Did the founder of Tokyo’s popular sushi chain, “Sushi Zanmai” wipe out the Somali pirates?

dragoner | Military affairs blogger

The original Japanese article was published on 21:42 Jan 21, 2016


A pirate ship captured by the NATO Response Force (Photo: Reuters/AFLO)

This was a popular story on Twitter.

Togetter: The surprising and very cool story of the founder of “Sushi Zanmai” being responsible for wiping out the Somali pirates

On the page that featured this Tweet, about the story of Kiyoshi Kimura, founder of Tokyo’s popular sushi chain, “Sushi Zanmai,” who taught Somali fishermen how to catch tuna and then purchasing the fish from them which resulted in the pirates returning to become fishermen. As of 19:30 on January 21, 2016, this page had over 290,000 views and seemed to be a popular article throughout the Internet.

Since the late 2000’s, the pirates off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden have been the cause of major international problems. In recent years, the damage caused by pirates have reduced significantly in this region, and it’s rumored that this was accomplished thanks to the exploits of Mr. Kimura. If this is indeed a fact, it is an astounding achievement, but is it really true?

Has the damage caused by Somali pirates decreased?

The original story from the aforementioned page was from an interview with Mr. Kimura.

Harbor Business Online: The founder of Sushi Zanmai discusses the “Tsukiji Fish Market relocation challenge” and the “Somali pirate problem”.

During the interview article, Mr. Kimura introduced his activities to support the Somali fishermen and discussed his accomplishments other than the business side.

Kimura: Many countries and international organizations are providing support, but their activities are very superficial and not always useful. It’s necessary to stand in their shoes and understand their troubles. At one point, I believe there were over 300 cases of piracy off the coast of Somalia per year, but I’ve heard that ever since we began making visits there, there were 0 incidents over a three-year span. We even received a medal from the Djibouti government for our efforts.

Source: The founder of Sushi Zanmai discusses the “Tsukiji Fish Market relocation challenge” and the “Somali pirate problem”.

The article doesn’t mention in detail when Mr. Kimura began his activities, but we can deduce from his quote, “I’ve heard that ever since we began making visits there, there were 0 incidents over a three-year span,” that he first started traveling to Somalia from around 2012. Let’s take a look at the shift of damages causes by pirates in the region.


Occurrences of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden (Created from documents issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Note that figure for 2015 is up until July)

The peak of the pirate attacks spanned from 2009 to 2011, with over 200 reported incidents per year. That number began to decrease from 2012, and in 2015 (up until July 31) that number fell to 0 in both attack cases and damage. He states that the number of incidents began to decrease since he first began his activities, and if he did begin in 2012, it means that he started his business right when the number of incidents began to decrease, making feel us that his story could be just a coincidence.

Somali pirates and the international society

So, how exactly has the international society handled the Somali pirate issue?

In 2008, resolutions were adopted by the United Nations regarding the Somali pirate issue, and the navies of various countries were dispatched to the area from around 2009. Principle countries and organizations, including the United States, the EU, Russia, China, and NATO dispatched vessels. As a countermeasure, Japan also dispatched two Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyers to serve as escorts for ships, and in 2011, the Self-Defense Forces set up their first standing overseas base in Djibouti to monitor the seas by aircrafts as well. Today, there are approximately 600 Self-Defense officials and Japan Coast Guard officials stationed in the region.


The Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel conducting training sessions with an EU vessel in the Gulf of Aden (from the Joint Staff, Ministry of Defense website)

There have been incidents that have occurred between the navies of various countries and the pirates, but in most cases, the pirates would flee whenever they spotted a vessel or military aircraft. The difference in capabilities between the pirate ships and military vessels is too large, so they have no hope against them whatsoever. With partnerships between coalition forces and troops of various countries, civilian ships began to receive escorts, which resulted in a significant decrease in pirate attacks.

The various security activities from the international society have undoubtedly decreased the number of pirates off the coast of Somalia. If you think about these activities, Mr. Kimura’s statements seem a bit exaggerated (although he never did say that he was solely responsible for wiping out the pirates in Somalia.)

The close relationship between the international society and industries

However, if you look at the achievements of Mr. Kimura, they are indeed extremely noble.

During the peace activity process after ending conflicts of war-torn areas and rebuilding the regions back to their peaceful conditions, there is a peacekeeping strategy referred to as DDR (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration). This process aims to disarm armed organization members and provide education and jobs to help contribute to society and help reconstruct the regions. In order to preserve continuous peace, it is important to provide legitimate businesses to members of the armed organizations in order for them to make a living.


DDR activities by handing over a toolbox to former combatants (from the Embassy of Japan in Sudan website)

Many businesses led by the international society cannot keep up long-term business profits, so private businesses play a significant role. However, there are not many companies who conduct their business in war-torn regions. If the economy of these countries cannot keep up, oftentimes peace is disrupted and war breaks out again.

Mr. Kimura’s efforts to provide a path for pirates who have lost their “jobs” due to the anti-piracy activities conducted by the international society as tuna fishermen can be viewed as extremely important. However, if pirate attacks brought in large profits, would they agree to become fishermen so easily? Also, even if pirate activities could not be conducted due to the efforts of navies from various countries, the pirates may turn to other forms of crime if they don’t have any alternatives to conduct legitimate work. In other words, the anti-piracy activities conducted by the international society and Mr. Kimura’s business are both beneficial to wipe out pirates. If either one was lacking, the decrease in pirate attacks may not have been achieved.

However, even though the number of Somali pirates have decreased, that doesn’t mean the problem is completely resolved. Somalia still does not have a centralized government, and we cannot expect regulations to be enforced by the government’s police force. The withdrawal of the navies of various countries and the decline of the fishing industry would surely mean the return of pirates. From here on, the international society must work together with the navies of various countries to provide stability and peace in Somalia.