Archive for the 'Piracy' Tag
On a muggy and overcast day this past March, I set out to the Gulf of Guinea with members from the U.S. State Department in Lagos, Nigeria. It was just past sunset. Our pilot, an athletically built Nigerian with dark skin and a shaved head, greeted us on the pier and welcomed the delegation aboard his Boston Whaler. All of us were overdressed in suits and sweat was noticeably percolating through our shirts.
That time of day is particularly charming in Lagos. The water and the sky interweave in a deep cerulean palette, transforming the landscape into a wondrous countryside.
The smell of stagnant petrol consumed us as we sailed past bulk freighters and crude carriers loading cargo. Containers slammed onto chassis on the adjacent piers and oil sheens along with garbage and debris saturated the waterway. Throughout the channel, campaign billboards promoting President Goodluck Jonathan’s reelection were omnipresent
VOTE JONTHAN FOR EQUITY, INTEGRITY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE.
I ASSURE YOU OF FRESH AIR IN NIGERIA – VOTE FOR ME.
And the most dubious promotion of all: #BRINGBACKGOODLUCK2015, which was a campaign slogan based off #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS. This one did not resonate well in northeast Nigeria.
Off our port bow, donned in orange life jackets, were locals taxiing home together in motorized canoes. They stared at us uneasily as our boat sprinted past their starboard beam. A few yelled in detest when a member in our delegation snapped off a photo with his iPhone.
On the other side of the river, directly across from the commercial shipping terminals were residents of Lagos’ notorious floating slums. Many of the lagoon’s inhabitants are immigrants, who earn less than $2 a day and use the river to dump trash, excrement, and everything else they cannot keep on their makeshift homes. Our guide told us that the people along the sprawling bamboo community subsist largely as fishermen and workers in the nearby sawmills, cutting up timber that floats regularly into the city. They, too, looked perplexed when a boat full of whites drove by at 30 knots.
It took fifteen minutes to reach Takawa Bay at the southern entrance of Lagos harbor. We gazed southeast and saw scores of anchored ships dotted along the horizon like a cityscape at dusk. Our boat idled for a few moments, swaying to and fro in the trough of the seas and all of us were silent. A sea breeze kicked up and the cool air felt good. It was as if at that moment we could sense all of Nigeria’s potential in the idle ships a few miles distant, waiting offshore to deliver cargo and with it, a better future for the people ashore.
Our pilot turned sharply to starboard, sped up and headed back toward Lagos. My shock in Nigeria was total.
Over the past two decades, Lagos and several other ports along the Gulf of Guinea have evolved into a major hub for global energy supplies for North America, Europe, and Asia. With several natural harbors throughout the region – from Cape Verde to Angola – and a coastal terrain rich in hydrocarbons, the countries along this fertile coastline have flourished.
This uninterrupted growth had not come about by accident. Many West-African governments have enhanced their infrastructure, liberalized trade policies, and reduced barriers to emerging transcontinental businesses. As a result the Gulf of Guinea increasingly relies on the seas for their economic prosperity. After all, it’s their only lifeline to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
This transit hub and facilitator to the world, however, is threatened. Despite West Africa’s continuing economic boom, three years ago the Gulf of Guinea surpassed East Africa and became the region with the highest number of piracy attacks in the world. Nigeria is said to be losing a staggering $2 billion to maritime insecurity each year. Maritime experts agree that the nation loses $800 million yearly to unchecked poachers who come to take away fish from Nigeria’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), in addition to about $16 million to oil theft and $9 million to general piracy.
Given the limited number of ships providing security off the West African coast, narcotics traffickers are using West African ports to smuggle and then distribute drugs in Europe. Oil theft and illegal bunkering also continue to rise uncontrollably. According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Nigeria loses between 40,000 and 100,000 barrels a day due to theft.
These attacks also tend to be violent. Unlike Somalia, where pirates attack ships transiting through the region, West African pirates typically prey on ships berthed or anchored waiting to berth. These attacks typically occur within twelve nautical miles. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group have shown that more seafarers were killed in the first nine months of 2014 than the whole of 2013, when over 1,200 were affected.
This is a conservative estimate. IMB reported last year that about two-thirds of all West-African piracy attacks go unreported.
Piracy in West Africa are different from those associated with East Africa in a variety of ways. First, unlike Somali pirates who attach ships in transit, pirates operating in and around the Gulf of Guinea prey on ships berthed or anchored within territorial waters. As noted by the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group, this changes the character of operations tremendously. Pirates have access to infrastructure and robust intelligence ashore, which provide them with the content and structure of ships operating in the area. It is thought they have access to information shared with the maritime sectors in the region.
Robbery, kidnap and ransom, and oil theft are the three main piracy models being monitored in West Africa. Pirates hijack vessels and often force ship captains to navigate the vessel to an unknown location where the cargo is lightered to another vessel or a storage facility shore side. Eventually, the oil finds its way to the black market or in some cases, back into the mainstream supply to be sold domestically or in the global marketplace.
If threats of piracy are left unchecked, the economies of West Africa will suffer. The waters off Nigeria, Togo and Benin are deemed a “war risk area,” thereby pushing up insurance costs and deterring maritime traders from even entering ports.
Most scholars and military planners would agree the root of the problem in Nigeria stems from state corruption, lackluster job creation, and a hollow security force. With only a couple dozen ships and a poorly trained military facing Boko Haram on their eastern flank, it seems unlikely that Nigeria and the surrounding nations will be able to control this problem alone. Regional actors are taking promising steps, but their coordination efforts are not developed enough to thwart terrorist networks.
Nigeria received two 1700 ton P-18N offshore-patrol vessels in 2014, which are based on the Chinese Type 056 corvette. Built in China and fitted out in a Nigerian shipyard, the 312-foot warships complement the Okpabana and the Thunder, former US Guard WHEC class cutters transferred in 2014 and 2011, respectively.
The revised Cooperative Strategy in the 21st Century (CS-21R) aptly points out that the sea services must continue working alongside partner security forces to combat terrorism, illicit trafficking, and illegal exploitation of natural resources through initiatives such as the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership and the Africa Partnership Station. We should not delay in executing this blueprint – the moment is ripe for changes to West African maritime security. On May 29th, Muhammadu Buhari will succeed Goodluck Jonathan as the President of Nigeria. The election of Buhari has created a potential breakthrough for American diplomacy and with it, a chance for us to work hand-in-hand with the largest nation and economy on the continent. Through public-private partnerships, along with interagency work by USAID, America has the opportunity to establish a better long-term relationship with Nigeria’s incoming executive government.
Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) or destroyers are not needed to assist our partners in Africa. Afloat Forward Staging Bases, coupled with Joint-High Speed Vessels, Patrol Craft and Littoral Combat Ships can fulfill this mission with ease and bring the necessary equipment to the inshore zones that need the most attention. Utilizing UAVs like ScanEagle and Firescout will help discover patterns of piracy and provide security for oil platforms and anchored vessels throughout the region.
Navy SEALs and Special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC) should liaise with the Special Boat Service (SBS), a special operations unit of the Nigerian Navy. Their mission is focused on littoral and riverine operations, including reconnaissance and surveillance; covert beach reconnaissance in advance of an amphibious assault; recovery or protection of ships and oil installations subject to hostile state or non-state action; maritime counter-terrorism; and offensive action. In order to strengthen partnerships and protect international interests in the region, this must be done year-round.
If we don’t step in, then expect China to dominate the region with short-term investments that will fail to lift African nations out of poverty and conflict. The imbalance in trade is staggering. According to John Burnett of U.S. News and World Report, China made $75 billion in investments from 2000 to 2011 compared to our $14 billion. Given the number of natural resources throughout the region, it would be foolish for American business to sit out as the needs of economies throughout West Africa grow. But security is paramount for potential investment from the West.
Ensuring secure littoral sea lines of communication within Nigeria’s territorial seas require trust and over time we can help alter West Africa’s perception of the West. Like Americans, Nigerians are proud and stubborn. They want to solve problems on their own. Unfortunately, more than anything, West Africa needs a naval presence to help shore up their ongoing problems with piracy. Our Navy can and should do more, especially with an incoming president bent on ending corruption and improving Nigeria’s security.
This will be a war of attrition, but it’s a fight worth undertaking. After all, success in Nigeria means potential success for Africa, which translates to economic benefits throughout the continent.
Matt Hipple is joined by Zack Elkaim and James Bridger to talk about rebellions in Africa: the Central African Republic, Mali, and Nigeria, as well as the future prospects for Somalia. Today’s podcast is one of our best, and we highly encourage you to give it a listen. Enjoy our latest podcast, Episode 14, My Other CAR is a Mali (download).
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This article is featured at CIMSEC’s African Navies Week. The previous articles of African Navies Week have been Al-Shabaab is Only the Beginning (LT Hipple), Searching for a Somali Coast Guard (James Bridger), and East Africa, More than Just Pirates (Breuk Bass).
In the din of East African security issues, the navy of Africa’s most populous nation has fallen out of the international eye. With continued pressure on diversified procurement, increasing capability, and new international cooperation, Nigeria’s Navy is slowly growing to fill a void dominated by piracy, petroleum smuggling, and other criminal elements that is re-engaging international attention in Western Africa. Whereas the state of Somalia has been quite unable to manage its offshore affairs, the Nigerian Navy has plotted a course out to sea under the pall of its severe security challenges. If the challenges of oversight, funding, and collusion don’t capsize their efforts, it may become a quite fine sailing.
Procurement-Let’s Go Shopping:
Since 2009, Nigeria has been pursuing an aggressive new procurement program. During the last Nigerian naval modernization period, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Nigeria purchased a vast number of vessels from Germany (LST’s) , France (Combattantes), the UK (Thornycraft), Italy (Lerici minesweepers), and others. Unlike the procurement processes familiar in larger navies, such those of NATO, Nigeria ran an “open-source” program, pulling already-proven foreign systems off the foreign shelf. This new buildup is similar, with some new attempt to build local ship-building capacity.
The three big ticket “ship of the line” purchases are the 2 “Offshore Patrol Vessels” and the NNS Thunder. The NNS Thunder is the old school “off the shelf” style ship purchase, bringing a Hamilton-class High Endurance Cutter, the ex-USCG Chase, into Nigerian service in 2011. The “Offshore Patrol Vessels” were commissioned with China Industry Shipbuilding Corporation and approved for purchase by President Jonathan in April of 2012. The fleet’s major combatant until the NNS Thunder was the NNS Aradu, an over 30 year old vessel and Nigeria’s only aviation-capable ship. The new contenders will add a total of 5 new 76mm Oto Melara’s added to the fleet, a none too shabby improvement of overall firepower for littoral operations. The 45 (NNS Thunder)/ 20 (OPV’s) day endurance will give the Nigerian Navy an impressive new stay-time for continuous at-sea opeartions. Arguably most important is that all three vessels have maritime aviation capabilities that will greatly expand the reach and ISR component of Nigerian maritime operations. These three ships are right on target to fill critical gaps in Nigeria’s capabilities.
Nigeria’s littoral squadrons are also scheduled for improvement. Nigeria is purchasing several brown-green water patrol craft to bolster her much-beleaguered inshore security where smuggling of all kinds is rife. Singaporean Manta’s and Sea Eagle’s, US Defender’s, Israeli Shaldag Mk III’s, and others will add potent brown and green water assets to Nigeria’s toolbox.
However, not all of Nigeria’s purchases are imports. Thi package also begins the cultivation of indigenous ship-building capability. One of the aforementioned OPV’s is scheduled for 70% of its construction to occur in Nigeria. To more fanfare, the NNS Andoni was commissioned in 2012. Designed by Nigerian engineers and produced locally with 60% locally sourced parts, it is considered a good step forward for building local expertise and capability in the realm of the shipwrights. More local capacity and expertise will further increase the ease with which ships bought locally, or abroad, can be maintained.
-But Avoid the Bait and Switch!
While flexible, this off-the-shelf model can lead to some bad dealings either by vendors or government buyers. Flexible US defense procurement specialists would love more unilateral authority and oversight compared to their gilded cage of powerpoint nightmares. However, the opposite can lead to incredibly terrible purchasing decisions. While Nigeria’s 2 OPV’s are running for current a total cost of $42m, a proposal was made to purchase one 7 year old vessel for $65m dollars. That vessel had a further $25m in damage that needed to be repaired. That particular vessel now sails as the KNS Jasiri after a large financing scandal of several years ended. At the time of delivery it appeared completely unarmed as well, though since it has since had weapons installed. If one were to ask why Nigeria would want to buy a single unarmed vessel with no aviation capability for the price of 4 more gunned-up and helo-ready OPV’s, the answer is probably not a “clean” one. Oversight is going to continue to be an issue in a country with one of the bottom corruption ratings.
Capability- Shooting more, shooting together :
Ships are all well and good, but what matters is what you do with them and how. Though the scale of offshore criminality is likely in total hovering around 10 billion, and the entire naval budget is roughly a half billion, the Nigerian Navy is moving more aggressively to course-correct their coastal regions. Several instances include a successful gun battle in August, ending the careers of six pirates, further arrests for oil theft in september, and a nice little capture of pirates in August for which photo opportunities were ensured for the press. The Nigerian Navy is further attempting to extend the “immediacy” of their reach by establishing Forward Operating Bases, like the ones at Bayelsa and Delta states. These and many other instances are the nickles-and-dimes as the Nigerian Navy chips away at the corners of their behemoth security challenge at sea. Every journey begins with a single step, and though the Nigerian Navy has reached a bit of a trot, they have a long way to go.
But even in the Navy, no man is an island. With a limited budget and math-rough half of the budget going to the army, the Nigerian Navy needs support. The civil and military authorities are moving closer to that “joint” model with the Memorandum of Understanding between the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) on the use of NAF assets in Anti-Piracy operations. With an existing MoU between NIMASA, this creates further points of coordination between civil, naval, and air force assets in a coordinated battle against criminals at sea. It’s no J3/J5 shop, but it’s a start.
-But Don’t Undershoot!
The Nigerian Navy’s take from the $5.947bn defense budget is a cool $445m. This is a continued increase for both the defense budget overall and the navy budget specifically and is expected to continue increasing. While this is all well and good, the Nigerian Navy faces a criminal enterprise worth billions: Piracy ($2bn), Oil Theft: ($8bn), and others. The Nigerian Navy itself has a way to go with shoring up its vast body of small arms, ammunition, and gear. In 2012, a fact-finding mission by members of the Nigerian senate found an appalling state of affairs in regards to equipment shortages, maintenance, and a whole slew of other steady-state problems. Enthusiasm and new ships can only go so far. The Nigerian Navy needs to spend the extra money to shore up their flanks, refurbishing or replacing their vast stock of older ships, weapons, equipment, and ordnance stores (without forgetting training).
Cooperation- Team Player:
Nigeria is no stranger to international cooperation. Many forget that in August 26th, 1996, ECOMOG (under ECOWAS) actually conducted an amphibious assault into Liberia led by Nigerian military units. From peacekeeping in Liberia, to Sierra Leone, to Darfur, to Mali, etc… etc…
Nigeria troops have been a staple of many peacekeeping efforts. Now, their typical face abroad, the boots on the ground, is pulling back to the homeland to fight Boko Haram. However, the navy is still extending its project to integrate into partnership programs through both engagement at home and extending the hand abroad.
Nigeria is an active catalyst of the regional security regime. For one, ECOWAS is a factor at sea as well as land. At an ECOWAS conference ending 9 OCT, the naval chiefs of Nigeria, Niger, Benin, and Togo agreed to a common “modality” for the combating of terrorism and agreed to set up a “Maritime Multinational Coordination Center” in Benin to coordinate security efforts.
It also doesn’t hurt to host the maiden run of a major procurement/policy forum in your continent, namely the “Offshore Patrol Vessels Conference” for hundreds of African and interested parties. Networking, though an intangible product, is an important way of building institutional strength and connections.
Nigeria also engages with US and NATO training missions, like the most recent Operation African Wind: a training exercise for the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other regional militaries in conjunction with the Netherlands Maritime Forces under the auspices of the United States sponsored African Partnership Station. In Lagos and Calabar, units will learn about sea-borne operations, jungle combat, amphibious raids, etc… over 14 days of training and 4 days of exercises.
Finally, Nigeria’s navy has made a very respectable show of striking out by conducting a “world tour” of sorts with the new NNS Thunder. The NNS Thunder made a tour around Africa before crossing the Indian Ocean for an historic visit to Australia this month for International Fleet Week. The Nigerian Navy seems determined not to remain shackled by their previous bad position, and is aggressively pursuing an expanded mission and self-image through more than just procurement. Despite the challenges ahead, they’ve demonstrated a reach few of their continental compatriots can lay claim to. It may not help against pirates, but it should be a fine addition to espirit de corps.
-But Also Collusion, Not Always the Right Team…
However, while the navy coordinates with foreign navies, some officials in Nigeria coordinate with the criminal elements. Such “industrial scale” theft of oil in particular would be impossible without the involvement of at least some security officials and politicians. The wide-spread collusion helps stall policies designed to curb the vast hemorrhaging of wealth, since the wealth is hemorrhaging to some with influence on the levers of power. This collusion is further muddled by the revelations about government payments to stop oil theft. While a pay-off policy might be effective in the short term, as it has been in Honduras, the long-term promise is muddled, especially if it turns off the money spigot to those receiving graft. While corruption has improved since the end of the patronage-heavy military state, some see very little hope at all: from the luxurious government salaries to wholesale theft from government coffers. Whatever the case, even local perceptions of transparency are depressingly negative. If internal collusion with the criminal underground cannot be controlled, the Nigerian navy will never find itself with truly enough allies to defeat the foe some of their leaders look to for wallet-padding.
Right Course, Add More Steam:
The Nigerian Navy is making good progress. With new ships, expanded operations, and continued engagement the bow is pointed in the right direction. However, without maintaining the engineroom and navigational equipment by battling corruption and putting enough fuel in the diesels by increasing their defense budget, the Nigerian Navy will find itself floundering in the storm.
Just when you thought that the ARCTIC SEA piracy story couldn’t get any weirder, comes news via Fairplay of an arrest warrent being issued in the case, for the former head of Estonian Intelligence:
The decision to put out an international warrant over the hijacking of the timber carrier Arctic Sea in August 2009 stemmed from Erik Niyles Kross’s refusal to answer a Russian summons for questioning in December.
Kross, former head of Estonian intelligence, has been charged with planning and directing the month-long pirate takeover.
Arctic Sea had been under way off Sweden’s Baltic coast when nine Russian and Latvian men took the vessel. They were convicted of piracy in Moscow and Arkhangelsk and given stiff prison terms – after reportedly naming Kross as the mastermind.
Estonia’s government has said that Russian prosecutors are welcome to interrogate Kross in Talinn. The 4,706dwt ship later found and taken back by the Russian Navy off Cape Verde. – Fairplay
Just why would the former head of Estonian Intelligence want to hijack a ship full of timber? Maybe he’s crazy? Given his involvement, maybe there is something to the rumors that the ship was carrying something much more interesting than just timber. I can understand Mr. Kross’s refusal to travel to Russia for questioning. However, he can’t be feeling much safer sitting in nearby Estonia. I suspect the level of danger he is in depends on what he knows and how embarrassing it is to the Russian Government.
One question I would like answered is just where the ‘hijackers’ were planning to take the ship. They did not appear to be taking the vessel anyplace when the Russians arrived. Apparently, thanks to Russian threats, the crew is still not talking.
Surely this is not the final chapter.
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
As a maritime, mercantile republic, 90% of our trade relies on commercial ships’ access to the world’s oceans. Without the ability to transport goods at market prices worldwide – our economic engine grinds to a halt.
Our guest for the entire hour will be no stranger to those who attended 2010 USNI History Conference.
From piracy, shipbuilding, the merchant marine, and the economic factors involved in the maritime shipping industry, join us today, Sunday 07NOV10 at 5pm EST for a broad-ranging discussion with Stephen M. Carmel, Senior Vice President, Maersk Line, Limited.
Join us live if you can, and pile in with the usual suspects in the chat room during the show where you can offer your own questions and observations to our guest. If you miss the show or want to catch up on the shows you missed – you can always reach the archives at blogtalkradio – or set yourself to get the podcast on iTunes.
In the week following the 2010 USNI History Conference; Piracy on the High Seas, there are two points that have staying power for me. They help describe why we are having such a difficult time fixing a relatively basic function of a sea power with literally the entire written history of mankind to tap into for examples about how to solve it.
This isn’t a new problem even if you have a shortsighted view of history. Just sticking to “new media” – our friend EagleOne was blogg’n about piracy from the start – well before piracy was “cool.” Check out his archive and you can see the arch from SE Asia to the Horn of Africa and a few other garden spots in between.
The problem isn’t piracy itself; it is our inability to take decisive action to eliminate it. Once again, it boils down to solid, informed leadership – leadership that is allowing itself to be confused by two things – the same two things that are still bouncing around my nogg’n a week after the conference.
Peer Review vs. Prop-wash
The first problem was indirectly pointed out by LCDR B.J. Armstrong, USN via his opening statement during the first panel;
“Hey, I’m just an operator … ”
… at the assembled academics and recidivist Staff Weenies encircling him.
His opening reminded me of a very clear point; in piracy like many things, we are suffering from analysis paralysis. Academics, researchers, and historians are very important parts of the discussion, but when we give them too much weight – and minimize the opinion and the observations of the operator – then we get what we reward; talk and discussion – and the finer points of rejoinders to introspective quandaries. I call it The Darfur Effect.
In The Darfur Effect, we have a very serious and very difficult problem that all agree is very serious and very difficult. As any good academic, researcher, and historian will tell you – the best response to such things is to get grant money, organize symposiums, publish some papers, and even better get some time in front of a Congressional committee or a temporary assignment with an IO, NGO, or GO working on a White Paper on the subject.
That is all good and well – but if that is your primary focus, and you give most of the time, money, and power to that focus – nothing really is done. Like Darfur, after the clucking of tongues and interviews on PBS’s Frontline – few are saved and the problem isn’t solved. Well, in the case of Darfur where each new finds that there is a very limited and dwindling number of Darfuris to save, eventually there are few to none to save and the problem solves itself, in a fashion.
Piracy is different in one respect. Unchecked, it grows. Unlike the case of Darfur where the people there are trying to be eliminated faster than they can replace themselves – with piracy like all lawlessness – it grows when ignored. Mitigation or elimination requires decisive operations. Yes, we have anti-piracy operations, but are they really that effective? The proof that we are still talking about this after so many years shows that no, they are not effective.
Does anyone think that we have not talked enough about piracy? In more time than we took to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, we are still roughly talking about the same issues we were in 2005.
Ideas we have – good Direction and Guidance based on a sound Operational Concept derived from the best ideas we do not have.
DC-10s, Pintos, and Kismaayo
The best speech for its substance, subject, and delivery was at lunch by a non-military, non-historian, non-academic; the Senior Vice President of Maersk Line, Limited – Stephen M. Carmel.
He had no difficulty in getting people to stop chewing for a moment as he came of the blocks with his spines out and claws extended. He wasn’t hostile – but he gave a delivery in a manner that told you he knew that many people would not like what he had to say, many have never thought of things from his point of view – and something that warmed my heart – he had a BM1’s sense of not suffering fools lightly.
Mr. Carmel knows his business. Unlike most, he has to know his business – he has a firm understanding of sunk cost, opportunity cost, cost benefit, and comparative advantage. He actually has metrics that cannot – legally at least – be fudged or pushed into the next fiscal year. He doesn’t work in a career that is based on the conveyor belt mentality of promotion – he must perform or he will be replaced.
Such an environment can do much to clear the mind, and his presentation was focused and fact based. I won’t go into the double-ledger aspects of it all, but let me summarize it for you; piracy is a commercial non-issue for him and his company. They have, do, and will pay ransom when needed. They can mitigate piracy’s impact on their bottom line. If you need a justification for doing something about piracy – don’t use Maersk’s business needs as it.
From his area of responsibility, he has a point – but I don’t think he has the final answer either. When the green eyeshade becomes the green blinder, we often find ourselves in trouble. There were very sound business decisions made concerning the DC-10 and the Ford Pinto – but they were morally indefensible. I don’t think leaving hundreds of men languishing off some septic Somali port for hundreds of days is moral.
Though Carmel’s thoughts should be part of the discussion – it should be but a small part of a balanced view. Piracy is part of the general cancer of maritime disorder – a violent symptom along with its less directly dangerous pollution and industrial fishing sisters. Piracy is a barrier to freedom of the seas, and if left alone will grow and impact what was once an area where goods were free to flow to markets with minimal external interference.
It will grow along the same lines as the “broken window” theory of crime states that if not aggressively countered, crime will continue to grow and alter the larger culture in ways not fully understood – but never in a better way.
Those are the macro reasons – the micro ones are even more important. Hundreds of people are being held against their will as hostages by pirates. If those people were mostly Canadian, American, British, and German as opposed to South Asian and Philippino – does anyone here think that we would be sitting here talking about it being a non-issue? Really?
That is the moral reason. Sometimes, like with the anti-slavery operations by the British in the 19th Century – you do things because it is the right and moral thing to do, especially in those things that do not require a lot of blood or treasure to execute. Political and economic benefits will follow the moral – and if they don’t at least you can look yourself in the mirror in the morning.
In an age of moral equivalence and a bias against stating what is or is not acceptable, doing things because it is “the moral thing” to do is problematic perhaps – but ponder this: what makes you more uncomfortable – setting an acceptable price on another man’s freedom, or punishing those who decide to earn their living from crime and the enslavement of others?
There is good news on the piracy front as a pirate attack is foiled through the use of a ‘Citadel Room’. Here is the story as found on Fairplay Shipping News:
Beluga crew evades pirates
THE GERMAN multipurpose ship Beluga Fortune has resumed its voyage to South Africa after a failed hijacking attempt by Somali pirates.
The pirates boarded the 12,744dwt vessel about 1,200 n-miles off Kenya on 24 October, but were unable to navigate the ship towards the African coast, the ship’s owner Beluga said. The engine and bunker feed systems had been shut down by the ship’s 16 Filipino, Russian and German crew members, who were hiding in a citadel room.
The attackers fled yesterday when the British frigate Monrose arrived at the scene.
Beluga managing partner Niels Stolberg lauded the crew for its “cool-headed” behaviour and for undertaking professional safety measures.
“We are very proud of our team aboard the ship. It confirms our strategic view that investments into safety are good investments,” he said. – Fairplay
As you can imagine, a ‘Citadel Room’ is a secure hiding place for the crew. This space gives naval forces the time needed to get to the scene of the attack. As the old saying goes, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away. Traditionally naval forces have declined to intervene once pirates have boarded a ship out of concern for harming crew members in any action to retake the vessel. This has been a problem because it was almost impossible for naval forces to respond in time given that it only takes a couple of minutes for pirates to board vessels and help is often at least 30 minutes away. However, when the pirates fail to capture crew members, they are left exposed to attack by the next passing naval force. And in this case all it took was the appearance of a naval vessel, and the inability to navigate the vessel, to convince the pirates to abandon their catch.
Merchant ships have a guide they can use to prepare for transiting pirate-infested waters. It is called the Best Management Practices 3.
Best Management Practices 3 (BMP3) is now available for the public in booklets and on www.mschoa.org. It represents a real step change; the booklet will significantly encourage wider adoption of self protection measures by ships transiting the High Risk Areas and ultimately help reduce the number of pirated ships off the coast of Somalia.
The purpose of the Industry Best Management Practices (BMP) is to assist ships to avoid, deter or delay piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia, the Gulf of Aden (GoA) and the Arabian Sea. Experience, supported by data collected by Counter Piracy Forces, shows that the application of the recommendations contained within this booklet can and will make a significant difference in preventing a ship becoming a victim of piracy.
BMP has become fully recognized as the standard for guidance and protection for shipping from piracy off the coast of Somalia across the Global Maritime Community. 25,000 copies of the booklet will be published and the intentions of Industry are to make the booklet freely available and ensure wide and effective distribution of this booklet is achieved so that the booklet will become standard documentation on the bridge of all Merchant Ships. Where possible, this booklet should be read with reference to the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa website (www.mschoa.org), which provides additional and updated advice. As intelligence has been gathered and lessons learned evaluated, industry has been able to update and revise this guidance, which has been harmonised and coordinated by all concerned parties during the revision process. – EU NAVFOR Somalia
You can view the manual here: http://www.mschoa.org/bmp3/Documents/BMP3%20Final_low.pdf
The guide comments on Citadels as follows:
(ii) Citadel Guidelines:
A Citadel is a designated pre-planned area purpose built into the ship where, in the event of imminent boarding by pirates, all crew will seek protection. A Citadel is designed and constructed to resist a determined pirate trying to gain entry. Such a space would probably have, but not be limited to, its own self-contained air-conditioning, emergency rations, water supply, good external communications, emergency shut-down capability for the main and auxiliary engines,
and remotely operated CCTV cameras.
A Citadel is to provide longer term protection of the crew.
Ship Operators and Masters are strongly advised to check directly with MSCHOA regarding the use of Citadels (see contact details in Annex A).
The whole concept of the Citadel approach is lost if any crew member is left outside before it is secured.
The ability to communicate is very important as the crew needs to be able to confirm that they are all in a secured space and that anyone a potential boarding party encounters can safely be assumed to be hostile.
The guide is negative on the use of defensive force such as weapons and pyrotechnics, which I disagree with (As noted here ‘Armed Merchant Ship Crews Will Not Escalate The Pirate Problem‘ and here ‘On Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates‘), but otherwise it is a good guide and resource for vessels transiting the area to reduce their risk of being taken over by pirates.
“During the inspection, the crew found seven Kalashnikov guns, handguns of various brands, aluminum ladders for ascending aboard, navigation equipment, including the satellite one, reserve tanks with fuel, and a big amount of empty cartridge cases,” a Russian Defense Ministry source told the news agency.”
Now, a video has started circling the internet showing the boarding and destruction of the Somali vessel. Interestingly, the Russian Marines use English to speak to the Somalis, a practice previously seen the video of the Dutch operation.
[Apologies for my inability to embed the video]
One of the unresolved issues with dealing with the pirate problem off Somalia is what do you do with pirates that you capture?
Kenya has stood up and offered to try pirates in their courts. However, as a result their court system is now trying to deal with over 100 pirates captured at sea and deposited on their shores and now they are resisting the pressure to accept more of them.
A number of pirates have been simply released, either back ashore or back to their boats, after being disarmed of any weapons that they didn’t already throw overboard themselves prior to capture.
The Russians have come up with a nastier version of this tactic, basically abandoning the pirates far at sea with only the most basic of supplies. Oddly enough, they did want to prosecute the pirates back in Russia, but abandoned that idea because the ship’s crew of the attacked vessel, were not able to directly identify the pirates, given that they were holed up in a secure room, unable to negate the pirate claims that they too were victims of other pirates who got away.
RUSSIA has freed a group of suspected pirates captured when its navy stormed a hijacked tanker in the Indian Ocean.
One pirate was killed and 10 suspects seized when marines from the destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov recaptured the 106,474dwt Moscow University yesterday, a day after it was seized.
The detainees were expected to be tried in Russia. But after a day of contradictory public announcements and debate among prosecutors, military officers and the Kremlin, the navy was ordered to cast the suspected pirates adrift.
Their release took place after a source at the defence ministry announced: “Unfortunately … legal rules for the prosecution of pirates operating in Somalia did not exist, and thus they [the suspects] do not fall under the jurisdiction of any state and international law.”
Defence ministry spokesman Colonel Alexei Kuznetsov later said the release was required “due to the imperfection of the international legal framework”.
There were no witnesses to substantiate the identities and actions of the suspects because the tanker’s 23 Russian crew members had secured themselves in a safe-room.
And after they were captured, the suspects reportedly claimed that they were not pirates but rather hostages of the real attackers.
In June, the chief Russian prosecutor in charge of piracy, Alexander Zvyagintsev, told Fairplay that Russian law clearly allows for military action against pirates, but it was less clear what could be done if pirates were captured.
“The problem of what to do with the pirates who have been arrested remains undecided for the majority of countries,” he explained. “That adds to the confidence of the pirates that they can go on acting with impunity.” – Fairplay News
Question is, is this a solution that other Navies can employ? The EU has been targeting motherships. The effect is similar for any pirates at sea dependent on those captured motherships for fuel and food. Going after supply lines is a classic military strategy. However, those at the end of a disrupted supply line at sea are as doomed as the pirates the Russians ‘freed’ at sea. The only difference is that the Russians caught them and then let them go.
UPDATE – 11 May:
Here is the latest news noting that the pirates did not appear to have gotten very far:
Freed Pirates May Have Drowned
Ten pirates released from a Russian warship 300 miles out to sea may have drowned, according to Russian officials and colleagues of the pirates, raising fears of retaliation against other vessels plying East African waters.
The pirates were captured last week after they hijacked the Moscow University, a Liberian-flagged, Russian-operated oil tanker sailing off the Somali coast. A Russian warship came to the ship’s rescue and apprehended the pirates. But after determining it would be too difficult to obtain a conviction, Russian officials said that they dropped plans to take the pirates to Moscow for trial.
Instead, like many other warships that have intercepted pirate skiffs, the Russian marines released the pirates — but not before removing weapons and navigation equipment from the boat several hundred miles from shore. Russian officials gave no explanation for removing the navigation equipment.
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson said radio signals from the boat disappeared about an hour after the release. “That could mean that they are dead,” the spokesperson said.
Fellow pirates in Somalia also said they lost contact with the boat after their separation from the Russian warship. “We will hold Russia responsible if any harm comes to them,” said a pirate commander, Abdi Dhagaweyne, in a telephone interview. “I’m not sure of their safety now because we have since lost contact.” – Wall Street Journal
- Range, Reach, Risk, Russians, and the Triumph of the Anti-Transformationalists
- Aboard the Charles de Gaulle: Sea Power and la République
- On Midrats 22 November 2015 – Episode 307: Our Own Private Petard – Procurement & Strategy with Robert Farley
- Leveraging our military relationships on the homefront
- Bring your voice once more unto the breach