Reasons for the Resurgence of Piracy in the Red Sea – The Arab Wall
Reasons for the Resurgence of Piracy in the Red Sea

Reasons for the Resurgence of Piracy in the Red Sea

The challenges confronting maritime trade in the Red Sea extend beyond the recent escalation of attacks by the Houthi militia. Notably, there has been a resurgence of piracy operations in the vicinity of Somalia, marking a significant uptick after nearly a decade of decline in such incidents.

This resurgence prompts several questions regarding the factors contributing to the increase in piracy just as international attention intensifies in addressing the Houthi threats that impact maritime trade in this strategically crucial region.

Against this backdrop, British maritime operations disclosed on December 23 of the previous year that armed individuals seized a commercial ship near the town of Eyl off the coast of Somalia. This incident follows the hijacking of a vessel bearing the flag of Malta in the Arabian Sea, subsequently taken to the same region near Somalia.

Motivating Factors

The resurgence of piracy in the Red Sea can be attributed to various factors, with the most prominent considerations being:

1. Termination of the UN mandate to combat piracy: On March 12, 2022, the International Security Council decided against renewing its authorization for combating piracy in Somali territorial waters. This decision followed a proposal by the United States on December 4, 2021, suggesting a three-month extension instead of the usual one-year renewal. Clearly, this signifies a notable decrease in international interest in addressing this phenomenon in recent times, reflecting the substantial reduction in piracy activities over the past years. This suggests that the concerned nations have dismissed the possibility of a resurgence based on observed trends on the ground.

Despite warnings from some European countries, including France, that ending the mandate could result in a security vacuum, Somalia contends that the decline in piracy incidents in recent years does not justify the continuation of the mandate.

2. The substantial financial cost of addressing the phenomenon: Despite the deployment of warships by nations dedicated to safeguarding global trade, the number of vessels qualified for anti-piracy operations remains relatively low. Moreover, there is a significant financial burden associated with such missions, especially considering that these ships must be equipped with cruise missiles. The challenges posed by the Houthi militia’s threats exemplify this issue.

According to the French newspaper “Le Figaro,” some of the weapons used by the militia, such as the Iranian drone model “Shahed,” cost 20,000 euros. In contrast, the French anti-aircraft missile “Aster,” launched from multi-mission frigates, costs one million euros. Consequently, intercepting drones or missiles launched by the Houthis represents a substantial financial and logistical challenge for the ships assigned to combat piracy in the waters of the Red Sea.

3. Military escort for commercial ships, considered as one option for nations aiming to secure trade movements, encounters challenges that diminish its effectiveness. Despite the substantial number of ships—approximately 19,000 vessels annually—crossing the Red Sea, escorting them over extended distances, particularly for numerous large cargo ships, proves less effective. This is especially true as targeting such convoys becomes easier from a military perspective. The acknowledgment of these logistical challenges by those involved in piracy may contribute to the resurgence of this phenomenon, particularly after its decline over many years.

4. Challenges of Military Strikes on Ground Targets: The substantial financial cost and logistical challenges open the possibility for certain countries, such as the United States, to carry out military strikes on the launch points used by groups engaged in these operations. However, as this becomes a feasible option, it introduces a set of challenges.

The most crucial challenge revolves around the potential reluctance of some countries to embrace this option, especially considering the potential regional ramifications that may not align with their calculations and interests. Moreover, some nations may find it challenging to navigate such strikes domestically, particularly in the face of internal opposition to increased involvement in specific military actions on the international stage.

5. Security instability on both sides of the Bab el-Mandeb: In East African countries along the shores of the Indian Ocean and the southern entrances of the Red Sea, there is a growing presence of destructive armed conflicts and heightened activity by terrorist organizations, exemplified by the situation in Somalia. Concurrently, on the opposite side of the Bab el-Mandeb in Yemen, persistent security instability is evident, stemming from the developments experienced since 2011. This dual security instability, encompassing both sides of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and extending to the southern Red Sea, has contributed to the rise in piracy targeting commercial and cargo ships.

Geopolitical Risks

In this context, it can be asserted that piracy in the southern Red Sea carries significant negative impacts closely tied to the escalation of geopolitical risks. This escalation is anticipated to result in further increases in oil and gas prices, attributable to the heightened costs of maritime shipping and insurance. Some major companies are considering alternative maritime routes, such as the Bab al-Mandab alternative route, which extends the journey by approximately 9 days to two weeks, contingent on the starting point and destination.

Therefore, in addition to the substantial economic losses that piracy imposes on global trade and energy supply chains, there exists a political and strategic setback for major powers. This setback could exacerbate if proactive measures are not implemented on the ground to address this phenomenon and neutralize the factors that have contributed to its resurgence following a decline in recent years.