New Cen­tral Com­mand Unit Makes It Tough to be a Pirate

By Jim Gara­mone
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2009 — A new patrol in the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand is work­ing to make it unprof­itable to be a pirate, the com­man­der of U.S. Navy Cen­tral Com­mand and 5th Fleet said today.

Acts of pira­cy have “spiked” off the coast of Soma­lia with mer­chant ves­sels and crews being held for mil­lions in ran­som by pirates using AK-47 assault rifles, rock­et-pro­pelled grenades and lad­ders to take “low and slow” ships tra­vers­ing one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

The pirates come from a clan based on the north­ern coast of Soma­lia, Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gort­ney said, and they are in it for the mon­ey.

“The prob­lem of pira­cy start­ed ashore,” the admi­ral said dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence. “It’s because there is no rule of law. There isn’t a gov­ern­ment. There isn’t eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty. There isn’t a court sys­tem that will hold these crim­i­nals respon­si­ble for their actions.”

With­out a penal­ty for the Soma­lis, these clans­men — who are nor­mal­ly fish­er­men — took to pira­cy.

“As com­man­der of the Com­bined Mar­itime Forces, I direct­ed the estab­lish­ment of the Mar­itime Secu­ri­ty Patrol Area,” Gort­ney said.

Coali­tion ships and air­craft patrol the area, but it is a com­plex oper­a­tion, and task forces already in place had an exist­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sion. As a solu­tion, Gort­ney estab­lished Com­bined Task Force 151 to con­duct counter-pira­cy oper­a­tions. Nations that are mem­bers of the task force “will bring their col­lec­tive capa­bil­i­ties to bear to deter, to dis­rupt and even­tu­al­ly to bring to jus­tice these mar­itime crim­i­nals,” he said.

The coali­tion group works with all con­cerned nations to deter the pirates and it has had some suc­cess. “I think, it’s real­ly a fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry to watch unfold as, at this point, 14 nations have sent their navies to work against this desta­bi­liz­ing activ­i­ty,” he said.

This includes Rus­sia and Chi­na, which are pri­mar­i­ly escort­ing their own nation­al flag ves­sels. “That allows us to go focus else­where with the rest of the ships that are down there,” Gort­ney said.

The efforts against pira­cy focused on three areas: bring­ing in more inter­na­tion­al forces, work­ing with the ship­ping indus­try to put in place defens­es to pre­vent pirates from suc­cess­ful­ly get­ting onboard their ves­sel, and find­ing a way to deal with the pirates legal­ly.

“When we cap­ture a pirate, where do we take him? Where do we hold him? What court sys­tem tries him and holds him?” Gort­ney asked.

“When the activ­i­ty spiked in the mid­dle of August, we knew … our cur­rent process was­n’t work­ing, and we had to take a new look at it,” the admi­ral said.

And it is work­ing. In the last six weeks there have been only four suc­cess­ful pira­cy attacks, the admi­ral said.

“Dis-incen­tiviz­ing pira­cy” is what Gort­ney calls the miss­ing piece. “The State Depart­ment is close on final­iz­ing an agree­ment with one of the nations out there,” he said. “And once we get that author­i­ty, then we’re going to change my orders.”

The orders to the coali­tion now are to dis­rupt and deter, but not cap­ture, pirates. “But once we get the author­i­ties, my orders will change to dis­rupt, deter and cap­ture, and try and hold them account­able for their actions,” he said.

“We have to make it unpleas­ant to be a pirate, and that’s where, when we can cap­ture them and try them and hold them account­able for their actions,” he said.

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