Piraterie — Admiral Urges Arming of Vessels to Combat Piracy

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2010 — A top Navy com­man­der sug­gest­ed yes­ter­day that com­mer­cial ves­sels should arm them­selves when trav­el­ing through pirate-infest­ed waters off the Soma­li coast.

Navy Adm. Mark P. Fitzger­ald, com­man­der of U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa and of NATO’s Allied Joint Task Force Com­mand Naples, told Pen­ta­gon reporters that the scope of the pira­cy prob­lem is too great to be policed by mil­i­tary ves­sels alone.

“We could put a World War II fleet of ships out there,” Fitzger­ald said, refer­ring to the Gulf of Aden and the Mozam­bique Chan­nel off the Indi­an coast, “and we still would­n’t be able to cov­er the whole ocean.”

On an aver­age day, 30 to 40 ships com­pris­ing inter­na­tion­al mar­itime forces mon­i­tor pirate activ­i­ty in the Soma­li basin and the west­ern Indi­an Ocean, Fitzger­ald said, adding that five to 10 of these ships at any giv­en time are Amer­i­can ves­sels.

Anoth­er issue, the admi­ral said, is what to do with pirates who are cap­tured. The inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, he explained, has not yet answered the ques­tion of how to bring to jus­tice pirates cap­tured at sea. This issue has come to the fore with the recent cap­ture of five sus­pect­ed pirates by the crew of the USS Nicholas in the Indi­an Ocean west of the Sey­chelles.

“Catch and release is not a very good option,” Fitzger­ald said. “How do we deal with this? We’ve got to come to some kind of solu­tion.”

Soma­li-based pira­cy, the admi­ral said, will not go away until a gov­ern­ment in Mogadishu is sta­ble enough to con­front the prob­lem with­in its bor­ders.

“Right now, we’re try­ing to shoot the arrow instead of the archer,” Fitzger­ald said. He acknowl­edged that the prospect of a sta­ble Soma­li gov­ern­ment is unlike­ly in the near future. The admiral’s com­ments echoed remarks Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates made last year after Navy SEAL snipers killed three Soma­li pirates while res­cu­ing the kid­napped Amer­i­can ship cap­tain of the Maer­sk-Alaba­ma car­go ship.

Gates, empha­siz­ing the lim­i­ta­tions of a pure­ly mil­i­tary approach to pira­cy, said some offi­cials have sug­gest­ed bypass­ing the cen­tral gov­ern­ment of Soma­lia and instead estab­lish­ing rela­tion­ships with offi­cials of func­tion­ing local gov­ern­ments there.

“There is no pure­ly mil­i­tary solu­tion to it,” the sec­re­tary told the Marine Corps War Col­lege in Quan­ti­co, Va., last year. “And as long as you’ve got this incred­i­ble num­ber of poor peo­ple and the risks are rel­a­tive­ly small, there’s real­ly no way in my view to con­trol it unless you get some­thing on land that begins to change the equa­tion for these kids.” But in the near-term, Fitzger­ald said yes­ter­day, it is “incum­bent upon the ves­sels who are sail­ing the high seas to either pro­tect them­selves or accept the dan­gers.” Asked if he would rec­om­mend that com­mer­cial ships arm them­selves, Fitzger­ald said: “I think they should.”

“Com­mer­cial ships should take appro­pri­ate pro­tec­tions,” he added, “because we can­not offer 100-per­cent guar­an­tees of pro­tec­tion as the ships go through.”

Fitzger­ald also rec­om­mend­ed track­ing the spoils of suc­cess­ful pira­cy oper­a­tions. “I think we’d be able to trace the financiers [and] the mid­dle­men,” he said.

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