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Study warns international pressure may lead Somali pirates into alliances with Islamist militants

Stepped-up international naval patrols are making it more difficult for Somali pirates to launch attacks, but a new study suggests those attacks have become more violent and may lead to bigger problems, such as alliances with Islamic militants.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown and a two-decade civil war there allowed pirates to flourish, reports the BBC. New research by British think-tank Chatham House suggests piracy may have begun when fishermen were put out of business by trawlers from around the world taking advantage of the power vacuum, in the years since 1991, to fish in Somali waters.

Pirates are estimated to currently be holding 17 ships and 300 crewmembers of those ships, most recently the crew of a Greek-owned oil tanker called Smyrni, which was hijacked in the Arabian Sea, according to another story from the BBC. And piracy has meant widespread economic development in some parts of Somalia. That support does not seem to reach all coastal communities, however, which seems to be a motivating factor for Somali-based pirates to then attack and seize vessels all across the Indian Ocean.

New tactics to fight piracy, allowed by the EU since March, include using warships or helicopters to target suspected pirate boats moored along the Somali shoreline, reports the Guardian. The EU has kept between five to 10 warships off the Horn of Africa since 2008, in an operation known as “Atalanta,” and Nato also has a similar anti-piracy armada, “Ocean Shield.” Other nations guarding the region include the US, India, China, and Russia.

The Chatham House study reports pirate attacks becoming more violent, because of the increased difficulty of capturing ships. Pirates now invest more resources in maximizing the return from each captured ship, it says, while also warning of alliances with militants from the al-Shabab group and the increase in funding regional instability and terror.

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