Published On: Tue, Mar 29th, 2011

Somaliland opens pirate prison

HARGEISA — Somaliland, a breakaway enclave in northern Somalia, opened a maximum-security prison built with United Nations funding that allows convicted pirates to be incarcerated in their home countries.

More than 70 suspected pirates are being held at the facility in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, Alan Cole, counter- piracy program coordinator at the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters in the city today. Globally, two-thirds of the 950 piracy suspects detained in 17 countries including the U.S., France, India and Kenya have been convicted, while the rest are on, or awaiting trial, Cole said.

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“We can find countries to prosecute them, but no one wants non-nationals in their prisons for too long,” Cole said. “We are looking at the regions of Somaliland and Puntland to take back their own nationals.”

Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia carried out 15 of the 16 hijackings at sea this year, according to figures released by the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center on March 24. There are currently 28 seized vessels with 576 hostages held by Somali pirates, the bureau said.

Piracy has flourished off the coast of the Horn of African nation, where a two-decade long war has left the country with no effective government and a moribund economy. Remittances from overseas workers of about $1 billion a year are the country’s main source of revenue, according to the London-based charity World Vision, which runs health, water and education projects in Somalia.

Piracy Cases

The UN has offered to extend a program under which it pays countries in the region to reorganize their justice systems, train legal officers and improve prison conditions to enable them to handle piracy cases.

The detention center in Hargeisa “meets international standards,” providing some of the best prison conditions in the region, Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UNODC, said today. “It could be a model not just for Somaliland, but for the whole region.”

Pirates, who have traditionally treated their captives humanely in expectation of receiving a multi-million dollar ransom for their safe release, have become increasingly violent.

Last month, pirates killed four American hostages aboard their yacht off the coast of Oman, prompting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to highlight the importance of other nations in helping bring stability to Somalia. The U.S. Justice Department charged 13 Somalis and one Yemeni with piracy and kidnapping in connection with the incident. British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler was released by pirates on Nov. 14 following 388 days in captivity after they were hijacked on a yacht en route to Tanzania from the Seychelles.


Piracy trials can’t be held in Somalia because the country doesn’t have a functioning legal system following the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia after the fall of Barre. No sovereign state has recognized the region as an independent nation.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga in December urged the international community to support the creation of a dedicated piracy tribunal in a third country, possibly backed by the United Nations, an idea being touted by Russia.

The total cost of piracy, including ransoms, insurance premiums, re-routing ships, security equipment and naval forces was estimated at as much as $12 billion last year, Louisville, Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation said in January. The average ransom payments to Somali pirate gangs surged to $5.4 million last year, from $150,000 in 2005, the non-profit group says.

“What’s happening on the high seas is a symptom of what’s happening on shore,” Somaliland Interior Minister Mohamed Abdi Gabose said today in Hargeisa. Piracy has flourished through the “failure of the international community to address Somalia.”

By Sarah McGregor

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Hargeisa, Somaliland, at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at

Source: Bloomberg | 29 March 2011

Displaying 15 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Guji says:

    Sarah thanks for the report and I hope you enjoy your trip to Somaliland however stop saying "own nationals" because as you know those pirates are from Somalia, in particular the Puntland region. Somaliland citizens are citizens that respect laws and are not involved in piracy. They believe in honest income and living even though they are dirt poor.

    We are happy to play our part taking in some pirates but we will urge the international media to define the difference between lawfull Somaliland and lawless Somalia.

    Prison in Hargeisa is about law, we will take down those pirates and lock them up away for 10, 15 or 20 years.

  2. faisal says:

    I'm repeating and asking somaliland government , what we benefiting out of this?

    • Sharmake Abyan says:

      Salam Faisal,

      Firstly we as Somalilanders gain exposure to both the local region and the international world as credible partners. Secondly we gain a prison and the funds that will come with that. Obviously there are some questions to be answered, such as what is to be done with these pirates when they serve their prison sentences etc. However, all in all I feel on the surface it looks like a good deal.

    • Dahir says:

      My Brother, theres nothing to ask. Do you think its justice or profit they are after?
      I think we can figure that one out on our own.

  3. Hargeisawi-in-London says:

    I agree with Elies. Djibouti does not want them, Kenya said no, Sychelles said no, and we too should say no!

    • Haykal1 says:

      The prison is equivalent to beggar's cup for Somaliland. They purpose for Hargiesa is to get aid from the west who do not want to keep these poor pirates, so, why dump them in Somaliland. It is hilarious how Somaliland officials are upbeat about this opening; like it legitimizes recognition.

  4. mohamed says:

    Watch out folks. The new Somaliland prison inside the capital city Hargeisa which replaces the old
    prison is only for the National prisoners and have nothing to do with the International piracy issues
    according to the HWN media statements by the JSL Judicial Cabinet minister. The 70 pirates
    as I understand are all captured by the Somaliland coast guards. As of now there are no clear
    indications signifying the International Piracy matters accepted by the Somaliland authorities.
    Therefore this article is just one of those things you know.

  5. Dahir says:

    This is a good news that criminals are put behind bars in peaceful Somaliland. It only shows the rest of the world that Somalia is a failed State and cannot even take care of prisoners and so it will help Somaliland in its case to seek recognition.

  6. hassan says:

    First of all the creation of a prison only worsens the living conditions of Somaliland citizens by diverting funds away from vital areas such education and health. Second it exposes Somaliland to violnece by elements that are loyal to the pirates. Third, the international community is USING Somaliland to their benefit, while actually not tackling the root cause of piracy. Third of all, the international community is making Somaliland feel like they are doing something right, because they know Somaliland is in desperate need of attention regardless of good or bad. Fourth of all, if the prison is to be used to house 'nationals', then there is no point because there are very few Somaliland nationals that commit piracy. Also, holding foreign (Somali) nationals complicates Somalilands request for sovereignty because it appears that it muddies the water between Somali's and Somalilanders.

    Piracy is not the issue, failure of peace talks, poverty, infringement of Somalias coast and the dumping of toxic waste are what the U.N and international community should attempt to address rather than build a huge prison in a third country.

    Finally I want to make the point that now its built and lets say presumably it goes through and they start housing pirates from all over Somalia, unless future expenditures in terms of human resources and finances are provided for by the U.N, then its not a sustainable enterprise for the government of Somaliland and risks diverting further funds away from the poor people of Somaliland.

  7. ahmed says:

    The piracy thing is out of control, thousands and thousands of people moved into this business, it got sophisticated and more rooted even inside Faroole's administration.

    therefore i'm asking my self how this small prison would accommodate east Africa pirates? would not be more helpful funding and modernizing somaliland's coastal guard?

    • Haykal1 says:

      Ahmed, you are right, it would make more sense for Somaliland to build a coast guard than a prison. But, you have to understand that Somaliland is desperate for legitimacy and will do anything the western powers propose.
      You know, Seychelles refused to keep the pirates for sensible reasons, however, they send officials to Somaliland to take some credit for the opening. That alone tells you how misguided are Somaliland officials in this matter.
      Do you know Seychelles itself was used as a dumping ground of exiles by the British during colonial times.I guess they redeemed themselves by saying no to the west while Somaliland begins now to whore itself to the west. Amazing.

  8. Dahir says:

    That completely true, we should enforce within.
    Now this issue of piracy has been over player by media. Now, not in any shape, form or way do I support piracy.
    But the issue is to realize, these "pirates" are doing this for a reason. This is not a Somali tradition, nor do we support it. But are these pirates out there? Why are our coastline (the largest in Africa) filled with foreign garbage.
    Just a thought right.
    After all putting them away will no discourage piracy, with ever one the gets detained 3 other submerge from poverty.

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