Archive for the 'Piracy' Category
Sharp’s told the Telegraph that “The Typhon force will be the first of its kind for probably 200 years and will protect private shipowners’ assets at sea.” The statement is incorrect since several other companies have either attempted to provide this type of private security or have actually conducted operations. The former company Blackwater offered a decades-old NOAA ship, the M/V McArthur, RHIBs and an embarked helicopter with the intent to protect ships from pirates. But the ship arrived in the Red Sea without clients; absent business, the ship left the region and the industry. Since then several companies have either claimed to have vessels or intended to procure them for the purpose of maritime security specifically in the Gulf of Aden. Others, like Protection Vessels International (PVI) have operated several security vessels.
According to the Telegraph article, Sharp “hopes to have 10 vessels on the water within 24 months.” This is an ambitious number particularly since other companies have made similar unfulfilled projections, such as one U.S.-based company which initially claimed it had fourteen vessels. It isn’t clear if the current level of piracy will support additional vessels. To date, no commercial ship with an embarked private security detachment has been taken by Somali pirates. The threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden may have already peaked. According to the International Maritime Bureau’s just-released 2011 piracy report, annual actual and attempted piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden were as follows: 2007 – 13; 2008 – 92; 2009 – 117; 2010 – 53; and 2011 – 37. This downward trend can be attributed to the increased use of private embarked armed security (as well as private armed escort vessels), improved Best Management Practices by the shipping industry, and the creation of Combined Task Force 151 as well as other international maritime operations in the region.
While piracy attacks in the heavily-trafficked Gulf of Aden have decreased, incidents have increased elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. If Typhon and other firms are interested in filling that maritime security gap, they will have to identify larger ships that have the range and speed or improve their logistics that can support clients in a broader region.
LCDR Claude Berube, USNR, is the co-editor of Maritime Private Security: Market Reponses to Piracy, Terrorism, and Waterborne Security Risks of the 21st Century (Routledge, 2012). The views expressed are his own and not those of the U.S. Naval Academy or U.S. Navy.
Early report and not much in the way of details, but there is this from NATO Shipping Center Daily Piracy Update:
The M/V LIQUID VELVET, the previously pirated vessel that may have been used as a mothership, was disrupted by naval Counter Piracy forces in the evening of 10 January. This mothership is no longer considered a threat to merchant shipping.
|RN Lynx helicopter|
I expect more details will be forthcoming.
Should be interesting reading.
UPDATE: Looks like a blocking move by a Royal Navy force as set out here:
RFA Fort Victoria
Fort Victoria, which is operating as part of Nato’s Operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean, cut off the vessel’s progress when it was 90 miles from the coastline and forced it to return to Somalia.
Fort Victoria approached the Liquid Velvet under cover of darkness, before circling the vessel at speed. The ship’s Lynx helicopter was also used. Fort Victoria then followed Liquid Velvet as she retreated towards Somalia.
From gCaptain (one of the best Maritime blogs and Facebook feeds out there).
Captain Seog Hae-gyun was confronted not by the elements that nature can throw at men and ships, but an even more insidious danger: that of pirates threatening him, his crew and his ship. In response, he acted with quick thinking, courageously, decisively and with extreme bravery to protect all those whose lives depended on him and his decisions. His selfless reaction left him with severe injuries and nearly cost him his life,
This is one of the more amazing stories I’ve heard coming out of the international campaign against piracy in the Western Indian Ocean, and This happened nearly a year ago, and this is the first I’ve heard about it (but it is very comfortable, living under this rock).
Bravo Zulu to Captain Seog Hae-gyun. From the IMO Website
When the Samho Jewelry was boarded by pirates, in January 2011, the crew took cover in the designated citadel but the pirates broke in, detaining them on the bridge. Over two days, Captain Seog steered the ship on a zig-zag course, so that the pirates would not realize that the vessel was actually heading away from, instead of towards, Somali waters. He contaminated the fuel so the engines would not work normally, pretended the steering gear was malfunctioning and slowed the ship’s speed from 14 knots to six, to keep her out of Somali waters for as long as possible, thus maximizing the potential for units of the Republic of Korea Navy to attempt a rescue. However, the pirates became suspicious that some of Captain Seog’s actions were intended to outwit them and they brutally assaulted him, causing serious fractures to his legs and shoulders.
In keeping with the finest traditions of any Maritime Service…
Somalia: U.S. Citizen Kidnapped
Question: What is the status of the American kidnapped in Somalia? Have we confirmed citizenship? Are we in touch with the family? What are we doing to assist?
Answer: The Department of State can confirm that a U.S. citizen has been kidnapped in northern Somalia. We remain concerned about the individual’s safety and well-being. We are working with contacts in Kenya and Somalia to ascertain further information and have been in contact with the individual’s family to provide all appropriate consular assistance.
The United States condemns kidnappings of any kind, and we call for the immediate release of all of the victims involved. Due to the privacy laws, we have no further information at this time.
Taking Diplomatic Action Against Piracy
Piracy off the coast of Somalia is a crime of growing global concern. Piracy has significant and direct implications for every nation, from rising danger to seafarers to impacts on humanitarian aid deliveries and global commerce. To address this shared security challenge, the United States is actively pursuing a broad, coordinated, and comprehensive multilateral approach to combating piracy focused on security, prevention, and deterrence.
The United States is proud to be a founding partner in the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. Established in January 2009 pursuant to the UN Security Council Resolution 1851, the Contact Group is a voluntary ad hoc international forum of more than 70 countries, organizations, and industry groups with a common interest in bringing pirates, their financiers and facilitators, to justice.
Among its accomplishments to date, the Contact Group has:
- Facilitated the operational coordination of an unprecedented international naval effort from more than 30 countries working together to protect transiting vessels.
- Partnered with the shipping industry to improve and promote the full implementation of Best Management Practices that merchant ships and crews can take to avoid, deter, delay, and counter pirate attacks.
- Worked to build the capacity of Somalia and other countries in the region to combat piracy, in particular by contributing to the UN Trust Fund Supporting Initiatives of States Countering Piracy off the Coast of Somalia; and
- Launched a new Working Group aimed at disrupting the pirate enterprise ashore, including its associated financial networks, through approaches similar to those used to address other types of organized transnational crime networks.
Vietnam Firm Pays ‘Millions’ to Free Pirated Ship
Agence France-Presse (09/26/11)
The Vietnamese shipping firm Hoang Son Ltd. has paid a $2.6 million ransom to free its hijacked carrier and the ship’s crew. The vessel, known as the Hoang Son Sun, was captured by Somali pirates about 520 nautical miles southeast of Muscat, Oman, on Jan. 20, along with its crew of 24. Somali pirates still hold at least 49 vessels and more than 500 crewmembers hostage, the monitoring group Ecoterra says. Meanwhile, the Denmark-based firm Risk Intelligence is reporting that the ransom for an average-sized merchant vessel captured by pirates has risen to roughly $5 million.
One of the arguments made against arming merchant ships as defense against pirates is the claimed threat that doing so will merely escalate the violence deployed by pirates. I have disputed this argument in the past (See ‘Armed Merchant Ship Crews Will Not Escalate The Pirate Problem‘). Here is another article that takes aim at the escalation of violence theory, nicely pointing out that the military forces in the area are the ones who are escalating the violence.
ON May 16, 2011 a US military helicopter opened fire on a skiff attacking crude carrier Artemis Glory in the Gulf of Oman, killing four suspected pirates.
Although the US forces were not directly fired upon, the engagement took place under a term called ‘extended unit self-defense’. An American term, it seeks to identify an increased frequency of action or engagement that equates to increased “opportunity” or “crossing of paths” between pirates and coalition forces.
While this demonstrates the Combined Maritime Forces’ resolve in the fight against piracy, it also displays a further example of an escalation of violence, a phrase often used by the detractors of the armed deterrent. There is strong opinion that to counter pirate attacks with the threat and delivery of lethal force puts the masters and crews of vessels under ever more danger of injury or loss of life. More often than not the risk of an ‘escalation of violence’ is used as an argument against the use of private security companies, perhaps unfairly so.
In order to analyse the ‘escalation of violence’ risk, the differences between rules of engagement and rules for the use of force should be considered. Arguably, this is where the difference between state and non-state stakeholders is most acute. ROE is a commonly understood term in the military. It is a set of guidelines to determine when, where and how force should be used. The UK’s Ministry of Defence defines ROE as: “Directives issued by competent military authority which delineate the circumstances and limitations under which UK forces will initiate and/or continue combat engagement with other forces encountered.” However, the UK’s military contribution to EU Navfor is governed by UK domestic and international law as its anti-piracy operations are not defined as ‘armed conflict’, restricting their rules of engagement to self-defence. Contrast this with RUF, which apply to non-state actors, stipulating when a security operative can exercise proportional use of force, also underpinned by ‘self-defence’. Reputable private maritime security companies provide a deterrent with rules for the use of force and not engagement.
Interestingly, between the state-sponsored international naval presence off the Horn of Africa and the privately contracted security personnel, it is the latter who are often criticised for their use of force which needlessly escalates violence. There is no evidence for this and yet there are examples of state actors doing just that, albeit under different ‘rules’, but often taking a difficult situation into something with fatal consequences. One only has to recall the events on board the French yacht, ‘Tanit’, in April 2009, where French Special Forces boarded the hijacked yacht, killing the pirates but also one of the hostages. Similarly there was the killing of four US citizens on board the yacht ‘Sea Quest’ after the pirates suspected they were about to be boarded. In all the subsequent media reports, there was little mention of state actors escalating violence to an unacceptable level. Perhaps state actors are immune from accusations of ‘escalation of violence’, but private actors are not?
Contemporary piracy is widely accepted as a highly organised criminal activity. Shipowners know that the only effective deterrent to this problem is private armed security. Per Gullestrup, chief executive of Clipper Ferries/Ro-Ro said recently: “We took the decision three to four months ago that we could not defend our ships without contracting-in armed guards with light machine guns and who will shoot back.” Even the US acknowledged at the recent US Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Sub-Committee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade Hearing on “Confronting Global Piracy” (June 15, 2011): “It is notable that no vessel with an armed security team embarked has been successfully hijacked.”
While private security companies are providing a credible deterrent, as non-state actors, they cannot and should not utilise ROE methodology. As is predominantly the case across the maritime security sector, the deterrent operates under clearly defined RUF and tries very hard to detune situations with the minimum use of force. Reputable security companies are only too willing to provide prospective shipping clients with detailed guidelines their teams operate by, from the identification of hostile intent and hostile acts and the appropriate responses deemed necessary to counter the threat. This information is also specified within the recent International Maritime Organization guidelines for the selection and use of private maritime security contractors. The emergence of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry, a trade organisation establishing minimum standards for security companies to operate by, is making it much simpler for shipowners considering armed security to understand the rules for the use of force that PMSC’s should abide by.
Lamentably, the same recent US hearing openly admitted: “We should have no illusions: there is no simple solution to modern-day piracy off the Horn of Africa.” Mr Gullestrup describes the situation more forcefully: “Despair is a good word to describe the way shipowners feel about the whole piracy issue … it is 2011 and we are five years into this and we are still being run around by a bunch of criminals.” While the international community moves toward more asymmetric tactics against pirates, without careful scrutiny and consideration the difference between the rules of engagement and the use of force at sea could be lost in the armed deterrent debate. This could be bewildering for shipowners, charterers and insurers keen to safeguard vessels, content and crew. Perhaps more importantly, it is unhelpful in promoting a clear understanding of state and non-state players’ responsibilities and authority to deliver maritime security, further limiting a coherent solution to contemporary piracy.
The ongoing threat of pirates has resulted in a steady shifting towards greater acceptance of the use of arms onboard ships. This makes sense as it is the vessels that are the high value targets. And as such, they should have the means to defend themselves. So far, there seems to be little in terms of escalation on the part of the pirates. Instead, they continue searching for the less defended vessels.
Photo courtesy of PVI LTD
On August 11t h, 2011 the M/V Caravos Horizon was attacked by “sea bandits” in the Red Sea, just north of the Straits of Bab al Mendib. The distress call was picked up by Combined Task Force 151 and Expeditionary Strike Group 5, and they determined that there were two naval assets capable of responding in the vicinity. HMS MONMOUTH, a British Frigate, and USS BATAAN, an American amphibious assault ship, both swung into action. The crew of the Caravos Horizon secured themselves inside a “citadel” as six “sea bandits” boarded and took control of the bridge of the ship.
Bay Raider 45, an armed MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-28 Detachment TWO, was airborne flying regularly scheduled Search and Rescue duty with the BATAAN Amphibious Ready Group at the time of the attack. The Knighthawk was brought back to the flight deck to top off the fuel. Expeditionary Strike Group 5 ordered the BATAAN ARG to send a helicopter toward the scene of the attack to provide intelligence, survelliance, and reconnisance (ISR) and to report information back to BATAAN. Bay Raider launched and headed south to provide assistance to the mariners in distress.
The purpose of this post isn’t to re-tell the story of the event. Both HMS MONMOUTH and USS BATAAN released reports of the incident which can be found in the open press. The PAO’s put hard work into these articles, read them for the story of a successful boarding to retake control of the M/V Caravos Horizon. Instead of rehashing the story, here at the USNI blog we’ll look at the larger picture…what lessons can we learn about counter-piracy and naval irregular warfare?
In October of 2010 I was lucky to be invited to speak as a panelist at the Naval Institute’s History Conference “Pirates on the High Seas” during a discussion of the history of piracy and counter-piracy titled “Blackbeard to the Barbary.” In my opening remarks I highlighted three things that stuck out from the 200+ year history of the USN’s counter piracy missions: Platforms, People, and Partnerships. Specifically, having the right “low end/high end” mix of hardware to do the job, having professional and aggressive junior officers to lead operations, and having competent and willing allies to work with in the region. The combined Anglo-American response to the attack on M/V Caravos Horizon reinforces that these principles are as important in the twenty-first century as they were when Decatur, Porter, and Downes sailed in the nineteenth.
When it comes to the hardware involved in this successful operation, a key takeaway is the vital importance of rotary-wing aviation. Irregular operations rarely require the expensive, fast, sexy, high altitude TACAIR jets that you’ll find in Hollywood movies. They need the quiet professionals of the often overlooked naval rotary-wing community. Helicopters embarked on the ships that conduct counter-piracy operations are a force multiplier that provide the ability to respond rapidly, develop critical ISR, and finally to provide overwatch and maritime air support for boarding operations. Sending a ship on counter-piracy or irregular warfare missions without an embarked helicopter significantly degrades the unit’s capability.
The rapid response by the RN Lynx to the scene allowed for the development of early situational awareness which became a key factor for success. The follow on arrival of Bay Raider allowed the ISR net to be cast further away from the attacked vessel. It was able to find two skiffs, which they believed were the suspected “sea bandits.” Our Knighthawk remained overhead briefly as a visible deterrent, and the skiffs turned away from the shipping lanes and headed off at high speed. The two aircraft together could cover hundreds of square miles and help develop situational awareness far beyond the capability of a single surface combatant. When time came for the boarding, the ability to have Bay Raider provide armed overwatch and ISR while the Lynx conducted the insertion was an important element of protecting the boarding party and helping to ensure their success.
The MH-60S Block III Armed Helo’s that now deploy with amphibious assault ships like BATAAN come in the gunship variant. These aircraft have a wide range of armament options that make it a highly capable platform. You can buy nearly a squadron of them for the cost of one Joint Strike Fighter. The crews that fly them like LT Lee Sherman, LT Chris Schneider, AWS2 Joey Faircloth, and AWS3 Josh Teague, are trained in a number of mission areas that lend themselves to maritime security operations and irregular warfare. While the traditional mission of running the racetrack in the “Starboard D” holding pattern as the “SAR Bird” is still a central part of their job (after all, its where Bay Raider 45 started the day), the Armed Helo provides a widely expanded set of capabilities for Amphibious Ready Groups and is an ideal platform for naval irregular warfare.
The Knighthawk pilots and aicrewmen of the Helicopter Sea Combat community are trained for a wide range of missions and skills which lend themselves to successful naval irregular warfare. These include anti-surface warfare and special operations support, as well as the traditional rotary-wing missions of search and rescue and logisitics support.
It is important to note that the “deckplate” leaders of the operations were all junior officers that had been extensively trained and prepared to make combat decisions. Lt Harry Lane RM, commander of the Royal Marines boarding team, Lt Chris Easterling RN, aircraft commander of the Lynx, LT Chris “Texas Pete” Schneider USN, of Bay Raider, are three individuals quoted and identified in the press releases. That wasn’t simply because they were the ones that the PAO could find because they weren’t on watch. These junior officers, along with LT Lee “Chunk” Sherman who was the aircraft commander of Bay Raider 45, demonstrated that when tactical level leaders are given the ability to make decisions and to temper their aggressive nature with solid tactical risk management, operational level success is around the corner.
The partnership element to this operation is obvious. The USN and RN have been working together since nearly our service’s founding to combat piracy and threats to maritime security across the globe. During the First Barbary War the British bases in the Mediterranean were opened to American ships in support of our fight against the Corsairs. In the West Indies in the 1820’s and 1830’s American squadrons teamed with the Royal Navy to help fight the piracy from Cuba. At the end of the 19th century we supported one another in the rivers and coastal waters of China. Sharing the same battlefields over the past decade has helped bring tactics, techniques, and procdures closer together across the range of military operations.
What struck me was the quote from LT Schneider in the BATAAN article about the seamless nature of the combined operation. It mirrored a comment made by LT Sherman during debrief after the mission. He said that working together with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, “was like we had done it all together before.” Seamless was a word used by both pilots. Our two ships have never seen one another, we never spoke before the moment that Bay Raider checked in with the Lynx over the radio, yet common procedures and decades of experience in combined operations allowed the junior leaders to adapt and flex for a rapid and effective operation.
There are other partnership elements of the mission that are also worth considering. The coastal states of the region are relatively quick to give permission for operations within their territorial waters when it is counter-piracy. This is a commonly overlooked element, during the 1820’s when the Spanish weren’t as cooperative off Cuba it made the work of the USN’s West Indies squadron much more difficult. The ability of the myriad of staffs and command organizations working in the region to work together is also vital. In today’s world of networked battlefields it can be easy for the networks to get overlayed on top of one another, and potentially tangled. With American and multi-national staffs all working the same geography and sea space, the ability to keep it straight and to respond efficiently in order to make decisions between the staffs is vital.
So Others May Live…Or Die.
The operation to secure the M/V Caravos Horizon demonstrates the critical role of the amphibious fleet and rotary-wing aviation to maritime security and American policy around the world. It also reinforces the idea that the right platforms, purposely trained and led people, and strong global partnerships are central to success in naval irregular warfare and in the hybrid maritime conflicts that the United States Navy may face in the coming decades. It must be said that for each aircraft and pilot there are dozens of maintenance professionals and supporting personnel that make our Navy’s global reach possible. Maintainers are the bedrock of the rotary-wing team that successfully completed this mission.
The motto of HSC-28 Detachment TWO is “So Others May Live…Or Die.” Whether as a search and rescue aircraft or a helicopter gunship, DET 2 is a best friend to mariners in distress, worst enemy to those who aim to disrupt maritime security in the regions where we operate. The pride that I feel in being associated with DET 2’s maintenance team, naval aircrewmen, and our pilots is endless. After four and a half months supporting maritime security and contingency operations off the coast of Libya, we have moved southeast, and for the foreseeable future we remain on station…
Galrahn has a very interesting post on the subject of a story by Reuters that a low-profile UN report verifies the link between Somali pirates and, you guessed it, Al Qaeda. Go check it out. Well worth the read. I will elaborate here on some things that have been bandied about from time to time.
In that Reuters story, some revealing words from the UN Special Envoy to Somalia:
John Steed, the principal military adviser to the U.N. special envoy to Somalia and head of the envoy’s counter-piracy unit, said links between armed pirate gangs and Somalia’s al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were gradually firming.
“The payment of ransoms just like any other funding activity, illegal or otherwise, is technically in breach of the Somalia sanctions regime if it makes the security situation in Somalia worse,” said Steed.
“Especially if it is ending up in the hands of terrorists or militia leaders — and we believe it is, some directly, some more indirectly,” said Steed, a retired military officer.
To any who doubt that this money-making venture has grown exponentially of late, the next paragraph should erase that doubt.
Ransom demands have risen steadily in recent years. According to one study, the average ransom stood at $5.4 million in 2010, up from $150,000 in 2005, helping Somali pirates rake in nearly $240 million last year.
Certainly, the discussion of where the money is going is pertinent. However, the most salient remark from Galrahn’s post is his assertion that “Piracy just took a strange turn, and it would be nice to hear from someone whose title begins with “Admiral” or whose name is Ray Mabus.” While I might disagree with the word “just” in the first part of the sentence, the second assertion surely is true. Certainly this had to be an eventuality that we were planning for. If not, then serious examination of our Navy’s uniformed and civilian leadership is in order.
As far back as August, 2009, the issue of such a link was discussed, along with the true intent of the Somali pirates. Comments there, and at USNI’s Piracy Conference in the fall of 2010 were at times dismissive of the link between the pirates and Al Shabaab, even though connections between Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda had been trumpeted by both organizations more than a year earlier, and Al Shabaab control of the coastal villages was alo well known .
Our hesitation in making the logical connection between a very-high-payoff, low risk venture and those who seek funding sources for their operations (and would not hesitate to coerce the unwilling into cooperation) always struck me as extremely naive. To discount the likelihood of the eventual link between Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, and the Somali pirates is to refuse to understand the nature of our enemies, the ways in which international criminal enterprises work, and the lengths to which the United States and other nations should be willing to go in dealing with the pirates themselves and those who pull the strings ashore in Somalia and elsewhere. I remarked in August of 2009 that,
The old phrase “you’re known by the company you keep” is pertinent here. Al-Shabaab, and by proxy, Al-Qaeda, have major influence here. If the situation didn’t start out that way, it has certainly evolved there. Natural enough, to this point there has been immense profit to be gained with very little risk.
Indeed, according to the UN, there is proof that precisely the above has come to pass. It should be a surprise to nobody, but likely will be a big surprise to many. All I can prescribe for those folks is viewing The Godfather, Part II over and over again. It was simply a matter of time until Al Qaeda tapped into the revenue stream of Somali piracy. And it has likely been occurring for far longer than we can offer “proof” of.
Back to Galrahn’s point. What say you, Navy Leadership? State Department? Why are we finding out from Reuters? Let us hear from you on the subject, and what the intent is to deal with it.
Members of the International Somalia Contact Group held an ad hoc meeting on the Financial Aspects of Somali Piracy in Seoul last week. The meeting, the second one since the first session in Washington in March, was focused on the growing need for international cooperation to stop the flow of money to Somali pirates, prevent money laundering and gather information about the de facto powers behind the pirates, that is, the instigators of pirate activities and their sources of funds. The 80 participants, under the stewardship of Moon Ha-young, Korea’s ambassador for global counterterrorism cooperation, agreed to build a database on intelligence concerning Somali pirates and their financiers. All member governments of the Contact Group will be given access to the information in the database when it is completed and are encouraged to increase teamwork within their law enforcement agencies when investigating piracy.
Such proactive and cohesive action by several nations is a positive step toward countering the ever increasing threat of Somali pirates. However, as I had argued in this op-ed for The African Executive, piracy is a relatively cheap activity making it difficult to crack down on all the sources of illicit funds. Additionally, targeting pirates’ source of funds may have undesired impacts if they join hands with branches of al Qaeda or al Shabaab operating in the region to replace their lost income. Therefore, it is essential to also consider alternative methods, such as using the threat of sanctions and freezing corporate assets in cases of non-compliance, to stop ship owners from paying ransoms. This will serve as an incentive for shipping companies to choose safer sailing routes around the Cape of Good Hope and hire armed personnel to accompany their crew while long term measures that focus on helping Somalia and its neighbors achieve economic and political stability begin to take effect. The Office of Foreign Assets Control in the United States has taken explicit steps in the direction of sanctions and freezing assets of shipping companies that give in to pirate demands but the Contact Group must encourage other countries to do the same because US policies in isolation are unlikely to prove beneficial.
We have, many of us, the image in our heads of Somali pirates as poor, ragged, skinny teenagers with AK-47s and RPGs, crowded into leaky skiffs, somewhat ineffectually attempting the hijacking of merchant ships which pass close enough to the shore to be accessible. The smarter money has known for some time that this is hardly the case. Those “pirates” in the boats represent the very expendable low-cost labor end of an increasingly sophisticated and technologically capable system that has seen its profits soar in recent years, despite international efforts to clamp down on piracy off Africa’s horn. Which brings me to this very interesting article from Neil Ungerleider over at FastCompany.
It seems some of those massive ransoms collected by the pirates off Somalia in recent years is being reinvested in new technology, heavier and more capable weapons, and people with technical and language skill sets that have enhanced the effectiveness of pirate operations substantially. From the article:
In addition to random attacks on cargo and passenger ships, Somali pirates are increasingly relying on the use of GPS systems, satellite phones, and open-source intelligence such as shipping industry blogs in order to figure out the location of ships.
However, the most interesting weapon in the Somalian arsenal to western observers is the use of pirate-operated radar to locate targets at sea. Pirate “mother ships” with radar and advanced weapons capabilities have strayed far beyond the Horn of Africa to locales as far-flung as Madagascar, India, and the Persian Gulf.
Indeed, even with radar from pirate “mother ships”, it is a big ocean, but considerably smaller when you know where to look. Not surprisingly, penetration of shipping company and port operations data bases has been possible with money to pay those who have the capabilities, as well as:
…translators who interpret the bulk of information that filters in through the automatic tracking devices. These men, though not involved in the actual hijacking, decipher and break down information for the team. The ‘foot soldiers’ are given instructions that most often turn out to be successful. The men who call themselves Somali Coast Guards also invest time on the World Wide Web tracking and gathering vital information. For example, the pirate financiers visit the Maritime Bureau Website to check what strategies have been put in place to curtail their activities. They, in turn, feed the gang.
The article’s final paragraph should serve as warning to those whose philosophy is to ignore or pay off the pirates.
According to the European Union, a sharp uprise in Somali pirate attacks is expected in 2011, including the use of machine guns as an everyday weapon. Western governments are, in turn, stepping up their game–Britain is taking steps to provide merchant ships with weapons, which would be the first time since World War II that this has happened.
Such an appraisal, coinciding with US drone strikes in Somalia against Al Shabab targets, is cause for concern. The statement from the New York Times article that “American intelligence and military officials warn of increasing operational ties between the Shabab and the Qaeda franchise in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or A.Q.A.P.” should stand as a warning that those who are gleaning profits from the pirates are more than just Somali warlords.
At last autumn’s USNI Piracy Conference, a number of speakers showed great hesitation in acknowledging any link whatever between Somali pirates, Al-Shabab, and Al Qaeda. However, to many of us in the audience who had watched our enemies for some time, and had in some cases fought actively against them either in uniform or as a part of our national security apparatus, the linking of these entities was a foregone conclusion. If the enterprise of piracy in Somali waters (and now well beyond) were profitable enough to be a major funding source for AQAP (or AQ in Yemen), they would involve themselves whether they were welcome and supported by the Somali pirates or not.
In his remarks at the USNI Piracy Conference, Keynote Speaker Stephen Carmel of MAERSK made a number of assertions to reinforce his notion that the Somali piracy problem was not significant enough to warrant anything but business as usual, which meant paying for ransomed ships and trying to avoid areas of known pirate activity. Some of those assertions have been proven tragically wrong in recent months, including this one:
The Somali pirates are a pure hostage for ransom crowd. That means… that the hostages always get released and generally are not horribly mistreated… I am not making light of the experience of those held hostage by Somali pirates – I am simply noting that the treatment of hostages at the hands of Barbary pirates was infinitely worse.
Which certainly calls into question Mr. Carmel’s entire argument.
So, Somali pirates are not a direct threat to US national interests, nor a significant threat to the international system of commerce. Somali pirates are also far less well funded, and far less capable of evolving into a large threat…
From a strict standpoint of the balance sheet, Mr. Carmel’s arguments may remain valid for some time, though for how long is unclear, and whether it is wise to wait for the tipping point is also a valid question. However, when improvements in capabilities that can exponentially increase piracy’s reach and impact are brought into play, especially when that reach means a greater potential as a funding source for our enemies, then the problem of Somali piracy has long since ceased to be one of the balance sheet. Advocacy of Dane-Geld as a means of minimizing such threats has little track record of success, and plenty of examples of a disastrous contrary result. With an adaptive and opportunistic enemy whose benefit from Somali piracy is becoming increasingly more direct, it is well past time to make serious our efforts to combat piracy in those waters.
Once again, that master of describing the human condition provides us a warning passed down through the millenia:
We never pay anyone Dane-Geld,
No matter how trifling the cost,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost.