirates comprise of four main groups namely , the Kismayu group known as National Volunteer Coast Guard which focuses on small boats closer to the shore,the Markah group,which have fishing boats with long range fire power,the most sophisticated group commonly known as Somali Marines and the Punt land groups.

Owing to the range of their speed boats the gunmen have resorted to capturing fishing vessels and Indian dhows for use as mother ships for their ventures up to 400 nautical miles away from the shores.

Not all attempted hijackings are successful,and not all attempts are reported by the victim ships.

Between 1993 and 2005:

- 707 Piracy/Armed Sea Robbery (ASR) Incidents in Region

- 454 Actual
- 193 Attempted

- 16 incidents of Actual Attacks in 2005

- 19 incidents of Attempted Attacks in 2005 

- Furthest attack from shore in 2005: 390 nautical miles.


- Sea Piracy/Armed Sea Robbery

- Marine Terrorism

- Illegal Drug, Arms, and People Smuggling (DAPS)

- Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported Fishing (IUU)

Major Factions and Groups:

- The Punt land group operates from a small village near Bossaso

- Conducts Illegal Smuggling and Piracy
- Uses Modified Fishing Vessels and Seized Vessels for Continued Attacks

- Somali Marines (Central Somalia- North of Mogadishu to Puntland)

- Conducts Piracy and Kidnap and Ransom
- Uses Mother-ships and Seized Vessels for Continued Attacks

- Scattered Smaller Marka Factions (South of Mogadishu to Kismayo)

- Conducts Illegal Smuggling and Piracy/Armed Sea Robbery
- Uses Modified Fishing Vessels with Mounted Weapons

- Somali National Volunteer Coast Guard and the Terrorist group Al-ithad al-Islamia (Koyema Island- South of Kismayo) 

- Conducts Kidnap and Ransom
- Uses Modified Fishing Vessels
- Vigilante-Style Self Proclaimed Organization Demanding Payment of Fines for Illegal Fishing against Ransomed Seafarers

- Kenyan group

Conducts Portside ASR and DAPS at high seas using container and fishing vessels

- Uses small dug-out canoes, Indian dhows, and/or dockside ASR

- The Tanzanian group

- Conducts ASR and DAPS
- Uses high speed boats,Indian dhows and fishing vessels


National Response:

- Somalia: 

- Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) awards contract to Top Cat Marine Security (New York) to patrol Somali waters, suppress piracy, and train/equip indigenous forces (November, 2005).

- TFG signs bilateral agreement with Kenya on transport security matters (February, 2006).

- Kenya: 

- Kenya government pledges to increase naval patrols (November, 2005) 

- Kenya Ports Authority acquires new high speed patrol boat for port and surrounding waters (September, 2005)

- Creation of a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) in Mombasa (May, 2006)

- Tanzania:

- Established sub-regional Rescue Center to coordinate with Mombasa MRCC. 

- Tanzanian Port Authority (TPA) has increased marine patrols in port and surrounding area. 

- TPA is constructing a watchtower for increased surveillance.


Regional Response:

- February, 2006: Joint Communiqué by Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Transitional Federal Government of Somalia on Acts of Piracy and Armed Sea Robbery to establish Joint Task Force conducting anti-piracy patrols and collective reporting.

International Response:

- Combined Task Force (CTF-150):

International Maritime Patrol based in Djibouti coordinating with the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain conducting counter-terrorism operations in Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. Piracy loosely incorporated within its mandate.

- In wake of Seaborne Spirit attack in November 2005, International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted Resolution A 979 (24), which urges countries to cooperate in combating and prosecuting piracy. This is connected with Revised Suppression of Unlawful Acts at Sea (SUA) Convention.

Andrew Mwangura
Programs Co-ordinator
Seafarers' Assistance Program

Andrew Mwangura
P.O. Box 92273
Mombasa,80102 Kenya.
Cell:00254 721 393458

Fax: 00254 41 230001

E Fax:18014093908



ECOP-marine HOME