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International Community must stay committed to Anti-Piracy Mission

Promptly following the subsiding of the phenomenon called monsoon, piracy in the Gulf of Aden started up and a small number of successful attacks proves that the freedom of action of the pirates has still not been sufficiently reduced by the congregated military might of the world’s greatest powers.



Just to mention the most recent attacks: On Monday, pirates hijacked a Virgin Islands-owned chemical tanker and took 28 crew members captive. The captain of the ship was wounded during the attack and died Tuesday night from internal bleeding. On Tuesday, the US-flagged Maersk Alabama repelled an attack (however, only with the consequent use of defensive technology and gun fire; see http://www.defpro.com/news/details/11364/). The Maersk Alabama had previously been hijacked last April.

While the task force of different navies, such as the US, NATO, EU, Russia and China, have tried to protect the waters of the Horn of Africa, the recent successes have once again shown that the pirates are well organised, using larger mother-ships to roam the extensive sea territories, and smaller and faster skiffs for swift attacks on commercial vessels. However, it also demonstrates their flexibility and skill in safely navigating in a sea area far too extensive to be controlled by any naval force. Over 168 incidents of piracy were reported off Somalia in the first nine months of 2009 compared to 111 during all of 2008. Although most of these attacks were repelled, 533 hostages have, nonetheless, been taken so far in 2009, of which 150 are still held by pirates, and the amount of the ransoms they demand continues to rise. Further, the deterrent effect of the international naval presence has not yet resulted in improved safety within the world's piracy hotspot.

More surveillance needed

In order to increase the effectiveness of the naval forces, more helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft for aerial surveillance are urgently needed. The Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin, where the majority of attacks occur, make up over two million square kilometres. It is, indeed, not possible to guarantee any level of security without a network of different aerial surveillance systems. As a matter of fact, reconnaissance aircraft or drones would help to control the sheer size of the area of operations. Rear Admiral Peter Hudson, Operation Commander of the Naval Force Atalanta, the EU’s naval mission against pirates in the area, indicated that satellites are already in use, in particular for tracking pirate vessels.

Also urgently needed is that the nations stay committed to this mission. As a positive signal to its allies, the new German government yesterday extended its participation in a mission to fight piracy off the coast of Lebanon by six months. The country’s contribution to the anti-piracy mission at the Horn of Africa was also prolonged. In the upcoming days, the European Council is expected to extend operation EUNAVFOR, its first-ever naval operation for another year, until December 2010.

Piracy problem can’t be solved on sea

Unfortunately, many parties involved in the current fight against piracy resort to “putting lipstick on the pig”. Most speak of a success of the operations and of the vast number of ships that have been escorted since the beginning of the missions and the cases in which pirate attacks were averted by warships. However, at a meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Brussels, which concentrated on EU’s anti-piracy naval operation Atalanta and a broader involvement in Somalia, the first steps in the right direction were made. As the Estonian Ministry of Defence explained “the meeting discussed EU’s activity to train the Somali security forces and approved EU’s crisis management concept for a possible new training mission which will allow, if needed, for the planning of the training of the security forces of the Somali transitional government” (see also: http://www.defpro.com/news/details/11373/).

It is the first time that the international community openly and comprehensively addresses the root of the piracy problem and shows that it has understood that the issue will never be resolved at sea alone. During the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on Sunday, Rapporteur Lord Jopling (UK), therefore, argued for a “comprehensive approach, combining diplomacy, naval deployments and development assistance” in the region.

He said that this comprehensive approach should promote a “long-term regional solution” by “assisting states of the region to build the capacity to tackle piracy and other regional security challenges on their own”.

During a briefing, Vice Admiral Hans-Jochen Witthauer, Deputy Commander of NATO’s Allied Maritime Component Command in Northwood, UK, said that an improved Somali coastguard would contribute to maritime security in the region, although he praised the Somali efforts overall. This regional capacity could “eventually replace NATO at sea” in the area, he said.

The new strategy must now find international support. One source is the United Nations International Maritime Organization, which recently pledged to help Somalia create a national coast guard.

However, it is questionable if these selective measures can show any true result in the overall hornet’s nest that Somalia is, considering the political problems of the current administration and the economic situation of the country that drives many former fishers into piracy and attracts organised crime from around the world.

By Luca Bonsignore and Nicolas von Kospoth
© defpro.com -


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