Piracy off the Somali coast has been a threat to international shipping since the beginning of Somalia's civil war in the early 1990s. Since 2005, many international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization and the World Food Programme, have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy. Piracy has contributed to an increase in shipping costs and impeded the delivery of food aid shipments. Ninety percent of the World Food Programme's shipments arrive by sea, and ships have required a military escort. According to the Kenyan foreign minister, Somali pirates have received over US$150 million during the 12 months prior to November 2008.
Clashes have been reported between Somalia's Islamist fighters (who are opposed to the Transitional Federal Government) and the pirates. In August 2008, Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition task force, took on the role of fighting Somali piracy by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) within the Gulf of Aden. The increasing threat posed by piracy also caused significant concerns in India since most of its shipping trade routes pass through the Gulf of Aden. The Indian Navy responded to these concerns by deploying a warship in the region on October 23, 2008. In September 2008, Russia announced that it too will soon join international efforts to combat piracy.
On October 7, 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1838 calling on nations with vessels in the area to apply military force to repress the acts of piracy. At the 101st council of the International Maritime Organization, India called for a United Nations peacekeeping force under unified command to tackle piracy off Somalia. (There has been a general and complete arms embargo against Somalia since 1992.)
In November 2008, Somali pirates began hijacking ships well outside the Gulf of Aden, perhaps targeting ships headed for the port of Mombasa, Kenya.
There are discussions under way to begin an aggressive covert operation against the pirates. The CIA has been publicly warning of this potential threat for months. Per a recent article in the Harpers Magazine, a CIA official stated, "We need to deal with this problem from the beach side, in concert with the ocean side, but we don't have an embassy in Somalia and limited, ineffective intelligence operations. We need to work in Somalia and in Lebanon, where a lot of the ransom money has changed hands. But our operations in Lebanon are a joke, and we have no presence at all in Somalia."