MOGADISHU: Navy patrols and armed guards on ships have helped quash once rampant Somali piracy, but without political solutions onshore attacks will likely return, the World Bank warned Thursday.
While the number of pirate attacks from Somalia are at a three-year low, costly measures including patrols by international warships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean are not a long-term solution to the problem, the bank said in a report.
"These are only effective as long as they remain in place: they would have to be permanent to prevent any resurgence of piracy," said report co-author Quy-Toan Do. "Because of the high cost of these counter-measures, in the long run they may simply be unsustainable."
Naval patrols include both US and European Union operations.
Instead, more efforts should be made to tackle the problem on land with a shift of attention from the "perpetrators to the enablers of piracy", noting that a long term solution is "first and foremost political".
"Pirates rely on onshore support to conduct negotiations and to secure safe access to coastal territories," the report read, released in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
"In turn, politically powerful figures capture large portions of the profits associated with piracy," it added, calculating that between $315-385 million has been paid in ransoms since 2005.
But the cost to world trade is even greater, the report said, noting that while an estimated $53 million was paid on average annually in ransoms since 2005, that was dwarfed by the estimated $18 billion yearly loss to the world economy in terms of increased cost of trade.
Pirate attacks targeted a key route for shipping controlling the Gulf of Aden leading towards the Suez Canal, although attacks have been launched as far as 3,655 kilometres (2,277 miles) from the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean.
But finding political solutions onshore is far from easy.
Somalia's weak government -- defended by a 17,000-strong African Union force -- does not control the key areas where pirates operate, which are largely along the northern coast in the autonomous Puntland region.
"Allegations of corruption, including collusion with or protection of pirates, have hung over all levels of the Puntland administration, local through regional," the report said.
But changing the situation on the ground -- in one of the most dangerous regions for aid workers in the world -- is no easy task.
While total development and humanitarian assistance to Somalia totals around $750 million a year, the "amounts pale in comparison to the vast sums spent on 'defensive' and security measures" the report read.
"Somali analysts often interpret the discrepancy as a policy of containment, rather than development, driven by fear of pirates and terrorists," it added.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) still warns that Somalia's waters remain extremely high-risk, while some pirates have turned to land-based kidnapping and banditry instead.
Five boats and 77 hostages are still held by Somali pirates, according to the IMB.