April 2, 2012: The EU (European Union) agreed, on March 23rd, to allow its anti-piracy force off Somalia (EUNAVFOR) to attack coastal targets and coordinate military operations with the Somali TNG (Transitional National Government). This means that EUNAVFOR ships and aircraft can attack pirate targets on land. Most of the pirate bases (coastal towns and villages) are in Puntland, a self-declared state in northern Somalia. While less violent and chaotic than southern Somalia, Puntland officials are bribed and intimidated (by the superior firepower of the pirate gangs) into inaction. Technically, Puntland is opposed to the pirates, so the EU is hoping that Puntland won't make a stink when EU forces begin shooting at pirates on the coast.
The EU plan apparently involves going after pirate logistics and fuel supplies in their coastal havens. This could be tricky, as the pirates are well aware of how the Western media works and could easily put many of these targets in residential neighborhoods. The EU could respond by blockading the pirate bases and attacking pirate attempts to truck in fuel and other supplies. Pirates could put civilians on trucks or even captured sailors from ships held for ransom. There is no easy solution to the Somali pirates.
This new policy is not a radical shift in policy but a continuation of a trend that has been under way for a while. For example, in the last year the EU and other members of the anti-piracy patrol have taken a more aggressive approach to the pirates. Pirate mother ships (usually captured ocean going fishing ships) have been attacked on sight and any speedboat carrying armed men face similar treatment. This has encouraged Puntland to be more aggressive towards the pirates but the Puntland anti-piracy force has not been able to shut down any pirate bases, and pirates openly try to gun down the leaders of the government anti-piracy effort. Nevertheless, the more aggressive attitude towards the pirates is having an impact. Aggressive anti-piracy tactics and more armed guards on merchant ships have reduced pirate attacks by nearly 70 percent in the last six months and the number of captured ships even more.
Another encouraging sign is the growing number of pirates who are moving their portions of the ransom money out of Somalia, the kind of precaution that would be taken by someone who saw a dim future for piracy in Somalia.