International naval forces will never be able to completely secure the vast area of ocean where Somali pirates are hijacking ships off East Africa, the commander of the EU Naval Force's counter-piracy efforts said Tuesday.It's a fair point, and one that I've made myself at times. Ignoring for the time being that the only complete answer to Somali piracy lies on the shores of Somalia, we are forced back to a containment policy to control the pirates.
"The news of a few days ago of a 300,000-ton tanker being seized is illustrative of the problems in protecting and policing an area of the world's oceans that amounts to an area of about 1 million square miles," said Hudson, the commander of the EU Naval Force's counter-piracy operations.
Hudson also said the fact that pirates are now attacking ships as far as 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) off the Somali coast presents a large challenge and that the EU force will never fully secure such a large area. The EU Naval Force's strategy in the smaller Gulf of Aden is to lengthen the amount of time it takes pirates to get on board so that a warship or helicopter can be dispatched to the scene.
"The difficulties in an area as large as it is in the Indian Ocean with the short number of assets that we have is that ... the pirate can keep going and keep going and keep going until it's successful in getting on board, because there's nothing there to stop it," he said.
I have discussed containment before here and here:
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.The answer is not to worry about the entire Indian Ocean or the entire Gulf of Aden, but rather to focus on protecting certain defined sea lanes. I discussed this here and, more specifically, here:
"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.
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.
How do you thwart these pirates at sea? One possibility, in use in the Gulf of Aden, is to flood the sea lanes with sea policemen or naval forces who serve to deter or stops assaults on shipping in their beat area. Another possibility, especially when you have limited naval assets, and which is also in use in the Gulf of Aden, is to provide escorts to single or multiple ships as they transit the risk areas during periods when the pirates are likely to be active (low winds, day light hours or during periods of a bright moon) or escort ships that have proven to be at risk (low freeboard ships, slow transit speeds).
Put helicopters and UAVs in the air and learn the local fishing patterns to find the "fishing boats" that don't act like the others. Use the helicopters to scout routes ahead of merchant ships.
For the long transit down the eastern coast of Somalia, I propose a small variation on the convoy system. Points A, B and C on Map 5 become Ocean Convoy Collection Points (OCCPs) where ships desiring to transit piracy risk areas can gather for convoying to the other points.
Where do you get more escort ships? Why, I even have a proposal for that. As I wrote here:
We need lots of hulls in the water - tomorrow - not 3 years from now. I have proposed a plan that I think could put 40 - 50 satisfactory platforms at sea in 6 months given the right hard-charging officer in charge and a SecDef/SecNav knife to cut through red tape and bureaucratic nonsense. And my plan, flawed as it may be, won't cost a billion dollars. We even have people trained to do this sort of work, like the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, U.S. Marines and the U.S. Coast Guard. Heck, lots of work for merchant mariners who want to go into harm's way, too. Use large amphibs as "mother ships" and helicopter repair and readiness depots...The net effect of more ships patrolling "protected sea lanes" for merchant ship transits is to make that big, unmanageable ocean into a smaller, more easily managed area.
But do something. Now.
Now, I assume that someone out there is doing a "cost/benefit analysis" of the cost of Somali piracy including the operating costs of a force of 20-30 warships, staffs, helicopters, ransoms, insurance rates, lost revenues for the Suez Canal, etc. I don't know what they will use as a factor for the cost of doing nothing...
To contain the pirates, make the sea smaller.
And, "Send the Eagle's Answer - More Ships"