Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Combatting Piracy in International Waters"

From the computers of James Kraska (U.S. Naval War College) and Brian Wilson (U.S. Navy Attorney) and found at the World Policy Institute blog: Combatting Piracy in International Waters:
We face an ocean of problems. Naval air and sea operations by even the most capable maritime powers have been unable to slow Somali piracy because they cannot prosecute the endgame. Piracy thus flourishes at the seams of globalization because jurisdiction is unclear and pirates exploit the inherent isolation of individual vessels and nations.
In this setting, international law is more important than adding another warship to the equation—it has become the most effective force multiplier for developing and maintaining maritime security. A truly international process would create a network of interested states that could begin to co- ordinate in real time, working effectively across legal and jurisdictional lines of demarcation to bring collective action against this threat. Long-term maritime security capacity building will make the coordination even more effective. Only greater collaboration and the rule of law will calm the dangerous waters off the Horn of Africa. In the words of Tony Blair: “Our ultimate weapon is not our guns, but our beliefs.” History tells us that piracy along the Somali coast will ultimately subside. Returning to these placid waters, however, requires adaptability, partnering, innovation, and leadership.
Yes, well, the biggest word in the English language is "if" and this article, while valuable, is another "if" effort.

"If" examples from the piece:
"While it is impossible to eradicate maritime piracy completely, the threat can be greatly reduced if we broaden efforts to work with international partners."

"The ability to deal successfully with Somalia’s maritime pirates would improve if the country is stabilized under a responsible government."

"If nations in East Africa develop the legal architecture to deal with piracy, including adequate lawyers, courtrooms, and confinement facilities, they will be more willing and better able to enforce the maritime rule of law in the neighborhood."

Such aspirations of international comity and cooperation always remind me of the problem of mice deciding they would be safe "if" only someone would agree to take the lead in "belling the cat.".

Oh, and, by the way, the Blackwater anti-pirate ship mentioned in the piece no longer exists. Blackwater is now "Xe" and the ship never found gainful employment. Not to fault the authors, because they may have written this piece some time before it was placed on the blog where it resides, but somebody should have fact checked a little.

Despite the demise of Blackwater and its ship, there are a number of active private security companies offering counter-piracy services in the Gulf of Aden/Indian Ocean area and another large number of enterprises offering various forms of defensive tools to ship owner/operators ranging from sonic pirate busters (LRAD) to barbed wire with which to "armor" a merchant ship. I think I've even seen an ad for some sort of boiling oil dispenser, but I might have that slightly wrong.

In any event, the authors raise many good points, full of hope that a coalition of willing pirate fighters might quell the threat raised by Somali pirates. Perhaps I am too cynical, but in my experience, the trouble with coalition warfare is a coalition does not always act like united command and coalition partners have a tendency to decline the hard jobs while being more than willing to accept "being there" as a substitute for "doing things."

The time is past for gathering everything into nice legal bundles.

The 25 to 40 warships bobbing about in the Indian Ocean need to move inshore to Somalia and blockade the pirate base ports (historically 4) and take steps to put a dent in the pirate operations. Cut off the pirate's access to too much ocean, as set out here.

Some countries - England, Turkey, Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands- have shown courage in attacking pirate craft inshore and at anchor- and others should follow their lead while acting in a coordinated manner.

Heck, the French took action to retake some ransom paid by actually landing a force to intercept the "getaway" vehicle of the pirates who had the money. See here.

The pirates depend on outboard motors to power their attack craft. How about putting an embargo on such motors heading to Somalia?

I'm for hunting pirates!
Let the Somalis know that every single boat that attempts to leave Somalia must report into a "control ship" for inspection and that failure to do so will result in instant sinking by gunfire. As I wrote earlier:

My own personal option is a blockade of known Somali pirate ports and an announcement of "no warning shots" by the various international naval units in the area if a small boat is found firing on a ship at sea. Aim for the motors on the boat and let the survivors drift home. They better have life jackets and oars.

In any event, the time is now to start shrinking the amount of sea space available to the pirates and begin to push them back to Somali home waters.

No "ifs" "ands" or "buts."

UPDATE: Pirates add ammo, men to ships after 4 US deaths:
Pirates in Somalia said Wednesday they are ferrying ammunition and men to the 30 hijacked vessels still under their control, and they threatened to kill more captives following the violent end to a hostage standoff that left four Americans dead.
A pirate in Somalia who gave his name as Adowe Osman Ali said fellow "soldiers" had ferried the reinforcements to hijacked ships in their hands on Wednesday in a bid to deter more hostage rescue attempts. He said after Tuesday's incident, captains of hijacked ships have been ordered to tell navies not to approach or hostages would be killed.

"In the past, 20 or so soldiers used to guard every ship but now the numbers are ranging between 60 and 70 soldiers," said Ali, a pirate in the coastal village of Gara'ad.

"We are more alert than anytime before," he said. "In the past, we allowed the foreign navies to approach us but now we have warned them to not get nearer to us."
Which may or may not be true, as given that they are holding 37 ships, that's army of over 2000 "ship guards" and must make for a pretty big logistics train to keep them in khat, food and water. Not to mention the portion of the cut of the ransoms these numbers will eat into.

No, I take this as a sign that the pressure by the various coalitions, no matter how uncoordinated, is eating at the pirates.

I don't really see these guys willing to devote months awaiting attacks that may or may not ever arrive.

In which case, more coordinated pressure, sooner rather than later, please.


  1. It is long past time for the navies in the area to set up someting like Operation Market Time off the Somali coast. Control ALL vessels enetering or leaving the controlled zone.

    Before that naval raids on pirate ports. After that start sinking the launches ferrying around the hijacked ships. Then send in the NSW or NECC or MRF. Hell send them ALL in at once!

  2. Anonymous6:16 PM

    It's because of stories like this that I believe the safest bet for the ships at sea would be to run in a convoy and hire some protection in the form of armed(and I mean heavily) escort vessels.