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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Somali Pirates: Tactics and Intelligence

With recent reports of Somali pirate intelligence collection (see here and Daniel Sekulich's excellent post on the topic "The intelligence-gathering aspect of piracy") and reports of information sharing among pirates (see here, you might also wonder how those Somali pirates sneak around in patrolled waters? From an email from someone at Gulf of Aden Group Transits, this info:
Pirate Tactics:
-For some time the pirates have been radioing each other about different vessels they see and try to board – most of the “Mother Ships” are not mother ships at all they are scouts!

-In the last 2 months, the “Pirate Flotilla Commander” has changed tactics, hijacking larger dhows for a temporary period with innocent fisherman on them. This works by the pirates setting off in a "mother ship" which usually stays within 100 miles of Somali coast – dispatching skiffs to find legitimate fishing dhows– the pirates then hijack a fishing dhow and use it to take their skiffs to a merchant shipping lane or expected transit zone

-Then they scout or attack a merchant ship, using the captive dhow as a "mother ship."

-The attacked merchant ship calls in details of “mother ship” which, of course, is really a hijacked fishing dhow.

-If the boarding attempt on the targeted merchant is not successful, pirates in skiffs call off their attack and head back toward "mother ship" - but never re-board instead hopping to another dhow for another temporary hijack.

-The Navy eventually arrives and surrounds the original "mother ship" - a slow 6 knot dhow – which has remained on the merchant vessel radar unlike the skiffs which have disappeared.

-A compliance boarding team gets on the suspect dhow and finds – FISH!!!! And usually 1 shotgun or a couple of pistols etc.

-Military helicopter then departs to look for needles in haystacks!!

-The info regarding intel from London involved one particular case of a vessel that was due to go through the Suez canal for scrapping..........! A few people were going to do quite well from it if it had happened but they didn’t bargain on a resilient crew that were on a one way ticket and knew they were getting off soon as the vessel arrived on the beach – they had no intentions of an extended stay in Somalia...!

-Pirate attacks are way down and it's not due to the weather. Islamic Courts may be having an effect in slowing pirates. There was one small attack yesterday off of Mukalla and with 9 pirates in each skiff – they fired RPG at the targeted vessel. This brought a heavy naval response since there are a lot of warships in the area and not much action.

-If lull in pirate activity lasts until monsoon and some naval units leave, then with the end of the monsoon period in August, things could get very active.
A report on an attack thwarted yesterday by a ROK ship and a U.S. ship here:
South Korean and US helicopters have scared off pirates trying to attack an Egyptian ship off Somalia, military officials said Thursday.

It was the fourth time the South Korean naval unit has driven away pirates since deploying last month.

A pirate boat was about 1.8 kilometres (1.1 miles) from the 74,000-ton ship Amira Wednesday when a South Korean helicopter with a team of snipers aboard swooped in, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said.

The team drove away the pirates in a joint operation with a US navy helicopter which arrived later, it said.
Daniel Sekulich sums it up well here:
We're dealing with an asymmetrical form of warfare here, against an enemy that has learned from its predecessors' mistakes. Just like pirates in Southeast Asia, Somali brigands have evolved far beyond some uncouth thugs and need to be combated with a greater degree of efficiency. And one way to do that is to locate, identify and undermine the support structures that allow pirates to stage their attacks.

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