Understanding motivations of Somali piracy

Maritime piracy and Somalia have become seen as synonymous in East Africa’s geopolitical narrative, with several vessel hijacks in the Indian Ocean. Despite international navies’ efforts for adoption of vessel protection measures, a solution to the problem is yet to be found. To prevent piracy, a more nuanced approach to understanding the behaviour might be key to a solution.

A recent report by M&C Saatchi World Services determined to find out why young Somalis commit Maritime Crime. In a series of Focus Group Discussions and in-depth Interviews, it was discovered that piracy is seen by half of the participants as an unbeatable, attractive economic opportunity for poor, uneducated, young Somali men.


Other pushing factors include:

  • lack of alternative livelihood,
  • illegal fishing
  • peer in influence.

However, piracy’s major drawbacks, according to interviewed prisoners, are:

  • lengthy sentences
  • the impact of jail time in a foreign country
  • death at sea,
  • breakdown of families/ separation

According to data provided by the report, the majority of the participants believed that their time in prison did not offer them rehabilitation or the opportunities to learn alternative skills. They noted that upon release they are likely to feel even more resentful and vulnerable to being repeat offenders.
As Piracy Studies notes, in a society that has little faith in central government and its ability to impose a rule of law, a locally acceptable narrative has been built. While Somalis polled by M&C Saatchi in 2015 confirmed that they understood that piracy was wrong, illegal and haram, a vast majority noted that their community tolerated piracy.

  • Seven out of 15 participants reported to have been part of a team supported by well-connected industry insiders
  • Thirteen out of 15 prisoners noted that community support was crucial to success of their piracy missions


  • Sustainable and long-term community sensitisation campaigns that are generated for and conducted in the coastal settlements and further inland. All behaviour change campaigns should focus on those most likely to turn to piracy and be complimented by social change campaigns that seek to infuence the local population to discredit unscrupulous businessmen toying with their sons’ future.
  • Policy changes to address illegal fshing, including an extension of the mandate of naval patrols to tackling IUU on Somali waters. Confidence in international efforts will need to be enhanced at the local level.
  • Supporting the Federal Government of Somalia in regulating the licensing of trawlers long the coast.
  • Investment in the Somali fshing industry and opening up of sustainable export lines to create jobs and support the local economy.
  • Development of a centrally-managed maritime patrol force and reliable and incorruptible courts will ultimately provide local solutions to local problems.
  • Investigating pirate networks and fnanciers for possible prosecution.
  • Vocational training for convicted pirates.

Explore more by reading the full report: