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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

On Midrats 23 November 14: "Episode 255: Commanding the Seas -the Surface Force with Bryan Clark from CSBA"

Please join us on Sunday, 23 November 2014 at 5pm (US EST) for Episode 255: Commanding the Seas - the Surface Force with Bryan Clark from CSBA
How do we build the future surface fleet to ensure our forces maintain the ability to access to all regions of the world's oceans that our vital to our national interests?

Our guest to discuss this and the broader issues related to our surface forces will be Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow at Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

A basis for our conversation will be his recent study for CSBA, Commanding the Seas: A Plan to reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare, where he articulates the operational concept of “offensive sea control” as the new central idea to guide evolution of the U.S. surface force. This idea would refocus large and small surface combatant configuration, payloads and employment on sustaining the surface force’s ability to take and hold areas of ocean by destroying threats to access such as aircraft, ships and submarines rather than simply defending against their missiles and torpedoes.

Prior to joining CSBA in 2013, Bryan Clark was Special Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations and Director of his Commander’s Action Group.

He served in the Navy headquarters staff from 2004 to 2011, leading studies in the Assessment Division and participating in the 2006 and 2010 Quadrennial Defense Reviews. His areas of emphasis were modeling and simulation, strategic planning and institutional reform and governance. Prior to retiring from the Navy in 2007, he was an enlisted and officer submariner, serving in afloat and ashore including tours as Chief Engineer and Operations Officer at the Navy’s nuclear power training unit.

Mr. Clark holds a Master of Science in National Security Studies from the National War College and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Philosophy from the University of Idaho.
Join us live on Sunday or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also find this show after the live feed on iTunes here, along with its 254 predecessors.

Friday Fun Film: Navy Day (1946)

How many modern weapons have been developed from what you see in this short clip honoring Navy Day!
Officers of tomorrow's navy trained, new radar-controlled glider bomb shown for first time, air-dropped sonar buoy with sub animation, transmitted to destroyer for depth charges (partial newsreel).

As bonus, a 1952 recruiting ad:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Small Wars: Max Boot on the Future Wars of Insurgencies

Foreign Affairs has Max Boot on More Small Wars: Counterinsurgency Is Here to Stay
If only a nation as powerful and vulnerable as the United States had the option of defining exactly which types of wars it wages. Reality, alas, seldom cooperates. Over the centuries, U.S. presidents of all political persuasions have found it necessary to send troops to fight adversaries ranging from the Barbary pirates to Filipino insurrectos to Haitian cacos to Vietnamese communists to Somali warlords to Serbian death squads to Taliban guerrillas to al Qaeda terrorists. Unlike traditional armies, these enemies seldom met U.S. forces in the open, which meant that they could not be defeated quickly. To beat such shadowy foes, American troops had to undertake the time-intensive, difficult work of what’s now known as counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and nation building.

Video discussion:

We did touch on this during our discussion with John Nagl on Midrats:

Check Out Military Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Midrats on BlogTalkRadio

Or download the show from iTunes. It's all free. Except for that value of time thing.

UPDATE: No spell check for post headlines or why do I catch them only after the post is up?

If you are interested in the situation in Yemen

If you are interested in the situation in Yemen, there's no better web resource than Jane Novak's Armies of Liberation.

Go see for yourself.

Oh, wait, why would people with an interest in maritime matters be interested in Yemen? Look where it sits. Red Sea, Bab el Mandeb chokepoint and the Gulf of Aden/Arabian Sea.

Not to mention its ownership of the islands of Socatra off Somalia.

See here:
Yemen’s control over one of the most important naval straits in the world, the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, which is located between Yemen and the Horn of Africa, underscores this geostrategic importance. Commercial liners and oil tankers pass through the strait on their way to and from the Suez Canal. International stakeholders are concerned that al-Qaeda will take advantage of the current transitional conditions in Yemen to threaten shipping and international trade, contributing to the maritime piracy that is already blighting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Just saying.

By the way, two of the successful maritime attacks for which al Qaeda claims credit were in Yemeni waters. See here for info on USS Cole attack in 2000. And here for info on the attack on the tanker MV Limburg.

You might note that Saudi elements were involved in the attack on MV Limburg. And, at the time of the Cole attack, Saudi Osama bin Laden was still a warm body.

Connected reading: See this U.S. House Armed Services Committee Staff report on USS Cole:
The engagement with Yemen was initiated with a clear understanding that Yemen was a sanctuary for terrorists.
Note that cuts in naval logistics forces placed the Cole in Aden:
Reductions in force structure have left the Navy with signifcantly dimished assets. The reduction in the number of oilers, combatants, and weapons available may have led to operational decisions that contributed to the U.S.S. Cole’s vulnerability.

UN Wants Action - Authorizes Use of Naval Force to Stop the Charcoal Trade that Funds The Terrorist Group Al Shabab

Looks like the naval vessels operating off the Somali coast on piracy patrols under UN auspices will be tacking on a new mission: attempting to cut off a revenue stream of the Al Shabab terror thugs by interdicting charcoal shipments from Somalia.

You know, starting a naval embargo on Somali charcoal.

From Foreign Affairs and Tom Keatinge, "Black Market: How the Charcoal Trade Fuels Al Shabab":
To take out al Shabab, one need look no further than charcoal. The United Nations has repeatedly called for countries in the region to disrupt the group’s trade in this environmentally destructive product, but, as the most recent Somalia UN Monitoring Group report revealed, such efforts have been lackluster. And so, with its patience wearing thin, the UN has now taken matters into its own hands by approving a naval intervention.
Roopa Gogineni/Al Jazeera
According to the latest UN Monitoring Group report on Somalia, published in mid-October, the charcoal trade continues at a rate consistent with prior years. Until Barawe was lost in October, al Shabab still loaded and exported charcoal from the port. And even today, traders and brokers continue to facilitate “systemic violations” of the UN-mandated ban, and Somali charcoal continues to show up in Gulf Cooperation Council markets. All in all, the report noted, al Shabab’s continued survival is secured by its trade operations, the cornerstone of which remains the charcoal trade.

Days after the report was issued, the Security Council passed Resolution 2182, authorizing the use of naval force to disrupt the trade. If trade hubs in the Gulf region will not stop the trade, it seems, the warships of the Combined Maritime Forces, a 30-nation naval partnership that patrols the region to deter piracy will have to do the work for them. It is too soon to tell if the new mission is tightening the screws on al Shabab. If it works, though, it will signal a new era in the war against the terrorist group.
The "legislative history" of UN Resolution 2182 here:
As regards the charcoal ban, in place since 2012, the Council authorized States, for a 12-month period, to inspect vessels in territorial waters and on the high seas which they had “reasonable grounds” to believe were carrying charcoal from Somalia, in violation of that ban, or weapons or military equipment, in violation of the arms embargo. States were authorized to seize and dispose of any prohibited items. Such authorizations applied only with respect to the situation in Somalia, the Council said, deciding to review those measures after six months.
I figure that each ship involved should be able to paint a "bag" of charcoal on the bridge wing for every successful interdiction. Just slap a Kingsford bag image up there. 5 bags makes the ship a "charcoal" ace.

Here's the language of 2182's pertinent part:
Maritime interdiction of charcoal and arms

“11. Reaffirms the ban on the import and export of Somali charcoal, as set out in paragraph 22 of resolution 2036 (2012) (“the charcoal ban”), and reiterates that the Somali authorities shall take the necessary measures to prevent the export of charcoal from Somalia and reiterates its requests in paragraph 18 of resolution 2111 (2013),that AMISOM support and assist the Somali authorities in doing so, as part of AMISOM’s implementation of its mandate set out in paragraph 1 of resolution 2093,

“12. Condemns the ongoing export of charcoal from Somalia, in violation of the total ban on the export of charcoal from Somalia reaffirmed above;
Potential charcoal interdiction force

“13. Urges all Member States, including those contributing AMISOM police and troop contingents, to respect and implement their obligations to prevent the direct or indirect import of charcoal from Somalia, whether or not such charcoal originated in Somalia, as set out in paragraph 22 of resolution 2036 (2002), and affirms this includes taking the necessary measures to prevent the use of their flag vessels for such importing;

“14. Condemns the flow of weapons and military equipment to Al Shabaab and other armed groups which are not part of the security forces of the Federal Government of Somalia, and expresses serious concern at the destabilizing impact of such weapons;

“15. Authorizes for a period of 12 months from the date of this resolution Member States, acting nationally or through voluntary multinational naval partnerships, such as ‘Combined Maritime Forces’, in cooperation with the FGS and which the FGS has notified to the Secretary-General and which the Secretary-General has subsequently notified to all Member States, in order to ensure strict implementation of the arms embargo on Somalia and the charcoal ban, to inspect, without undue delay, in Somali territorial waters and on the high seas off the coast of Somalia extending to and including the Arabian sea and Persian Gulf, vessels bound to or from Somalia which they have reasonable grounds to believe are:
(i) Carrying charcoal from Somalia in violation of the charcoal ban;

(ii) carrying weapons or military equipment to Somalia, directly or indirectly, in violation of the arms embargo on Somalia;

(iii) carrying weapons or military equipment to individuals or entities designated by the Committee established pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009);

“16. Calls upon all Flag States of such vessels to cooperate with such inspections, requests Member States to make good-faith efforts to first seek the consent of the vessel’s Flag State prior to any inspections pursuant to paragraph 15, authorizes Member States conducting inspections pursuant to paragraph 15 to use all necessary measures commensurate with the circumstances to carry out such inspections and in full compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as may be applicable, and urges Member States conducting such inspections to do so without causing undue delay to or undue interference with the exercise of the right of innocent passage or freedom of navigation;

“17. Authorizes Member States to seize and dispose of (such as through destruction, rendering inoperable or unusable, storage, or transferring to a State other than the originating or destination States for disposal) any items identified in inspections pursuant to paragraph 15, the delivery, import or export of which is prohibited by the arms embargo on Somalia or the charcoal ban, authorizes Member States to collect evidence directly related to the carriage of such items in the course of such inspections, and decides that charcoal seized in accordance with this paragraph may be disposed of through resale which shall be monitored by the SEMG;

“18. Emphasizes the importance of all Member States, including Somalia, taking the necessary measures to ensure that no claim shall lie at the instance of Somalia, or of any person or entity in Somalia, or of persons or entities designated for measures set out in resolutions 1844 (2008), 2002 (2011), or 2093 (2013), or any person claiming through or for the benefit of any such person or entity, in connection with any contract or other transaction where its performance was prevented by reason of the measures imposed by this resolution or previous resolutions;

“19. Requests Member States to dispose of any charcoal, weapons or military equipment seized pursuant to paragraph 17, in an environmentally responsible manner, taking into account the United Nations Environment Programme’s 4 September 2013 letter to the Chair of the Committee, and the Committee’s 7 May 2014 “Implementation Assistance Notice”, calls upon all Member States in the region to cooperate in the disposal of such charcoal, weapons or military equipment, affirms that the authorization provided for in paragraph 15 includes the authority to divert vessels and their crews, to a suitable port to facilitate such disposal, with the consent of the port State, affirms that the authorization in paragraph 15 includes the authority to use all necessary measures to seize items pursuant to paragraph 17 in the course of inspections and decides that any Member State cooperating in the disposal of items identified in inspections pursuant to paragraph 15, the delivery, import or export of which is prohibited by the arms embargo on Somalia or the charcoal ban, shall provide a written report to the Committee no later than 30 days after such items enter its territory on the steps taken to dispose or destroy them;

“20. Decides that any Member State that undertakes an inspection pursuant to paragraph 15, shall promptly notify the Committee and submit a report on the inspection containing all relevant details, including an explanation of the grounds for and the results of the inspection and where possible including the flag of the vessel, the name of the vessel, the name and identifying information of the master of the vessel, the owner of the vessel, and the original seller of the cargo, and efforts made to seek the consent of the vessel’s Flag State, requests the Committee to notify the Flag State of the inspected vessel that an inspection has been undertaken, notes the prerogative of any Member State to write to the Committee concerning the implementation of any aspect of this resolution, and further encourages the SEMG to share relevant information with Member States operating under the authorization set out in this resolution;

“21. Affirms that the authorizations provided in this resolution apply only with respect to the situation in Somalia and shall not affect the rights or obligations or responsibilities of Member States under international law, including any rights or obligations under UNCLOS, including the general principle of exclusive jurisdiction of a Flag State over its vessels on the high seas, with respect to any other situation, underscores in particular that this resolution shall not be considered as establishing customary international law, and notes further that such authorizations have been provided only following the receipt of the 8 October 2014 letter conveying the request of the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia;

“22. Decides to review after six months from the date of this resolution, the provisions set out in paragraphs 11 to 21 above;
I have no idea what an "environmentally responsible manner" method of getting rid of charcoal is. Unless using it to grill hamburgers is okay.

All the highlights are my doing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Disaster Prep Wednesday: Trapped in Car Due to Blizzard?

What if you are on the road and there's a big, honkin' "Monster Winter Storm"? And you are stuck in your car and are so far out in the boondocks so far that sunlight has to be piped in even on the best of days? Like these folks?:
Rescuers on Wednesday pulled a family from a sport utility vehicle that had been buried in a snowdrift on a rural highway in the southwestern state of New Mexico for nearly two days.

State police said rescuers had to dig through 4 feet of ice and snow to free the Higgins family, whose red GMC Yukon got stuck on the highway when a blizzard moved through the area Monday.

Rescuers found David and Yvonne Higgins and their 5-year-old daughter Hannah clinging to each other and lethargic early Wednesday morning. The family is recovering at Miners Colfax Medical Center in Raton.
First: Before you travel, check out your car "winter emergency kit" and make sure you are covered for the dreaded "worst case scenario." Here are some suggestions from New Jersey:
Keep these items in your car:
Flashlights with extra batteries
First aid kit with pocket knife
Necessary medications
Several blankets
Sleeping bags
Extra newspapers for insulation
Plastic bags (for sanitation)
Extra set of mittens, socks, and a wool cap
Rain gear and extra clothes
Small sack of sand for generating traction under
Small shovel
Small tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
Booster cables
Set of tire chains or traction mats
Cards, games, and puzzles
Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
Canned fruit and nuts
Nonelectric can opener
Bottled water
Another list from Ready.gov includes some other things:
First Aid Kit: remember any necessary medications, baby formula and diapers if you have a small child
Food: non-perishable food such as canned food, and protein rich foods like nuts and energy bars
Radio: battery or hand cranked
Ice scraper
Charged Cell Phone: and car charger
Then, if you have space, don't forget the kids, the luggage and the presents for Granny. Really, NJ? "Several blankets" and "sleeping bags?" Oh, yeah, worst case ... which means I'd cut down on the real blankets and go with space blankets and/or sleeping bags.

Probably ought to have some more emergency food. And if you have pet with you? Don't forget food for Fido or Fluffy. We don't want them looking at the baby and drooling, do we?

Some more suggestions for a car kit on a Weather Channel video here, but while the the stuff shown is nice, it is also pricey. Not saying your life isn't worth a $400 set of Thule quick chains, but ...

At any rate, Popular Mechanics has a 2013 (so last year) list of "7 Things You Must Carry in Your Car This Winter":
If you already have an emergency kit, well done. Essentials such as first-aid supplies, jumper cables, gloves, a flashlight, duct tape, a tow strap, and some simple tools should already be in your trunk—if not for daily driving, then at least when you set out on a road trip. Here are some winter-specific items to include for times when the roads are covered in slush.
Put them on the drive tires!

Snow Socks: When you unexpectedly need extra traction, snow socks are a space-saving, temporary alternative to snow chains. These fabric doughnuts fit easily over the drive tires and can increase grip enough to extricate a stuck car or get it up a slippery hill.

Spare Phone Charger: The cellphone is your primary means of rescue in today's interconnected world. But to reach help you need juice: A charging cord is a good idea, but a hand-crank charger that works away from the car or when the car battery is dead is an even better one.

Hand Warmers and Wool Blanket: Your car provides shelter, but you don't want to run the engine—you have a limited amount of fuel and deadly exhaust may find its way into the cabin. To keep warm, use a blanket, supplemented by hand warmers when it gets really cold.

LED Flashers/Flares: Battery-powered lights work for hours and are great for alerting other drivers if your car is on the side of the road. Flares may seem antiquated, but the heat they put out prevents them from being obscured and buried by driving snow. Plus, in an extreme emergency they can be used to start a warming or signaling fire. Flares are usually sold in packs; make sure you have at least three sticks.

Food and Drink: It's exceptionally rare for anyone to be stranded during a winter blizzard for more than a day. Long-term rations aren't really necessary, but keeping a few energy bars and a plastic bottle or two of sugary energy drink wouldn't hurt. Why the latter? The electrolytes and sugars significantly lower the concoction's freezing point, ensuring you'll still have liquid when you need it.

Shovel: While it might not look like much, a compact folding shovel is plenty big enough to use when digging your car out of the snow.

Windshield De-Icer: An extra bottle of this could mean the difference between seeing the road and seeing yourself parked in a snow bank. Plus, in emergencies you can use the stuff to melt ice on the road or any frozen car parts.
For me, compact gear is better than filling up your car with a whole bunch of equipment, so I'm good with the Weather Channel video and the Popular Mechanics list. A set of "snow socks" or even emergency tire chains can be had for under $100 if you check Amazon for "snow socks." Hand warmer thingies? You might get a box of these or their equivalent at Wal-Mart. There are body warmers, too. Just put a few in the kit, they don't take up a lot of space. My wife, who seems to get colder faster than I do, loves those things. Small folding shovel? Always a good idea, year round. I like the Gerber because it's not a one trick pony and is a good camping shovel, too.

Why the shovel? Not only to keep your tailpipe clear if the car is running, but also to keep the snow from blocking your exit door. Back to the Higgins family:
He was able to keep the car running for a couple of hours, but when he went to get out to clear the exhaust pipe, his door was blocked.
See, if he only had a shovel in the car. Costs a lot less than skis or a DVD player, too.

Second: If you are planning to travel to areas that are subject to heavy snow blizzard conditions, you really ought to have checked the weather forecasts immediately before you get on the road. Look at the forecasts for the areas through which you'll be traveling. And think a little. If you are headed for the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and there are blizzard warnings, well, is this trip really necessary? Headed to the mysterious interior of Nebraska on local roads in a heavy snow storm? Why? But if you do have to travel to such places- there is no excuse for being unprepared to spend up to a few days trapped in the interior of your car out in the middle of nowhere because of "bad luck." By the way, "bad luck" has a way of turning into "dead" if you haven't taken a few precautions for your safety. Yes, it is unlikely that you will be stuck for days, but it can happen.

Good idea to send a travel route plan to your hosts at the destination and to a neighbor or friend. Email is cheap, maps are online and you can let them know when you leave and where you should be when along the route. Cuts down on the time the cops have to look for you.

Third: What happens if you do get stuck in the snow? If the car is still running, good. Perhaps, following the suggestions here you can get the car free. FEMA has some more thoughts:
Some parts of the country experience extreme winter weather including blizzards. If a blizzard traps you in your car, do you know how to survive?

Taking the following steps can help you stay safe until you are found:

- Don’t walk around in the snow to look for help. You might lose your way or become exhausted;
- Remember to occasionally check your tailpipe to make sure it’s free of snow. Clean the pipe to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning when the engine is running.
- Keep yourself moving! A car offers very little room, but exercise is essential; and
- Make the car visible for a rescue! Hang bright colored cloth or plastic from the windows. If the snow has stopped falling, open the hood of the car as a signal of distress.

If you have a cell phone call 911 to ask for help. Do not hang up until you know whom you have spoken with and what will happen next. You can also sign up for wireless emergency alerts before you travel to receive life-saving alerts wherever you are.
Gotta love the New Jersey advice:
If you are stranded in a remote area you may need to leave the car on foot after the blizzard passes.

Stay in the car.
Huh? Well, one or the other. Perhaps they mean: "Stay in the car during the blizzard so you won't get confused and lost in the storm and when the storm is over and you can see more than a short distance, you might have to trek out to find some help."

If the car is not running - still stick with it. It's shelter from the storm and body heat and a those hand/body warmers will probably help keep it warmer than the outside. Plus, it's generally easier to spot a car that it is a person. Put up a flag of bright material that sticks up above the snow. If you have sheets of plastic, you can use them to cover at least the passenger compartment to help add a layer of insulation (and an air gap?) Remember those newspapers from the NJ list? Use them as insulation to the windows and floor. A little duct tape might help you stick them in place. Bundle up and cuddle with your friends and family to share warmth. But keep shoveling out an escape path. The exercise will do you good.

Now, if you are one of those "adventurers" who decided that a backwoods lumber road in the mountains was a great place to try out your new FWD/AWD adventure mobile and you failed to take along stuff to keep you alive - welcome to the Darwin Awards.

If you have the other gear mentioned above, I would still suggest, however, that even if your new toy has a power winch, it's a good idea to have a manual "come along winch" in the vehicle. Make sure you get one that will handle the weight of your vehicle. Or those tree limbs knocked down by the snow that are blocking your road.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Al Qaeda Threatens Ocean Chokepoints! Again! Okay maybe the third or fourth time. Or more.

It seems Al Qaeda puts out a "slick" publicity flyer called "Resurgence" and in its latest issue there's an article "On Targeting the Achilles Heel of Western Economies" - those being the narrow places in the ocean through which Middle East oil is taken on ships. AQ suggests shutting those narrow places down to ruin the western economies.

You can read all about it at the previous link to the article by Sarah Kaufman at Vocativ.com. This "danger Will Robinson" theme was also picked up by Bill Gertz here.

The evil wits at AQ HQ have decided again that there are narrow places in the oceans through ships pass on their way from picking up oil to delivery points. In excited tones as if were something like an original thought, the AQ author suggests something could be placed blocking those - let's call them "chokepoints" - and thus causing a halt to all shipping of oil from the Middle East and driving the West to its knees. You know:
"Even if a single supertanker… were to be attacked in one of the chokepoints or hijacked and scuttled in one of these narrow sea lanes, the consequences would be phenomenal…"
Why, yes, Mr. Hamza Khalid, the author of this fantasy, it would be "phenomenal" though not like you might be thinking.

Let's go back in history. Seems like in 2004, al Qaeda was reported to have a "navy" of 15 ships as presented in Richard Minter's book, Shadow War:
How America captured the “al Qaeda admiral” and stopped his fifteen-ship fleet from being used as floating bombs.
Back in 2005, there appeared a series of "terrorists to close sea lanes" pieces which I addressed here and republish, in part, below:
A Foreign Affairs article from November/December [2004] "Terrorism Goes to Sea" sets out some interesting information:
Since many shipping companies do not report incidents of piracy, for fear of raising their insurance premiums and prompting protracted, time-consuming investigations, the precise extent of piracy is unknown. But statistics from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a piracy watchdog, suggest that both the frequency and the violence of acts of piracy have increased in recent years. In 2003, ship owners reported 445 attacks, in which 92 seafarers were killed or reported missing and 359 were assaulted and taken hostage. (Ships were hijacked in 19 of these cases and boarded in 311.) From 2002 to 2003, the number of those killed and taken hostage in attacks nearly doubled. Pirates have also increased their tactical sophistication, often surrounding a target ship with several boats and firing machine guns and antitank missiles to force it to stop. As Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan recently warned, "piracy is entering a new phase; recent attacks have been conducted with almost military precision. The perpetrators are well-trained, have well laid out plans." The total damage caused by piracy-due to losses of ships and cargo and to rising insurance costs-now amounts to $16 billion per year.
Whereas land targets are relatively well protected, the super-extended energy umbilical cord that extends by sea to connect the West and the Asian economies with the Middle East is more vulnerable than ever. Sixty percent of the world's oil is shipped by approximately 4,000 slow and cumbersome tankers. These vessels have little protection, and when attacked, they have nowhere to hide. (Except on Russian and Israeli ships, the only weapons crewmembers have today to ward off attackers are high-powered fire hoses and spotlights.)

However, the article is from the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security whose work I have found on another occasion to be good, "but a little overly dramatic." I make the same minor complaint here. For example, whereas the following is generally true, the potential disaster of a scuttled ship in a narrow strait is a bit overwrought as I'll explain later.
If a single tanker were attacked on the high seas, the impact on the energy market would be marginal. But geography forces the tankers to pass through strategic chokepoints, many of which are located in areas where terrorists with maritime capabilities are active. These channels-major points of vulnerability for the world economy-are so narrow at points that a single burning supertanker and its spreading oil slick could block the route for other vessels. Were terrorist pirates to hijack a large bulk carrier or oil tanker, sail it into one of the chokepoints, and scuttle it to block the sea-lane, the consequences for the global economy would be severe: a spike in oil prices, an increase in the cost of shipping due to the need to use alternate routes, congestion in sea-lanes and ports, more expensive maritime insurance, and probable environmental disaster. Worse yet would be several such attacks happening simultaneously in multiple locations worldwide.
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is 18 miles wide at its narrowest point.
While there are some very narrow major waterways (the Bosphorus, for example - the U.S. Department of Energy produces a handy "chokepoint" list), for the most part, the Strait of Malacca is is 1.5 miles (7000+ feet) wide at its narrowest spot. Even a 1200 foot long ship placed sideways in that channel leaves some room to maneuver around it. The Strait of Hormuz is wider still. As we learned in the "tanker wars" these large tankers are hard to sink completely.
The Exocets and other small missiles generally failed to "kill" large merchant ships. They did, however, significant damage to 11 out of 17 tankers hit in 1984, which displaced over 50,000 tons, and slightly damaged six. The Exocets were more effective against smaller vessels, and against more complex or automated ships (the automated Safina al-Arab had to be written off because her machinery was too sophisticated to repair), and against ships where the hit happened to trigger a fire.
(Tanker War and the Lessons of Naval Conflict). Not that it can't happen.

And if it does, as the DOE puts it,
If the strait were closed, nearly half of the world's fleet would be required to sail further, generating a substantial increase in the requirement for vessel capacity. All excess capacity of the world fleet might be absorbed, with the effect strongest for crude oil shipments and dry bulk such as coal. Closure of the Strait of Malacca would immediately raise freight rates worldwide. More than 50,000 vessels per year transit the Strait of Malacca.
But any such closure would be relatively short-lived, given the incentives to salvage, raise or raze a ship interfering with the free passage through the Strait. How long would it take to clear such a ship? While the vessel didn't completely sink, in September 2003 the bulk carrier "Sea Liberty" was involved in a collision in the narrowest part of the Singapore Strait and was salvaged.

The vessel Hyundai No.105 (40,000 GRT) sank just outside the Singapore Strait in May 2004. In fact, the Singapore Strait is a busy, dangerous place and warnings have been issued like this one from Tokio Marine Nichido:
The Strait of Singapore in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, being the main seaway between ports in Europe and the Middle East and those in the Far East and South East Asia.

Singapore is the busiest port in the world with an average of 350 ships arriving per day. At any one time there are more than 800 ships in the port-a ship arrives or departs every 3 minutes. It is the focal port for some 366 shipping lines with links to 3,600 ports worldwide.

With congestion in many parts due to a daily traffic of 400 vessels on average, the Strait has become prone to ship collisions, oil spillage, strandings and sinkings. Therefore it is extremely important for ships to navigate safely in the Strait to avoid accidents which would adversely affect the three littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and the marine environment.
These collisions and sinkings do not seem to interfere with other vessels transiting the Malacca Strait and its "subparts" such as the Singapore Strait.

Obviously, terrorism at sea is a serious threat and one that requires significant preventative measures. In the "worst case" scenerio, it is possible that some interference with international trade is likely. However, the probability of that worst case- a "perfect storm" of sea-going terrorism must be measured against other, more likely results.

Update: It occurs to me that since I have asserted that the seizure and scuttling of a ship in a narrow strait may not result in the shut down of the flow of world oil and other goods, it is incumbent on me to posit about what I would be more concerned.  Again, I am concerned with the "seizure and sink" scenario but just not as concerned as I am with some other possible terrorist acts involving ships. These areas of greater concern include the seizure of a major ship and turning it into a weapon - very similar, in fact, to the seizure of commercial airliners and turning them into guided missiles for the accomplishment of an act of war. Note that I am distinguishing between "terrorism" and "war." Al Qaeda has not declared "terrorism" on the United States - it has declared war.

Osama bin Laden has a vision of his objectives in that war:
The principal stated aims of al-Qaeda are to drive Americans and American influence out of all Muslim nations, especially Saudi Arabia; destroy Israel; and topple pro-Western dictatorships around the Middle East. Bin Laden has also said that he wishes to unite all Muslims and establish, by force if necessary, an Islamic nation adhering to the rule of the first Caliph
cite. His strategy includes the economic crippling of the United States in such a way that it will be unable or unwilling to continue its presence in the Middle East. He seeks to raise the cost of our presence to a level beyond which we are willing to pay in blood and dollars. Part of his plan is to demonstrate the weakness of the U.S. and thus rally new members to the cause. 9/11 was both about hurting the US economy and showing that the "Great Satan" could be attacked. The joyous reaction in many parts of the world to the fall of the World Trade Center did demonstrate the power of the second prong. In my view, Al Qaeda needs another major "victory" against the U.S. As set out in prior posts, one such possible victory would be the attack and damaging of a major symbol of U.S. power - such as an aircraft carrier (the attack on the USS Cole and the failed attack on the USS The Sullivans show how much attacking these power symbols mean to Al Qaeda). In one of my posts, I indicated my major concern
What if the terrorists have or (use their speedboat tactics to) seize a "neutral" freighter or tanker and then use that ship as either a SIED (seaborne improvised explosive device) or as a "ram" to attack to attack our ships (for this purpose, I believe a tanker to be their preferred vessel because of the potential for fire and pollution and the attendant increase in publicity and spectacular television coverage -so for convenience I will use the word "tanker" alone to refer to this threat).
So, my concern is less with the damaging of international trade in the Malacca Strait (much of which flows to Japan and China) by blocking the chokepoints than with the use of such restricted areas (with limited maneuver room) as an area to engage in a vigorous attack on a prime U.S. warship in such a manner as to be visible to the world in an effort to rally more people to the Al Qaeda cause.
Well, a AQ again threatened to close the "chokepoints" as I set out in 2008 Al Qaeda Calling for Chokepoint Terrorism. See also 2007's "Al Qaeda's Maritime Threat" an essay by Akiva Lorenz of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism.

The point being that this AQ maritime threat is not new. Nor is it, as I hoped I made clear in my 2005 post, as easy as many people seem to think to cause a major disruption to the flow of oil by sinking one, two or even more ships.

In fact, take a look at the adjacent SLOC map of South East Asia - does it look like there is only one way to Japan, South Korea or China which can be blocked? Not to me. It just looks like the Strait of Malacca is the shortest route of the alternatives. And, directing your attention to the map at the top of this post, you might note that there is a way around the southern tip of Africa that allows oil to bypass the Bab el Mandeb. It just costs more to use that route.

Want to close the Strait of Hormuz? US EIA says:
At its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles wide, separated by a two-mile buffer zone.
Let's see that 2+2+2= 6 miles of sea you want to close? You better have lots of ships to sink to do that.

FYI, AQ, there has been a revolution in the oil and gas business due to fracking. If the U.S. isn't now capable of being completely energy independent, with the help of its neighbors, Canada and Mexico, it is surely not dependent on Middle East oil as you suggest. Hell, you might just drive us to build more nuclear power plants to generate electricity for our new electric cars and really slow our imports.

So, nice try, AQ, but what you've set out is a poor strategic plan that is driven by a poor understanding of the geographic realities and of the current world energy situation. In addition to which if you were lucky enough to affect the flow of oil, you probably wouldn't just have the U.S. to worry about - seems like China and a whole lot of other countries get a lot of oil through those chokepoints. It might just make them mad enough to come looking for you in a serious way instead of sitting back while the U.S. and some of its allies carry the laboring oar.

Just saying.

Hmmm -"Resurgence" sounds like something you take Gas-X alleviate.

South China Sea Fuel Pirates: More and More

Interesting article from the Eurasia Review "Syphoning Confidence: Piracy And Fuel Theft In Southeast Asia":
Most serious incidents involve illegal fuel syphoning in the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea. Ten small tankers were hit between April and September: Sri Phang Nga, Orapin 4, Budi Mersa Dua, Ai Maru, Moresby 9, Oriental Glory, VL14, Orapin 2, Pentrader and Naniwa Maru. To put this in perspective, since 2011 a total of 18 syphoning attacks have been reported of which 13 were successful.

Most syphoning attacks occur at night, well outside Singapore’s port limits frequently in the less-policed waters north of Indonesia’s Bintan island. Small product tankers under 5,000 tons are boarded by small groups of lightly armed pirates and taken into the South China Sea; their names sometimes re-painted and communications equipment disabled en route to a rendezvous point with a second vessel. Once alongside, the fuel can be offloaded within hours.

Shipments of Marine Gas Oil (MGO) are targeted for several reasons. First, MGO sold illicitly is lucrative, fetching above US$500 per tonne. Illegal bunkering is a perennial problem beyond port limits. In remote areas, the black market may be the easiest way to obtain marine fuel. Second, loaded product tankers present inviting targets, being low, slow and easily trackable. Third, many attacks betray the hallmarks of preplanned, syndicate involvement: syphoning operations are well organised, conducted with apparent foreknowledge of the cargo fuel type and how to dispose of it. Crews are normally unharmed.
The author of the piece correctly points out:
Targeted syphoning attacks, with strong indications of insider involvement, do not pose a generalised threat to shipping or the energy trade, although attacks do still occur on vulnerable vessel types elsewhere within the Straits of Malacca Traffic Separation Scheme.
In other words, this "cargo jacking" from small tankers is a crime similar to, but different from the "normal" level of piracy in the area discussed. This "normal" level has been steadily decreasing as a result of various regional/international actions and agreement.

That "normal" included a whole bunch of "snatch and grab" events where a couple of robbers would get on board a ship and steal those things not nailed down. In a few cases, there was armed robbery in which the master and crew were robbed while being threatened usually, in these waters, at knife point. After getting what they could, the robbers would rush away.

Now, however, we see far better organized and orchestrated schemes which involve the hijacking of a ship, bringing another "pirate" ship alongside and transferring all or part of the hijacked ship's cargo to the "pirate" tanker. All of which takes organizational skill and, presumably, a significant criminal enterprise to support this complex task and to have a ready market for the stolen cargo.

I'll leave it to you to decide how much local corruption might play a role in such matters. It is touched on in the article linked to above.

If you take a look at the ship image above, you can see why these little tankers are so vulnerable to piracy - they sit low in the water (easy for pirates to board from small boats), have small crews, little or no security and carry valuable cargo.

Just to help you have a frame of reference, here's the general level of piracy/sea robbery in the vicinity of Singapore since the start of the year as depicted at the valuable ICC CCS IMB Live Piracy Map site. First, the big view of the area:

You might note that the Strait of Malacca itself is pretty clear of attacks and boardings, which are now concentrated in the anchorages and holding areas at the southern end of the strait.

Let's drill down a bit:

Here's what you need to know - every single one of the red markers in these maps is a hijacking of a product or bunkering tanker.  Yep, even that one up there near Kuala Lumpur.

Let's go back to the fact set out in the cited article:
Ten small tankers were hit between April and September [2014]... To put this in perspective, since 2011 a total of 18 syphoning attacks have been reported of which 13 were successful.
So - of the 18 hijacking since 2011, 10 occurred in those 5 months of 2014.

As the gangs involved got more experience and developed their markets, it can be assumed they got more aggressive.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Somali Pirates - An interesting look at the problem

 Got an email suggesting that my readers might be interested in looking at information about a movie and interactive web site. While I normally blow off providing most free advertising, my initial thought is that this is worth looking at. Here's part of the email:
Last Hijack Interactive is an award-winning online transmedia experience by Submarine Channel that allows you to explore the hijacking of a ship in Somalia. Showing both the Western and the Somali perspective on piracy through the eyes of a pirate, a captain, the captain’s wife, a lawyer, a journalist and a security expert, Last Hijack Interactive allows you to uncover the complex realities behind piracy in Somalia.

Combining live-action video and animation, the interactive experience gives the user the opportunity to navigate the real stories of these people, building to the hijack itself and the resulting aftermath. What are the causes and consequences of piracy? And what is the impact of piracy in Somalia and in Western countries? Together with an elegant use of data visualization, Last Hijack Interactive provides a unique, informative and eye-opening glimpse into the murky world of hijackings in Somalia.

Last Hijack Interactive can be experienced in English, German and Dutch. We invite you to check it out at lasthijack.com
Directors Femke Wolting and Tommy Pallotta take you through the main features of Last Hijack Interactive in the following vimeo video Last Hijack Interactive - Walkthrough.

In October the project won the Prix Europa for best online production. The international jury praised the journalistic quality, seamless integration of video, animations, and data visualizations and the "extremely user-friendly" interface. And in November at the Tous Ecrans Festival in Geneve Last Hijack Interactive won two prizes: the Best International Transmedia Award (shared with The Doghouse) and the youth jury prize for the best Transmedia Award (shared with Love Hotel Experience).

Last Hijack Interactive is the counterpart to Last Hijack, a feature length film combining animation with documentary storytelling directed by Femke Wolting and Tommy Pallotta. Last Hijack is now available across all leading Video On Demand Platforms in North America - including Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, Movies On Demand on Cable, Sony Playstation, Vimeo On Demand, Vudu and XBOX Video.
You can go look and decide for yourself.