Center for Strategic Communication

Somali pirates captured. Photo: European Union Naval Force

It’s the first full week of summer, and most of us are probably thinking about how to get away to escape the heat, relax, and maybe hit a wave or two. Well, it turns out that Somali pirates take a summer break, too — but for different reasons.

A recent report produced by researchers of the New Zealand Defense Force and the Royal Australian Navy (Climatic controls on piracy in the Horn of Africa region, 2010–2011) proposes a new spin on the observed temporal pattern of attacks by Somali pirates based on weather, or more specifically the monsoons that occur in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea during the summer and winter.

Unlike previous reporting, which proposed that both summer and winter monsoons reduced pirate attacks, Climate Controls on Piracy finds that only the summer monsoon has a measurable effect on attacks. And unlike earlier analysis, which mostly took for granted the height of seas and force of winds during the monsoons, the new report uses data from European Space Agency environmental monitoring satellites. The researchers found that while waves and wind during the winter monsoon was roughly twice that of non-monsoon months, this was not enough to deter pirates from operating in the Indian Ocean.

While this research doesn’t provide a full picture of weather effects on pirate activity (for example, it does not address the possible shift of activity from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea during monsoon season), it does indicate that in the summer Somali pirates are more likely to be found either in the confined waters of the Gulf of Aden or in their home bases in Somalia.

Which could mean bad news for you if you’re a Somali pirate.

Mean daily wind speed at Socotra (Yemen) and pirate attacks by latitude for April 2010 to July 2011. When the wind speed dropped, pirate attacks increased. Courtesy of European Space Agency

It turns out that while the ocean is big, the coast that borders it is a lot smaller in comparison. Similarly, there are a lot of days in the year, but there are some that people are pretty sure to be at home. And there’s a pretty easy to figure Venn diagram of when Somali pirates are pretty sure to be at home on the coast. Here’s a hint: It’s right now.

Last month marked the first attack by European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia’s Operation Atalanta on the Somali mainland. Although the nationality of forces involved wasn’t released, a good guess is that they were French. The current Force Commander, “responsible for the planning, orchestration, and execution of military activities”, Rear-Admiral Jean Baptise Dupuis, is French. France typically contributes more ships to the force than other EU nations. The French Navy has more helicopters available than other navies participating in the operation, and France has a longer history of operations in Africa. And one more thing, despite typical American jokes to the contrary, the French have no hesitation in using military force.

But the EU as a whole is still trying to find its place as a military entity, both on its own and as a part of NATO, as evidenced by the uncertainty about how to conduct operations in Libya last year. So the successful attack in Somalia, which resulted in no European casualties and hit a universally despised and unambiguously clear target, might well prove a template for future attacks. Combine that with the news that pirates are likely to be home over the summer, and you shouldn’t be surprised to hear about more land strikes soon.

So if you’re vacationing in Somalia this summer and you hear someone yelling “Waxaa na haysto mashaakil!” you’ll know it’s time to get off the beach — fast.