Night ops

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Assessing the Containment of Somali Pirates

As the year 2010 draws to a close, it is a good time to review various efforts to see if focus needs to be shifted in the coming year. This is an effort to look at the success level of the various forces (NATO, EU, CTF-151, and independent but cooperating naval units) in containing the spread of Somali piracy.

A week or so ago, I posted the following video:

video

You might note a couple of things from the video:
  1. Before 2009, the "Somali pirate problem" was generally limited to the proximate off-shore waters off Somalia, including the Gulf of Aden;
  2. After 2009, the "Piracy Problem" has spread itself across the Indian Ocean, into the Red Sea and down the East African coast.
Since 2007, the number of warships assigned to perform convoy duties and escort shipping through the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean has increased to the point that there might be 25 or more warships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean during peak piracy (non-monsoon) seasons.

While it is certain that the presence of these warships has prevented some pirate attacks, it is also clear that the pirates have responded to their presence by expanding their own pirate patrol areas through extensive use of long-range "mother ships" into areas less frequented by warships.  This includes moving into the much traveled sea lanes in and out of the Arabian Sea, including along India's western islands.

NATO's Shipping Center prepares warning area maps highlighting areas of known "pirate action group" (PAG) activity, with the red warning area correlating to incident reported on their warning messages (alert numbers are shown in related warning circles):
NATO SC 6 Dec 10 Warning Map (click to enlarge)

December 05 2010
WARNING Somali Basin
Latitude: 04°07'24"N Longitude: 049°23'04"E

Alert number 529/ 2010.

At 1507 UTC / 05Dec / a Pirate Action Group possible mother ship operations was reported in position 04°07'24"N 049°23'04"E.
---------------------------

December 05 2010
---ALERT UPDATE--- Indian Ocean
Latitude: 08°12N Longitude: 071°55E

Alert number 528 / 2010.
Reference previous Alert number 527 / 2010.

At 0942 UTC 05DEC a merchant vessel was reported under attack by pirates/1 skiffs in position 08°11N 071°43E.

***This vessel has been hijacked***
--------------------------

December 05 2010
WARNING Indian Ocean
Latitude: 08°10N Longitude: 071°43E

Alert number 527 / 2010.

At 0942 UTC / 05 NOV/ a merchant vessel was under attack by pirates/1 skiffs in position 08°10N 071°43E.
-------------------------

December 04 2010
WARNING Somali Basin
Latitude: 09°00 N Longitude: 067°10 E

Alert number 526 / 2010.

At 0230 UTC / 04 NOV 10 / a Pirate Action Group consisting of A Pirated Fishing Vessel was reported in position 09°00N 067°10E course 250° speed 10 knots.
---------------------------

December 01 2010
WARNING SOMALI BASIN
Latitude: 09°19N    Longitude: 069°30E

Alert number 525/ 2010.

Reference previous Alert number 524/ 2010.

At 1341 UTC / 30 NOV 10 / a merchant vessel was reported under attack by pirates in position 09 19 N 069 30 E.

ONE SKIFF, WEAPONS WERE USED, 5POB.

***This vessel managed to evade hijack***
The Pirate action group is still in the area.

-------------------------------
 
November 30 2010
WARNING SOMALI BASIN
Latitude: 09°19N    Longitude: 069°30E

Alert number 524/ 2010.

At 1341 UTC / 30 NOV 10/ a merchant vessel is currently under attack by pirates in position 09 19 N 069 30 E.

One skiff, weapons used.

-------------------------------
 
November 29 2010
WARNING RED SEA
Latitude: 13°35N    Longitude: 042°56E

Alert number 523/ 2010.

At 1749UTC / 29NOV / a merchant vessel was possibly under attack by pirates/3 skiffs in position 13°35N 042°56E.

-------------------------------
 
November 29 2010 
WARNING Somali Basin
Latitude: 16°57N Longitude: 067°15E

Alert number 522/ 2010

At 0254 UTC 29 NOV 10 a merchant vessel was reported under attack by pirates in position 16°57N  067°15E.
A Pirate Action Group consiting of one mother ship and one skiff 4-5 POB, weapons and ladders were used.

***This vessel managed to evade hijack***
The Pirate action group is still in the area.

-------------------------------

November 28 2010 
WARNING Somali Basin
Latitude: 14°51N Longitude: 068°13E

Alert number 521/ 2010.

At 0700 UTC / 28 NOV 10 / a merchant vessel was reported under attack by pirates in position 14°51N 068°13E.
A Pirate Action Group consiting of one mother ship and one skiff 4POB, weapons and ladders.

***This vessel managed to evade hijack***
The Pirate action group is still in the area.

 -------------------------------

November 28 2010 
WARNING Somali Basin
Latitude: 13°34N Longitude: 057°06E

Alert number 520/ 2010.

Reference previous Alert number 517 / 2010.

At 0901 UTC / 27 NOV 10 / a merchant vessel was reported under attack by pirates in position 13°34N 057°06E.

One Dhow acted as mother ship and two skiffs, weapons were used, approx 10POB.

***This vessel managed to evade hijack***
The Pirate action group is still in the area.

It should be clear that, as has been stated many times, there is too much ocean being "patrolled" by too few ships to prevent all piracy attacks. Merchant shipping that regularly transits the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean have been encouraged to adopt "best management practices" (available here) as "self-help" in thwarting pirate attacks.

However, it is also clear that, despite these measures, the range of Somali piracy has expanded.

There has been some discussion as to whether the level of actual interference with international shipping by this piracy is of great or little moment. See Steven M. Carmel's "The Big Myth of Somali Pirates" in the U.S. Naval Insitute's December issue of Proceedings Magazine (December 2010 Vol. 136/12/1,294):
But the overall system of international commerce has not been impaired. It is the overall stability and efficiency of the system that matters—not individual companies—and the system is what should be protected. The international military community cannot be in the business of protecting the financial health of individual businesses. That is the responsibility of the businesses. Nor does the international community need to be concerned with overall system stability; Somali pirates have not been able to upset that.
You can also listen to a discussion with Mr. Carmel on Midrats here- Episode 44.

Perhaps Mr. Carmel is right. The current level of "leakage" in the containment of Somali pirates may be low enough that is not worth expending more naval and other assets to tighten the noose, particularly in light of the conventional wisdom that the only real fix for Somali piracy is to fix the chaotic situation in Somalia.

On the other hand, just looking at the maps makes it clear that the current effort has not halted Somali piracy, just shifted to new, previously unguarded areas. Perhaps it is time for a new "business model" in the fight against Somali pirates. The old one seems to have reached its limits.

Not that there haven't been other efforts to contain the pirates - see Somali Pirates: The Netherlands Trying New Tactic Against Pirates, Somali Pirates: Hmmm . . . is a pirate port blockade coming?, Somali Pirates: The UN offers Seven Options, ;Somali Pirates: EU naval force blockades pirate group, Somali Pirates: EU Spanish LPD Takes Out Some Pirate Boats, Somali Pirates: Action by the Royal Navy and Marines

1 comment:

  1. How long do we have to fix the chaotic situation in Somalia until they have a culture of Piracy? I'm not sure that anyone could argue that the chaotic situation in the Barbary Coast was ever fixed (at least not in the sense that most seem to understand 'fixing' Somalia). Yet, piracy did end in the Med. But, before it did, Piracy was part of the geopolitical reality of the Med, and even used to England and France's advantage at times.

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