Not since the 1800’s has there been as much hoopla regarding real pirates. While the days of the Jolly Roger are literally history, and foofy Captain Morgan-esque costumery traded for dirty jeans and logo tee shirts, the objectives of 21st century pirates remain the same today as they were way back when – armed robbery on the high seas. Gone is the romanceful swashbuckling image adorned in Hollywood movies, replaced now by reports of brutal boardings, hijacked ships, and hostage takings. A window for new Secretary of State (SoS) Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice to collectively and quickly make a big mark on the world by putting an end to these modern day cutthroat buccaneers. An opportunity to show who’s boss and for these two new sheriffs in town to organize an effective global posse.
The battle is focused at major shipping chokepoints around the globe, with this article centered on the current key pirate hotspot, the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean.
Aside from military vessels, no vessel is immune from this thuggery. The brazen attacks and hostage taking are reminiscent of those long ago days off the Barbary Coast and Caribbean, which brought piracy fame and repudiation. It too triggered the need for a consolidated holistic approach to ending it - a coordinated naval and land strategy (e.g. the Barbary Wars 1 and 2 in the early 1800’s).
What makes the Gulf of Aden shipping corridor so unique is its strategic chokepoint location and that it is bordered by two countries (Somalia and Yemen) which rival Afghanistan in terms of uncontrolled lawlessness, making it ripe for piracy proliferation and akin to running a gauntlet of RPG’s for the commercial shipper.
In the last year alone, 111 ships in the Gulf of Aden were attacked and 42 kidnapped. The rate increases by the month.
Too, while the fledgling and very shaky (at best) Somali government has scratched and clawed its very limited authority in Mogadishu, it has no control whatsoever in the main pirate nest area of the northern Puntland region, and as such is completely impotent to control and/or stamp out this growing scurge.
While the attacks in Aden continue to escalate, intervening navies of the world continue a haphazard country by country approach. They have neither the resources nor the (real) mandate to protect the entire shipping lane alone. The international community therefore lacks a blank check “authorization to execute”, to optimally leverage the available multinational resources to consolidate and enhance the response, and ultimately eradicate the problem.
As further evidence of the growing problem, a Jan. 11, 2009 AP report by Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu Somalia, reports “Graeme Gibbon Brooks, managing director of the British company Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service Ltd, said…..There are people lining up to be pirates."
Even the embryo paper tiger effort at the UN on Dec. 17 with Resolution 1851 is but a small beginning, but one which this article suggests the opening to be used by SoS Clinton and Ambassador Rice as a foundation platform to build a real plan around.
When countries unite (importantly, with teeth) against piracy, precedent demonstrates these attacks can be by and large thwarted, if not entirely eradicated. In addition to the Barbary days, a few years ago, piracy was a dominant threat to the Straits of Malacca. By working together, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand managed to cut the number of attacks by more than half since 2004. The author suggests that with greater resources and more sophisticated weapons and surveillance technology (e.g. space detection), this likely could have been entirely eliminated.
Right now, some 20 or so naval ships from the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, India, Germany, Malaysia and China patrol the Gulf of Aden, individually doing their own thing in entirely uncoordinated fashion. One need only add in the introduction of the private security firm Blackwater to the “protection mix” to gage the extent of the problem and resultant lucrative money making protection opportunity. Accordingly, only when outfits like Blackwater see the protection arbitrage opportunity as not worth the investment will be when one can say the piracy problem is controlled and/or eliminated.
Another interesting new development (contribution) which can help form the platform for the “real solution” is the announcement that the U.S. would take the lead in an international task force. While this is a welcomed step forward, it still falls way short in terms of authorization and mandate execution. At this point, it appears to be a paper tiger yet one that SoS Clinton can use and leverage into a truly substantive and robust plan.
The Jan. 8, 2009 AP report notes:
“A new international force to battle pirates off the Somali coast is being formed under American command in a bid to focus more military resources to protect one of the world's key shipping lanes, the U.S. Navy said Thursday…..But the new mission, expected to begin operations next week, will have no wider authority to strike at pirate vessels at sea or move against havens on shore. That raises questions whether it can significantly curb pirate flotillas after more than 110 ships were attacked last year…International efforts to fight piracy have mounted in recent months. More than 20 nations are expected to take part in the new U.S.-led mission…"This task force does not have any greater rules of engagement," said Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain.
The Jan. 11, 2009 AP report noted earlier also confirms this is woefully insufficient stating an international flotilla including U.S. warships has been patrolling the area….the area is too vast to keep all ships safe.
The good news with both the independent and separate U.N. resolution and U.S. Navy task force announcements is that the awareness factor has apparently reached a critical threshold and multi-national military assets are being assembled and deployed, yet still lacking significantly in many respects to ultimately solve and control the problem. A unique opportunity for SoS Clinton and Ambassador Rice to seize the moment to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.