by DAVID AXE
After a year of rapid growth, the international naval force assembled to combat Somali piracy has stabilized at what will probably be its permanent level. There are around 20 vessels and a handful of land-based aircraft from some dozen navies, organized into three major flotillas plus independent patrols. The U.S.-led Task Force 151, NATO’s Maritime Group 2 and the European Union’s Operation Atalanta represent the bulk of the forces, with India, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Iran sailing alone.
This diverse force coordinates its efforts through an ad-hoc “deconfliction board” that makes sure ships’ patrol areas aren’t overlapping. “We try to avoid the little-kid-soccer syndrome, where there’s one skiff and all the nations go after this one ‘ball,’” said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Scott Sanders, from U.S. Central Command. “We stay spread out.”
Sanders described a recent operation against a pirate skiff, to illustrate the results of this teamwork. “We had a Japanese P-3 [patrol plane]. It detects something. At that point, the Republic of Korea navy launches a helicopter for support. At the same time, we have a German and a Greek warship that [each launch] helicopters. We end up getting a Norwegian fast craft. It finds the skiff and boards it, and find weapons. That’s two task forces, plus two independent nations.
There have been fewer major pirate hijacking this fall, compared to last. Should we attribute this to more effective military patrols? Yes and no, said Royal Navy Capt. Keith Blount. “I think the success were seeing out here is for a number of reasons. … The military aspects are working better together than they ever were.” But the commercial shipping industry’s internal reforms might be the biggest factor, Blount said:
They’ve been very robust in the countermeasures they’re using: not letting pirates on board, maneuvering the ship very hard, repelling boarders with fire hoses, putting razor wire at access points, locking the doors at the superstructure area. That very well may deter pirates and they just pull away. If the pirates are being particularly persistent, it buys time for military units to get there. Because of the larger number of military units, we can get there pretty quickly now. Put those things together and put in the powerful cooperative aspect, and the number of successful pirate attacks is driven down.
I’ll be joining the NATO counter-piracy force next week. You can support my coverage with a donation.
(Photo: U.S. Navy)
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