Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Piracy: Dateline Somalia

The hijacking of the United State flagged vessel Maersk Alabama and the retaking of the ship by the crew is the gist of the lore of the sea. It is none too ironic that a ship named for a state who's motto is We Dare Defend Our Rights would not let a few pirates hold them for long. The blogs have been covering this breaking story better than the MSM and with faster spins and analysis. For a rundown of the latest I am linking a few sites that offer the best analysis to date.

Leading off are these two posts from the United States Naval Institute Blog and posted by Galrahn and his colleague Eagle1.

I understand that piracy is not a serious strategic threat to the United States. I also observe the tactics of Somali pirates and observe a 21st century commerce raiding model that should have naval leaders globally very concerned. Something does not have to be a strategic threat to represent a very serious issue the Navy needs to be seriously engaged in.
Just in case someone might be wondering to what degree piracy should be a priority for the United States, and for what purpose we might have a Navy at all, a brief review of the United States Constitution may apply.

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And Eagle1 write this post which he cross-posted at his site and details a way to beat the pirates without bringing the Marines to kick in the door of Somalia in a massive forced entry.

It’s been noted here (see here) and other places that the Somalia pirates have shifted some of their operations to a sea lane about 400 - 500 nautical miles off the east coast of Somalia. They are able to find ships in that area because despite the vast size of the Indian Ocean, most ships follow time tested routes that save time and fuel and carry them to ports. These routes are logical and well known.Take a look at the nearby maps. At the top is an older map (Map 1) showing the dhow routes that have been sailed since ancient times. There’s a pattern to the flow of dhows. ***
Eagle1 concludes.

Now, I know very well that what I said before about time and money are negative motivators for merchant ships to wait for convoys to be formed. And, after all, the odds of being nabbed by pirates are pretty slim. However, there are some risk adverse ship owners who will accept the convoys, especially if their insurance carrier will lower premiums for convoy participants.
I said it before and I’ll say it again - given a chance -
convoys work.
And, if you aren’t going to invade Somalia to take out pirate havens, you don’t really have a lot of other options.

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The master and commander of Information Dissemination the intrepid Galrahn writes this analysis of the conditions, tactics and strategy of combating piracy off Somalia.

Understanding Somali Maritime Conditions
Somali pirates are criminals, not victims. There is a tendency in western society to suggest Somali pirates are victims of conditions of Somalia. Lets be clear, Somali pirates contribute to the conditions in Somalia as much as anyone. Somalia is starving, the maritime region between Somalia and Yemen is currently where the largest maritime migration of smuggled people occurs in the world as people flee conditions in Somalia. The United Nations has a refugee program along the southern coast of Yemen that deals with around 20,000 Somali migrants annually. Thousands more are thought to die annually in that maritime journey, and the smugglers who are engaged in the human trafficking of that area are from the same communities as the pirates.

Tactical Issues
The news folks are talking a lot about motherships, but there is context. Somali fisherman usually tow 3-4 skiffs behind a larger fishing vessel well out to sea, then the fisherman will use the skiffs to fish larger areas of the sea in coordination with the mothership for large catches. The fishing off Somalia helps feeds large numbers of people in the Somalia coastal communities, and for that reason the WFP is delivering food in more urban areas and into land, not along the coastal communities that are able to leverage the Indian Ocean for food.

Policy, Strategy,Technology, and Creativity
There have been zero hostage rescue operations conducted against a ship being held for ransom by pirates. Ransoms to pirates in just the last year have topped $150 million. Counting ransoms, additional operations costs, maritime insurance premiums, labor union requirements for hazard pay in the region, and costs for additional security measures the total cost to the maritime industry in the region over the last year is estimated to be between $500 million $750 million. The total cost of US Navy operations in the region over the same period could be estimated to be around $250 million for piracy alone, so when one adds the costs of naval vessels from China, India, Russia, UK, France, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Spain, and Saudi Arabia (plus whoever I forgot) the costs of maritime security are clearly very high, probably higher than the costs of piracy itself.

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The cost of keeping the ships of a dozen nations patrolling an area the size of the State of Texas in an effort to stop pirates that seem to be as allusive as if they were hiding deep in a tropical jungle. The best efforts have only resulted in two uninvolved fishing boats being sunk and a few pirates captured and released or handed over to Kenya for trial at some later date. After reading the above posts I find Galrahn's comments about the U.S. Navy and I would add all the navies of the world lacking in tactical surface situations since 1945.

Galrahn's comments are direct and honest.

I think the inability of the US Navy to do anything about the small stuff like piracy is embarrassing. I think the unwillingness to do it is troubling. Finally, I think the reasons are fairly easy to explain. The number of days the Surface Warfare Community of the United States Navy has actually been engaged in combat since 1945 is less than the number of leap years since 1945. I think it is both telling and incredible that ZERO surface warfare officers have published under a real name an alternative to the much maligned 313-ship fleet produced in 2005. This suggests to me that the surface warfare community, as a whole, has been silenced into becoming an echo chamber absent creativity or constructive friction. It is clear to me that today's US Navy leadership promotes and fosters a culture that is prohibitive to new and alternative strategic ideas.

That is probably a really bad thing for one of the two elements of the entire joint military force of the United States defense establishment that hasn't faced a realistic strategic challenge since 1945. One would think under those conditions, the SWO community would be the most conscience towards insuring they are promoting creative thinking and alternative viewpoints.

In defense, the U.S. Navy did have similar experience in operation Market Time during the Vietnam War. In that war we engaged with brown and green water patrol vessels to interdict arms shipments and support coastal operations with small patrol vessels capable of speed and firepower. But most of those who cut their teeth on this kind of service have long passed into the ranks of the also served or as for one chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee. Now This Could Be a Fascinating Conversation, also courtesy of Galrahn.
Expanding on issues and ideas raised in earlier posts and by your host above, Galrahn weighs in with this update.
The current approach taken by the worlds Navy's, due primarily to a highly restrictive Rules of Engagement driven by a law enforcement political policy, has been to use limited available naval resources to consolidate the area to protect as a safe shipping lane and utilize convoy systems when available. This is an effective approach with limited resources, but the problem with this approach is that it doesn't change the security conditions, so the strategy does not have a real goal or achievement to work towards. Understanding the ultimate solution is solved on land, it is also important for the Navy to recognize that long term maritime security means there is work that needs to also be done at sea. The Navy needs to be prepared to discuss options.
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----- Jennifer ----- said...

your blog is very nice

Shipping News said...

Prosecutors demanded prison sentences ranging from seven to ten years for five Somalis facing charges of piracy at the District Court in Rotterdam.Ship Vetting