Skull & Bones: Behind the Piracy Decline


Categorie: Africa, Axe on Donald Cook, David Axe, Naval, Piracy |

A year after Somali piracy peaked with more than 100 ships attacked, the world’s navies have assembled dozens of warships to combat the threat. David Axe joins the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook in Djibouti, to observe firsthand this “global war on piracy.”



In three months there’s been just one successful pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden. The same time last year, there were 17. Piracy off the Somali coast is apparently on the decline, big-time.

Commodore Steve Chick, the senior officer for the five-ship NATO counter-piracy task force, has a theory. He says the decline is a combination of three factors. First off, “merchant ships are taking better self-protection measures.” Chick recalls flying in his Lynx helicopter along the security lane through which vessels are encouraged to sail. Looking down, he saw ships with fire hoses at the ready and barbed-wire on their rails.

Also, the “military are doing better,” Chick adds. In Somali waters there are 20 warships belonging to three international flotillas — NATO’s, the E.U.’s and the American-led Combined Task Force 151 — plus another 20 ships from Russia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Iran. All the forces, expect Iran, send reps to a monthly meeting in Bahrain to dole out patrol areas. The three flotillas take turns as chair of the assembled fleet, with veto power during any dispute over who sails where. So far, Chick says, there haven’t been any arguments. Officers on USS Donald Cook, part of the NATO force, describe sitting in the destroyer’s Combat Information Center listening to sailors from a dozen nations checking in.

Finally, something is giving in Somalia. Piracy has its roots in lawlessness on land. Where law takes hold, pirates can’t. The governments of three Somali nations — the Republic of Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland — have all stood up new naval forces, with help from the U.S., NATO and the U.N. While these forces have few boats, they don’t necessarily need them, Chick says. Rather, they should focus on beachfront security. As governments crack down, “piracy is becoming less socially acceptable” in Somalia, Chick says.

“Let’s not under-estimate pirates,” Chick cautions. They might adapt, and strike back. But with extensive international infrastructure now in place to address the threat, the world is well-positioned to keep up with any new piracy methods. “What we have here is a template,” Chick says.

(Photo: David Axe)

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7 Responses to “Skull & Bones: Behind the Piracy Decline”

  1. [...] War is Boring has a first-hand report: ‘David Axe joins the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook in Djibouti, to observe firsthand this “global war on piracy.”’ with this post: “Skull & Bones: Behind the Piracy Decline“. [...]

  2. [...] Across the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, merchant crews are adopting increasingly effective defenses measures. Commodore Steve Chick, senior officer of a five-ship NATO counter-piracy task force patrolling the Gulf of Aden, recalls flying across the Gulf of Aden in his Lynx helicopter to survey ships’ defenses. He saw ships with barbed wire on their railings, with access ladders cut or raised, and with fire hoses primed to shoot down any boarders. These tricks, combined with improved security on land and the presence of some 40 warships in East Africa waters, have turned the tide in the “global war on piracy.” Between July and September last year, there were 17 hijackings. This year in the same period, there was just one. [...]

  3. [...] Behind the Piracy Decline. [...]

  4. [...] International efforts have been touted as making the difference in this “deadly” fight. In the area’s more than 1 million square miles of water, 15 to 20 warships from the U.S., NATO and the E.U. patrol the region at any one time. (Four or so vessels are U.S. Navy.) Another 20 ships have come on station courtesy of Russia, China, India, Japan, South Korea— and get this— Iran. That tops out at 40 vessels on a good day. [...]

  5. [...] I asked Commodore Steve Chick, the British head of the NATO counter-piracy flotilla, what he looked for in warships under his command. “The capabilities I want are a helicopter, a boat and a boarding party.” [...]

  6. [...] The result, a year into this “global war on piracy,” is that successful hijackings are way down. In the three months ending in September 2008, there were 17 hijackings in East African waters. In the same period this year, there was just one. The decline of piracy “is a fact,” according to Steve Chick, the Royal Navy commodore of a five-ship NATO flotilla patrolling east of Djibouti under Operation Ocean Shield. World Politics Review spoke to Chick during a four-day embarkment this month on the USS Donald Cook, a U.S. destroyer assigned to NATO. [...]

  7. [...] “Ship of interest off the port side,” the voice intoned over the ship’s PA system. It was near dusk on September 24th on the Gulf of Aden. The destroyer USS Donald Cook was zigzagging inside a patrol box assigned by NATO, trawling for Somali pirates. [...]

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