Piracy…What’s your endgame

December 2008


Congratulations to USNI for joining the blogosphere! This is a great forum to expand the outstanding strategic and independent discussions that USNI is renowned for. I am honored to be a part of this and hope to do my part to encourage interesting and impactful thought and dialogue.

I recently posted on my own blog, iCommandant, about the international approach needed to address the maritime aspects of the piracy problem off the Horn of Africa.

I also discussed this issue in detail with the Army Times Publishing Company’s editorial board. Here is a video of that discussion:
Army Times Ed. Board


Posted by TAllen in Foreign Policy, Maritime Security
Tags: , , ,

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  • Byron

    Admiral, where it says, “Deliver into custody a coastal State party”, does this mean it must be the state of those in custody, or can it be any state in the region? And how can these “coastal States” prosecute a citizen of another country? Granted, the words “country” and “nation” barely apply to Somalia, but, there it is. This sounds good on paper, but you’d almost have to have a legal officer who can vet the arrests and designate where these pirates might eventually be detained to and then prosecuted.

  • I’m not convinced there is an endgame.

    The piracy problem in the Horn of Africa looks more and more like the drug smuggling problem on the American coasts every day. The application of maritime forces can change the way pirates operate and influence to pace of pirates’ operations, but as long as there’s money to be made and the risk of death or arrest is acceptable, the pirates will be there.

  • Byron,
    Legitimate issue … but …
    Delivery of suspects can be made to any State in the region, particularly those that are contracting parties to the SUA Convention. Because piracy is one of the few “universal offenses” in international law, any country can prosecute a pirate, regardless of the pirate’s nationality. For example, US law (18 USC 1651) permits this. The question is which countries in and out of the region have domestic law that fully implements the international law against piracy. The beauty of using the SUA Convention is that contracting states to SUA have an obligation to implement domestic laws to enable them to investigate and then extradite or prosecute, so there’s a clear process in place (or supposed to be) for contracting states to SUA. We’re not contemplating prosecutions in or extraditions from Somalia – like you alluded to, there’s not sufficient judicial infrastructure there to manage this challenge.

    That is the reason the additional language that we fought for in the UNSCR regarding SUA is so important.

    Yankee Sailor,
    I agree with the way you’ve described the situation: the application of maritime force is not a complete solution. A complete solution would need to include getting Somalia’s security, government, and economy re-established and on the upswing. That said, the pirates are attacking less than 1% of all vessels transiting to the Gulf of Aden, so the application of maritime force to prevent, deter, and disrupt piratical acts coupled with efforts by to make ships less vulnerable to attack can make a real difference. For those measures to be effective, the nations of the world, international organizations, and industry need to partner, coordinate, and, in some cases, integrate their operations and efforts. We at least have to be better organized than the pirates and we’re taking steps in that direction now.

    Additional Comment:
    We have had success within the U.S. Government “interagency” using what we call a Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) protocol. MOTR is one of the eight supporting plans required by the National Strategy for Maritime Security (NSMS). We have had great success in coordinating U.S. response to international incidents by clearly defining the issue, the objective, the desired outcome and the lead entity. This is the process we use for drug and migrant interdiction cases. We believe there is a role for this type of structure internationally to involve impacted nations and mutually agree on an outcome. In the case of piracy this would involve, as discussed above, the appropriate venue for legal action. We are currently engaged in the interagency and internationally through fora such as the International Maritime Organization to create such a process.

    ADM A

  • ADM A,

    You stated: “[T]he application of maritime force to prevent, deter, and disrupt piratical acts coupled with efforts by to make ships less vulnerable to attack can make a real difference.”

    The trick here is defining “a real difference”. Any idea if the EU has settled on how much piracy in the region is acceptable and under what conditions they will declare victory and sail away?

    Also, with some thumbnail analysis it looks to me like the EU’s coalition is willing to commit from $100m to perhaps as much as $300m to the anti-piracy effort over the next year. One industry source has estimated the cost of piracy may approach $16b per year. What’s your confidence in that industry estimate?

    V/R, TYS

  • I talk to a lot of old WWII vets and interview them. One in particular served in a rusty corvette escorting the famous PQ-17. So … the thought of convoys surfaced regarding the Somalia situation. What if every couple of days a group of merchants “team up” and accept a military escort down or up the coast – at least for a period of time until some normalcy returns. One modern FF or DD from our fleet or regional allies would be plenty of firepower. I should think a few destroyed pirate ships would slow down the enterprise a bit. OK – I also accept the need for some political and economic stability in Somalia – but that could be awhile.

  • Yankee Sailor

    I cannot speak for the EU, but I will reiterate that I think piracy is an insult to civilization and that we should work collectively as nations and in collaboration with the international maritime community and shipping industries to make piracy less and less attractive as a crime of opportunity. This can be done through a comprehensive approach that improves security on the water, on the vessels transiting, and establishes an effective international legal regime that allows nations to bring pirates to justice in a court of law. And … we should understand that regional problems require regional solutions.

    As to the economic impact, I can’t speak to the specifics of that, but I will say that the issue is bigger then $$. This is about a safe, secure and environmentally healthy global maritime system. Without that, we all suffer because our oceans are the arteries of our economic lifeblood.

    I want to take this opportunity to share the blog ROE that I have to adhere to as a sitting Service Chief and U.S. Government representative. I am a big fan of social media and the increasingly accessible and informed information environment and the positive benefits this has for our society and our effectiveness as public stewards. That being said, I am constrained by my position on what I can say, especially as it relates to policy positions and pre-decisional information. I am committed to being as open and transparent as I can be in these discussions, but I hope you will understand if I occasionally have to defer from answering a specific question.

    ADM A

  • Admiral,

    Why not ask Congress to issue Letters of Marque & Reprisal and let contractors like Blackwater, Paratus World Wide Protection, or Triple Canopy handle it? Quick, easy, no muss, no fuss.

    The blimp Resolute operated as an ASW privateer out of Los Angeles in 1941-42.

  • LTC US ARMY,LT USCG ret It seems to me the personnel of the USCG ought to be tasked with this mission as they definitely are the resident experts on this subject matter.I however believe the COMMANDANT would be reluctant for an over worked service to be given any expanded mission creep.Perhaps the answer may be(as I have suggested before)is Joint platforms WITH USCG personnel embarked,but such matters are probably discussed most effectively discussed at COMMODORE and FLAG level with input from USMC at the GENERAL officer level——–neutral observer and combat veteran.

  • Byron

    Well, Col. Schwehr, it seems the whole point of this little experiment is to do all the flags thinking for them. This blog is about discussion, and thinking out of the box. Maybe we might even come up with a good idea one of the flags can stea…use 😉

  • COMDT + CMC = baby steps?

  • Dear Sir.

    As a maritime security company owner, I have looked at the problem in the Gulf of Aden, Somalia from a military point of view. I was British Army, not Navy, but the problem as I see it is until Somalia is brought back to the 21st century and has a govenment that will bring law and order to it’s people, the pirates are going to keep coming back.
    Until then it will be down to the EU/NATO forces, US forces and others to try and stem the flow. In over 2 million sq miles of ocean that is going to be a little hard to do. The problem the EU/NATO forces have is lack of maritime patrol aircraft. Last I heard they had 1 full time and 1 on loan to cover the whole area.
    In the next few months my company plans on putting 3 aircraft in the area for hire by shipping companies. (see website for spec)
    As I said, I have looked at this from a military point of view, land or sea the best weapon that any force has is it’s eyes and ears. Intel wins wars and saves lifes, without it the naval forces are just reacting to distress calls and most of the time are not at the right place at the right time.
    It is a hard pill to swallow for the servicemen and women on these vessels to keep “just missing” the pirates and watch a ship sail away to Somalia, with no way of stopping it.
    I may not have the answer to the problem, but I think I have one of the best at this moment in time, unless you have a better way or our governments can find one.
    Many thanks for reading this.

    John Barton