Piracy Challenges Maritime Security Off Somalia

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2011 — Pirates off the coast of Soma­lia are using big­ger ves­sels to extend their crim­i­nal reach in a move that could prompt U.S. Navy forces in the region to inten­si­fy tech­niques for pur­su­ing the law­break­ers, the top naval offi­cer in the region said today.

Combined Task Force 152
Kuwait Naval Force Brig. Gen. Jas­sim al Ansari, left, shakes hands with Roy­al Bahrain Naval Force Col. Isa Al Doseri, his suc­ces­sor as com­man­der of Com­bined Task Force 152 dur­ing a change-of-com­mand cer­e­mo­ny at Mina Salman Pier in Bahrain, Jan. 6, 2011. Com­bined Task Force 152 is one of three task forces that reports to U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Mark I. Fox, cen­ter, in his capac­i­ty as com­man­der of Com­bined Mar­itime Forces. Estab­lished in March 2004, Com­bined Task Force 152 coor­di­nates the­ater secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion activ­i­ties with region­al part­ners, con­ducts mar­itime secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions, and is pre­pared to respond to any cri­sis in the Ara­bi­an Gulf.
U.S. Navy pho­to by Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Eric Brown
Click to enlarge

Navy Vice Adm. Mark I. Fox, com­man­der of U.S. Naval Forces Cen­tral Com­mand and the U.S. 5th Fleet, told a group of defense reporters here that pirates have begun com­man­deer large mer­chant ships and use them as “moth­er ships” to put small­er boats into oper­a­tion far from the coast and beyond the reach of the inter­na­tion­al forces arrayed against them.

“This is the first time we’ve seen per­sis­tent and increased use of moth­er ships — up to eight ‘pirate action groups’ as we refer to them, dis­bursed through­out the region,” Fox said, call­ing this devel­op­ment a “game chang­er.”

Such groups may include one or two moth­er ships that trav­el with a range of dhows, skiffs and oth­er small craft to attack and hijack inter­na­tion­al com­mer­cial ves­sels.

Fox said the num­ber of pirate hostages rose from 250 to about 770 between Sep­tem­ber and Jan­u­ary. In response to this and to the pirates’ evolv­ing capa­bil­i­ties, “we’re in a con­stant process of assess­ing the way we do our busi­ness here.”

The inter­na­tion­al force that works togeth­er in the region includes par­tic­i­pa­tion from the polit­i­cal alliance with the Euro­pean Union, the mil­i­tary alliance with NATO, and mil­i­tary com­bined task forces that bring togeth­er nations from around the world to address crit­i­cal secu­ri­ty issues fac­ing the region, includ­ing ter­ror­ism and pira­cy.

U.S Naval Forces Cen­tral Com­mand is part of that mosa­ic, Fox said, “and then we have inde­pen­dent deploy­ers like Chi­na or Rus­sia, who are also in the region look­ing out for the well-being of their ships.”

Every­one in the region has been “too keen” to cat­e­go­rize some efforts as coun­ter­pira­cy and some as coun­tert­er­ror­ism, the admi­ral not­ed.

“We’ve not used the same lev­el of rig­or and dis­ci­pline in terms of [inves­ti­gat­ing] the coun­ter­pira­cy piece as we have in the coun­tert­er­ror­ism piece,” he said. The same tech­niques should apply to both, he added, includ­ing inves­ti­gat­ing the sources of financ­ing for pirates’ activ­i­ties, equip­ment, rela­tion­ships and sup­plies.

The fight against pira­cy and ter­ror­ism is a crit­i­cal issue in the region but it has helped coun­tries in the region work bet­ter togeth­er, Fox said.

“Pirates are ene­mies of all, ter­ror­ists are ene­mies of all, and there has been will­ing­ness on the part of a large num­ber of nations to come togeth­er and work togeth­er, where hereto­fore that has­n’t hap­pened,” the admi­ral added.

“This is real, no-kid­ding capa­bil­i­ty of region­al part­ners devel­op­ing their own capac­i­ty to take care of their own water space, com­mu­ni­cate and effec­tive­ly deal with a threat that they all want to be able to man­age,” Fox said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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