The Somali Navy from 1965 to the 1980s

A research note


  • Colin D. Robinson Research Fellow at Doctoral School for Safety and Security Sciences, Africa Research Institute, University of Óbuda



Naval advising and assistance is an understudied field, in comparison to military advising and assistance on land. The author is only aware of three states whose navies have had to be rebuilt from nothing since 1999: East Timor, Iraq, and the varying efforts in Somalia. Advisory and assistance efforts of this type are helped by accurate data on the history that shapes and motivates new navies’ personnel. Yet, as regards Somalia, there is virtually no authoritative discussion of the history of the Navy. The Navy had its origins as a civilian port management body in the 1950s; grew under Soviet tutelage after its first vessels were transferred in February 1965; and received considerable Soviet advice and support. But it was severed from its Soviet training and support after the Soviets had to choose sides during the Ogaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia. That split appears to have led to a severe decline in operational readiness during the 1980s. In 1987 U.S. intelligence reporting, now declassified, shows only two operational fighting vessels, of a total of 18 ships, only making short patrols from one of the Navy’s three bases. After the collapse of the Somali state, some vessels fled to Aden, and possibly Mombasa. In the twenty-first century, international attention was roused by piracy off the Somali coast. Efforts to build new naval police forces, or a new Navy, in southern Somalia have faced constant challenges.

Author Biography

Colin D. Robinson, Research Fellow at Doctoral School for Safety and Security Sciences, Africa Research Institute, University of Óbuda

Colin D. Robinson is an Adjunct Instructor with the eSchool of Graduate Professional Military Education, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama; a Researcher at the African Research Institute, Óbuda University, Budapest; and sits on the editorial board of Defence and Security Analysis. He has carried out defence reform research and work in East Timor, Somalia, Kenya, Liberia, and Malawi, worked at universities in Liberia and New Zealand, worked three times for the New Zealand defence establishment, in Georgia and Liberia for the United Nations, and with policy research institutes in London and Washington DC.



2021-07-04 — Updated on 2023-06-04


How to Cite

Robinson, C. D. (2023). The Somali Navy from 1965 to the 1980s: A research note. Journal of Central and Eastern European African Studies, 1(1-2), 124–138. (Original work published July 4, 2021)