Houthi attacks brought back Somali pirates
Renewed attacks on ships by suspected Somali pirates since November 2023 have fueled fear of a new threat of piracy off the east coast of Africa.
The area at risk stretches from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. At least four ships have been hijacked off the Somalia coast since November 2023. Concern has risen amid the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi group’s militant campaign of support for Hamas, the Palestinian political and military organization governing Gaza and currently at war with Israel. Many observers suspect a collaboration between Somali pirates and the Houthis.
I have researched piracy off the east coast of Africa, counter piracy efforts and the enduring relevance of naval power. I have no doubt that the Houthi attacks have emboldened the Somali pirates. Their collaboration or at least combination is undermining security off the east coast of Africa and may not be resolved solely by military means.
The combination of Houthi maritime attacks and Somali piracy has disrupted traffic in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Mediterranean. Most ships are taking the longer route around Africa, and this is increasing shipping costs and lengthening shipping time, with negative implications for prices and the global economy.
The Suez Canal, which accounted for 12% to 15% of the total global trade in 2023, recorded a 42% decrease in ship traffic in December 2023 and January 2024, according to the UN’s trade and development agency, UNCTAD. The Suez Canal connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. For instance, shipping from the UK, east Africa’s key trading partner, mostly passes through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.
These developments and others have raised the cost of