MANAMA, Bahrain, Feb. 24, 2011 — Condemning pirates who killed four Americans aboard a private sailing vessel this week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff vowed today that the United States, as part of a strong international coalition, will continue to pursue this growing threat.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who arrived here during the sixth stop in a week-long trip through the region, credited the “extraordinary amount of work” the U.S. 5th Fleet based here has committed toward this long-recognized issue.
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces stood up a multinational anti-piracy effort known as Combined Task Force 151 more than two years ago. The task force operates primarily in and around the Gulf of Aden, but also in the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.
NATO and European Union commands have joined the effort, bringing to more than 30 the number of ships committed to counterpiracy operations, Mullen noted. “That is a very good reflection of the significance of the challenge, and also the priority, in terms of focus,” the chairman said.
In addition, the maritime industry has joined the effort as well, he noted, ensuring ship crews are aware of the threat and take proper precautions. The chairman expressed condolences for the families of four U.S. citizens Somali pirates killed this week aboard the 58-foot yacht Quest. The incident, he said, reflects the growing reach and lethality of pirates.
“We have watched them adapt their procedures, and in fact, they are now seizing vessels farther and farther from Somalia,” he said. Where pirates once operated within a couple hundred miles of their Somali base, he noted, they now have been identified as far as 1,500 miles away.
Meanwhile, the pirates have adopted new tactics to increase their capabilities. For example, using the “mother ship concept,” they deploy skiffs to operate ever more deeply into international waters.
This exacerbates the counterpiracy challenge. When Combined Task Force 51 initially launched, officials said, pirates’ operating area topped 1.1 million square miles –- roughly four times the size of Texas, or the size of the Mediterranean and Red seas combined.
With pirates’ expanded reach, Mullen acknowledged that tracking them down sometimes can be akin to finding “a needle in a haystack.” But as tragic as the Quest incident was, Mullen said, the fact that more hijackings don’t occur is a testament to a dedicated international crackdown, particularly in light of heavy maritime activity in the region.
“We have improved our capabilities dramatically,” he said, reaffirming U.S. commitment to stopping pirates from interfering with freedom of the seas. “These are criminals,” he said. “And some of them certainly have not been deterred.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)