I think the media and Hollywood’s tech-centric focus on the military tends to distort the importance of “the small stuff” – training, doctrine, communications, coordination. Somali piracy began to rise steadily in late 2008 – and continued to rise throughout 2009 and 2010, despite a strong international presence. In 2011, however:
The number of Somali pirate attacks increased to 237 last year from 219 in 2010, but the number of successful hijackings fell to 28 vessels from 49 in 2010
That second number is the important one – succesful hijackings mean increased revenue for pirates and means prolonged captivity for the crews of those ships. The shift isn’t the result of fancier toys or a substantial increase in ships – there were plenty of high-tech ships in the region in both 2009 and 2010. The most important thing that’s changed is the training and preparation for merchant ships going traveling through the region and improved coordination and doctrine by international navies responding to pirate attacks.
With that said, naval presence off the coast of Somalia is, at best, a band-aid solution- the attacks will continue until the underlying problems of lawlessness in Somalia are solved. The increased pressure from international navies has made the job of pirates harder, but they’ve changed their tactics in response, as this graphic from the BBC shows:
So Bravo-Zulu to the sailors from dozens of nations that have patrolled and continue to patrol the coast of Somalia to keep the sea-lanes open. You’re helping to make progress on a thorny problem – there are 21 crews that are home with their families tonight because of your hard work. Now it’s time for the politicians of the world to figure out a lasting solution to the deeper problems in Somalia.