Mullen: Quest Incident Personalizes Counterpiracy Focus

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)

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