Night ops

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Somali Pirates: Containment Strategy

Navy men love the deep blue water. Far from shore lines, out in the free open spaces, matters of concern to landsmen fade away and a true sailor's spirit soars.

It is easy to imagine great fleets at war in that deep blue water, the fates of nations looming in each torpedo, missile, gun and in the decisions of master tacticians in whose hands maneuver may seal the fate of millions.

Back in the real world, though, hardly ever have great fleets met in battle far from shore, a point well made by Captain Wayne Hughes in his master work, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat.

Instead, the work of navies is usually near the coasts, in restricted waters and within range of shore-based guns and missiles.

Why? As Hughes writes:
For one thing, the study of maritime history reveals that fleet battle was rare; once again, the landing of force, the support of operations ashore, and the protection of shipping at sea are... the most common employment of navies...
Further, as the good captain says, "The Seat of Purpose Is on the Land." What he means by this is that navies do not engage with opposing forces without a further purpose , a strategic intent that is connected to events on the land.

To clarify, such an intent rarely, if ever, would involve protecting a spot in the middle of the ocean except as that spot is needed for some further situation that involves the land.

For example, in the great battles of the North Atlantic the German U-boats attempted to cut off resupply to England while the Allies sought to protect the sea lanes that supported the people of England while also building up a military force capable of making a forced entry to reclaim the lands of France and the rest of Europe.

While the Allied convoy and German wolf pack operations took place at sea, their purpose was to influence matters ashore - the Germans wanting to starve the British isles into submission, the Allies seeking to prevent that and to build an invasion force.

Tactics will vary with each strategic situation.

In the case of the Somali pirates, the discussion is about the naval role of "protection of shipping at sea."

Historically, when fighting pirates, it is not enough to sink a few pirate ships. Pirate ships and crews seem remarkably easy to come by. Successful anti-pirate efforts have almost always, as suggested by Captain Hughes, involved getting enough sea control to allow operations on land that cut off support for the pirates.

When the fledgling United States sent warships to the Barbary Coast and to Sumatra to fight pirates who were interfering with trade, the ships did engage the pirates directly but it was when landing forces were sent ashore, supported from the sea by Navy ships, that negotiations of treaties began in earnest.

The lesson, simply put, is that the complete defeat of pirates requires getting control of their land bases. Navies can support this, but nothing replaces "boots on the ground."

The pirates of Somalia are no exception to these rule, as is pointed out in the opinion piece from Business Daily Africa found here:
***
The world cannot sit back and allow extortionist gangs to freely roam international waters leading to and from the Horn of Africa.

Recently, a Germany ship owner Niels Stolberg made the mistake of paying $1.1 million to recover his $23 million freighter.

It is such payments that have made the pirates increase their attacks hoping to get more maritime prizes.

Previously, the war in Somalia was simply localised but at the moment everyone plying the waters leading to the Gulf of Aden is no longer secure.

The insurance premiums are on the rise and shippers might be forced to use the South African route which adds more than 4,000 kilometres to their voyage.

But the main message that is being sent is that the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) is unable to control its waters and land. As such, a government fails all the definitions and we must return to the drawing board.

The international community must look for a formula to bring the lawless country back to civility of nations.

For the last one month, Mogadishu has witnessed lots of fighting and deaths. Yet, this has not awakened the international community which is firmly watching the financial tumbles of the Wall Street.

There is a general amnesia on Somalia where we still have a lawless state.

The pirates are now forcing us to recognise their existence by grabbing our attention back.

We must give them the attention by sending a forceful message that their days are numbered.

The maritime industry marks our desire to global commerce. It must be made clear to the pirates that nations will use effective force to make the international waters secure.

It is today clear that pirates have ocean going vessels which are equipped with the latest satellite technology to monitor other vessels.

Unless the world opens the 2,285 kilometres of the coastline in Somalia and recognises the Republic of Somaliland whose waters have been spared, we will see no end to this international circus.

As the world watches this saga of the MV Faina, we should not forget that the future of Somalia does not only lie with its downtrodden. It lies with the international community which should move out of its shell and act today.

MV Faina is one single raid. But if the waters are to be secured, we must first secure the nation of Somalia.
Aye, there's the rub.

As I have frequently stated in posts on Somalia, what is needed to be done is that which no one wants to do.

No nation or collection of nations wants to "secure" Somalia and become the "owner" of the Somalia problem.

"Ownership" is what might be the result of the necessary land based effort which could put a halt to the Somali pirate raids.

But complete defeat of pirates may not be the goal. It may make sense to work to minimize the harm they can cause and work on "containing" the pirate problem.

"Containment" in this context means keeping Somali pirate interference with important sea lines of communication to an acceptable level - one in which the cost is not too high in dollars or blood. This makes economic sense, reduces the risk of death to innocent parties and justifies naval piracy patrol operations.

Containment is the alternative to taking over Somalia.

As was the case with the Barbary pirates for many years, most countries would rather pay tribute to the Somali pirates than take more expensive and extensive military action.

The Somali pirates seem to be aware of limits on their behavior, judging by their relatively low ransom demands and the efficiency with which ransom negotiations take place. With the rare exception, the pirates have not killed hostages. Excessive demands or murdering hostages invites a more vigorous response.

The occasional raid, like those recently conducted by the French, may serve to remind the pirates that their continued existence hangs by a thread. This is part of the process of establishing bounds on pirate behavior which, if crossed, invite a swift and deadly reaction.

Containment involves limiting the damage that can be caused by pirates. This can be carried out by naval patrols, convoys, establishing safe routes and blockades of pirate ports, the very sort of activity we now see by naval units in the area.

In the future, private ship escort "navies" or other techniques may be employed by ship owners to control the safety of their ships. If poor shipping companies can't afford protection, then the pirate targets will be limited to ships that probably can't pay much in the way of ransom. This will affect the pirates' bottom line and screw up their business model.

Containing the level of piracy, while guarding against complete sea line of communication disruption, allows time for something to happen internally in Somalia that may allow that failed nation to regroup and control its own territorial waters and the operational areas of the pirates.

Having said all that, it is worth remembering that lurking in the background is al Qaeda, which contemplates Chokepoint Terrorism, another reason to keep an active sea patrol in the vital sea lanes and chokepoints in the Somalia area.

Patience is a virtue in this situation ... as is being prepared to act decisively and without mercy if the need arises.

UPDATE: Containment provides cover for EU countries. See here:
European Union governments say they will deploy additional warships off the coast of Somalia to fight piracy.

Germany will send a frigate, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said. France has already dispatched a frigate and Spain has sent an observation plane. The goal is to have an EU fleet of three warships, a supply ship and three naval surveillance planes, Jung said.

``We have to take effective action against pirates,'' Jung told reporters today at an EU meeting in Deauville, France. ``We have to first push back the pirates, restore security on the high seas and make free maritime trade possible again.''
***
Foreign powers may ``use force'' to free the ship as long as they coordinate with Somalia, Mohamed Jama Ali, the Somali foreign ministry's acting permanent director, told the Associated Press today.

Each country has its own set of rules. French naval commanders have captured 12 Somali pirates in two operations since April and sent them to mainland France to be prosecuted. The Danish navy has disarmed pirates, and later set them free on the Somali coast. The British navy has rules of engagement that prevent them from arresting pirates.

German-owned ships suffered the most attacks last year, registering 43 of 263 global incidents, according to the IMB. Germany has the world's largest container fleet and the third- largest merchant fleet.

``We would welcome strongly a joint European initiative and hope it falls into place very soon,'' said Max Johns, a spokesman in Hamburg for the German ship-owners associations. ``We are currently in talks with all parties of the German Parliament because we have a peculiar problem in Germany with the fact that the German navy has very tight legal restrictions on how they can help against pirates.''
On that "force authorized" issue:
Foreign powers have permission to use force if necessary against the Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian ship loaded with battle tanks and heavy ammunition, Somalia's foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Mohamed Jama Ali, the ministry's acting permanent director, said his country granted its permission on the condition that the foreign powers coordinate their actions with Somali government officials beforehand.

"The international community has permission to fight with the pirates," Ali told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Permission to use force was given."

He also said that negotiations between the ship's Ukrainian owners and the pirates were taking place by telephone, but that "no other side is involved in negotiations."
***
Moscow also has dispatched a warship to the scene, saying it must protect the lives of the Russians aboard the captive vessel. It is expected to take about a week to arrive.

The U.S. Navy says it wants to keep the arms out of the hands of militants linked to al-Qaida in impoverished Somalia, a key battleground in the war on terrorism. To that end, it has surrounded the Faina, anchored off the central Somali town of Hobyo, with half a dozen ships, including USS guided missile destroyer USS Howard, which has sophisticated weapons and monitoring equipment.

A spokesman for the U.S. 5th fleet in Manama, Bahrain, the control point for the USS Howard, stressed that "while our ships remain on station in the area, we are not participating in negotiations between the pirates and the ship owners."
And a telling call to the Somali people here:
Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed urged Somalis and the international community to combat rising piracy off the lawless nation's waters, which has seen 60 ships seized this year alone.

"They (pirates) are imposing an embargo on the Somali people and the international community because they are blocking movement between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, which affects not only Somalia but the whole world," Yusuf said at a press conference in Mogadishu.

"I call on the Somali people to fight against the pirates. I also call on the international community to act quickly on what is happening in Somali waters as well as on shore," he added.

In Moscow, Somali ambassador Mohammed Mahmud Handule welcomed Russia's help to fight piracy, saying that Yusuf has allowed "Russian ships to enter the sea (off Somalia) and fight the pirates in the sea and on the coast."
***
"We are prepared for any eventuality," warned pirate spokesman Sugule Ali, by satellite telephone from the ship.

Andrew Mwangura, who runs the Kenya chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Programme, said Tuesday that three pirates were killed during a shootout after a disagreement on what to with the ship.

"The pirates are paranoid, the situation is very tense in the ship. That is why we are asking the naval ships to pull back and pave the way for negotiations," Mwangura told AFP.
Mwangura is barking up the wrong tree in asking for a pull back. The pirates can get on their little boats at any time and head for the beach and all the pressure will be off them.

Nearby photo caption:
The commanding officer of a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser monitors the pirated motor vessel (M/V) Faina off the coast of Somalia while one of his helicopters provides aerial surveillance. The Belize-flagged cargo ship is owned and operated by "Kaalbye Shipping Ukraine" and is carrying a cargo of Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related equipment. The ship was attacked on Sept. 25 and forced to proceed to an anchorage off the Somali Coast. U.S. 5th Fleet conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO) to promote stability and regional economic prosperity. U.S. Navy photo by Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky (RELEASED)

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