Piracy on the de­cline: NATO cites bet­ter pro­tec­tion, faster sail­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY DAVID AXE

ABOARD THE USS DON­ALD COOK |A year af­ter So­mali pi­rates grabbed head­lines with a se­ries of high-pro­file hi­jack­ings in East African wa­ters, piracy ap­pears to be wan­ing.

In the past three months, there has been just one suc­cess­ful hi­jack­ing in the So­mali Basin, a swath of ocean stretch­ing from the Gulf of Aden into the In­dian Ocean that is criss­crossed by tens of thou­sands of com­mer­cial ves­sels each month. There were 17 hi­jack­ings In the com­pa­ra­ble pe­riod last year.

“It’s a fact,” Royal Navy Com­modore Steve Chick said of piracy’s de­cline. Com­modore Chick heads a force of five NATO war­ships, in­clud­ing the Don­ald Cook, a Vir­ginia-based U.S. Navy de­stroyer that de­ployed to Africa in July for six months.

In an in­ter view Sept. 24, Com­modore Chick cited bet­ter ship self-pro­tec­tion, ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary pa­trols and im­proved se­cu­rity on land in So­ma­lia as the ma­jor rea­sons driv­ing down hi­jack­ings.

He said mer­chant crews are tak­ing bet­ter self-pro­tec­tion mea­sures, in­clud­ing sail­ing faster and string­ing barbed wire on their ships’ rail­ings to thwart board­ers. Many mer­chant ships also use fire hoses to blast pi­rates off their lad­ders dur­ing any at­tempted hi­jack­ing. The U.S. Coast Guard reg-

De­spite en­cour­ag­ing trends, the war on piracy is far from over, Com­modore Chick stressed. “Let’s not un­der­es­ti­mate pi­rates.” “This is th­ese guys’ wa­ters,” said Martin Mur­phy, a mar­itime se­cu­rity an­a­lyst from the Wash­ing­ton-based Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Bud­getary As­sess­ments, of pi­rates. “They know which way the winds blow. The feel­ing is they’re get­ting oceano­graph­i­cally smarter.”

ularly pub­lishes the lat­est meth­ods for mer­chant ship self-de­fense.

Com­modore Chick also said mil­i­tary ves­sels sent by many na­tions to bat­tle piracy are do­ing a bet­ter job work­ing to­gether. Af­ter a year of buildup, about 40 war­ships from more than a dozen na­tions are pa- trolling the So­mali Basin. Most of them be­long to three large flotil­las — one each from NATO, the Euro­pean Union and the U.S.-led Com­bined Task Force 151.

The com­modores of the three flotil­las talk ev­ery day, “if not more,” Com­modore Chick said. Ja­pan, South Korea, China, Rus- sia, In­dia and other na­tions op­er­ate small num­bers of war­ships in­de­pen­dently but co­or­di­nate their pa­trols with the large flotil­las dur­ing monthly meet­ings in Bahrain.

In Septem­ber, the Don­ald Cook, a 9,000-ton ves­sel armed with mis­siles, tor­pe­does and guns, pa­trolled a squar­ish por- tion of a des­ig­nated “se­cu­rity lane” for mer­chant ships. Crews are en­cour­aged to sail in­side the lane, rather than spread­ing out, so the Don­ald Cook and other war­ships can bet­ter pro­tect them.

The pa­trols are “mostly vis­ual,” said En­sign Justin Kelly, the of­fi­cer in charge of the ship’s tur­bine en­gines. Don­ald Cook’s look­outs scan the hori­zon for pi­rate boats, while over­head, U.S. and Ja­panese pa­trol planes add their own sur­veil­lance. In Septem­ber, the Pen­tagon an­nounced it would send un­armed Reaper drones to the Sey­chelles Is­lands in the In­dian Ocean to boost the air pa­trols.

In 18 months, war­ships have cap­tured about 300 pi­rates and turned back hun­dreds more, ac­cord­ing to Com­modore Chick. While many cap­tured pi­rates are sim­ply re­leased on the near­est So­mali beach, oth­ers have been ren­dered to Kenya, the U.S. and France for prose­cu­tion.

Ac­cused pi­rate Ab­di­wali Ab­diqadir Muse awaits trial in New York for his pur­ported role in the hi­jack­ing of the U.S.-flag mer­chant ship Maersk Alabama in April. That hi­jack­ing ended in blood­shed when Navy SEALs fa­tally shot three pi­rates.

Con­di­tions ap­pear to be chang­ing in So­ma­lia, where the pi­rates have their bases. “Piracy is be­com­ing less so­cially ac­cept­able,” Com­modore Chick said. This past sum­mer, So­ma­lia’s U.S.-backed tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished a rudi­men­tary naval in­fantr y force to pa­trol So­mali beaches for pi­rates.

De­spite en­cour­ag­ing trends, the war on piracy is far from over, Com­modore Chick stressed. “Let’s not un­der­es­ti­mate pi­rates.”

“This is th­ese guys’ wa­ters,” said Martin Mur­phy, a mar­itime se­cu­rity an­a­lyst from the Wash­ing­ton-based Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Bud­getary As­sess­ments, of pi­rates. “They know which way the winds blow. The feel­ing is they’re get­ting oceano­graph­i­cally smarter.”

Ex­pe­ri­enced pi­rates might try to avoid mil­i­tary pa­trols by sail­ing south, away from the se­cu­rity lane. Wa­ters south of Mom­basa, Kenya, are largely un­pro­tected. Hi­jack­ings in the vicin­ity of Mom­basa late last year alarmed mem­bers of that city’s large sea­far­ing com­mu­nity. “Pi­rates are spread­ing their wings,” said Fred­er­ick Wahutu, di­rec­tor of the Kenya Ships Agents As­so­ci­a­tion.

Mr. Wahutu noted that many Kenyan mer­chant ves­sels are in­ca­pable of reach­ing 21 knots (al­most 25 mph), the speed the mil­i­tary ad­vises for out­run­ning pi­rates.

Sailors at­tend a nav­i­ga­tional brief­ing. Piracy is down as a re­sult of bet­ter ship pro­tec­tion, ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary pa­trols and im­proved se­cu­rity on land, says Royal Navy Com­modore Steve Chick, who heads five NATO war­ships.

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