There are no parrots or feathered hats in Lieutenant Commander Wayne Andrew’s description of pirates.
The Royal New Zealand Navy principal warfare officer for above-water warfare spoke to Massey University students and the public as part of a lecture series from real-world defence force operatives for the Centre for Defence and Security Studies 200-level course, Irregular Warfare.
Previously deployed operationally as executive officer of HMNZS Te Kaha, Lieutenant Commander Andrew has just finished giving orders to send the HMNZS Te Mana on its next counter-piracy deployment in the Gulf of Aden, in the strait between Yemen and Somalia.
The ship was deployed in August, and will start a three-month counter-piracy operation in November.
In his lecture, Lieutenant Commander Andrew spoke about the difficulties of counter-piracy operations, and the complexities of the situations they faced.
Territorial claims, for example, have a huge impact on the ability of other nations to get involved – if it doesn’t fall within national law, it’s considered piracy. If it does, it’s armed robbery against ships.
Since the start of the year, there had been four attempted piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden, a huge reduction from the 186 of 2010.
In comparison, attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, the most active area for piracy this year, were at 70, up on 2010, but fewer than last year, he said.
Contributing to that result were coalition forces concentrating their efforts on the Gulf of Aden, and more merchant ships employing their own self-protection measures – from lethal to non-lethal, when travelling though that area.
But, with fewer attacks, more ships were “sneaking around the corner” near the Somali coast, bringing them into range of pirates using small boats, he said.
Piracy in the area arose after the fall of the Somali government in the early 1990s, and since then has been contributing to unrest within the country.
The pirates themselves were illiterate or semi-illiterate youths, predominantly addicted to methcathinone (khat) which causes severe weight loss, insomnia, dehydration, paranoia and hallucinations.
“As a boarding officer, my worst nightmare [was] going on board a ship where you face a bunch of drugged-up pirates who haven’t had anything to eat for a while, looking for money and who don’t care who they kill to achieve their task.”
Former fishermen, coastguards and even policemen took up piracy after losing their jobs.
While the pirates’ range was initially limited by the use of small skiffs, they were now using large commercial ships as “motherships”, towing skiffs, increasing their range exponentially, he said.
Typically it took about 15 minutes to hijack a ship, with pirates carrying AK47s and boarding with a makeshift ladder. When the ship was under their control, it was taken to a pirate anchorage where hostage negotiations began.
Hostages were poorly treated and many died in captivity.
“Over the next 16 months, the New Zealand Defence Force will make a sizeable contribution to the Combined Maritime Force,” he said. “In fact, the amount of people deployed to counter-piracy activity will be higher than what we had in Afghanistan at its peak.”
With indications that Somalia was becoming more stable and reported piracy rates dropping, there was some question as to whether counter-piracy operations needed to continue, he said.
“That’s going to be a really interesting debate to watch over the next 12 to 18 months.”
Lieutenant Commander Andrew was the third member of the Defence Force to take part in the lecture series. Next month, Dr Reuben Steff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will speak on the political impacts and implications of irregular warfare.