The White House¬†unveiled a new policy to combat maritime piracy that¬†recommends¬†various diplomatic cooperative¬†strategies¬†and alludes to possible¬†military¬†action¬†to destroy¬†buccaneer bases, which the leading merchant marine organization and the world‚Äôs most-famous mariner applaud but also criticize.
The International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots is the oldest and most-prestigious professional maritime officers‚Äô union. Its best-known member is Captain Richard Phillips ‚Äì name sake of the Oscar-nominated high-seas piracy motion picture drama, starring actor Tom Hanks.
‚ÄúThe¬†June 2014¬†United States¬†Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan is the first initiative in¬†seven¬†years that¬†charts a new course for eliminating at-sea outlaws,‚Äù says MM&P‚Äôs Captain Phillips. ‚ÄúIt is time to zero-in on the pirates‚Äô nests and eradicate them.‚Äù
Captain Phillips was held hostage by Somali pirates after they hijacked the ship he commanded, the Maersk Alabama, while sailing the Indian Ocean in April 2009. He was held hostage in a life boat for five days until U.S. Navy Seal snipers killed his captors.
The new White House Plan highlights, ‚ÄúPirates require land-based support and access to weapons to commit acts of violence. Piracy at sea can only be reduced if pirate bases ashore are disrupted or dismantled. U.N. Security Council resolutions confer the authority to take all appropriate measures to end piracy, including operations in the littoral and land territory of Somalia. As such, the United States will work with other governments and international organizations to disrupt and dismantle pirate bases to the fullest extent permitted by U.S. and international law.‚Äù
Captain Phillips emphasizes, ‚ÄúThe¬†governments¬†of most of the countries where pirates operate neither¬†have the strong will¬†nor resources¬†to mount campaigns¬†against these criminals.¬†Therefore, the¬†onus is on the¬†world‚Äôs industrialized nations¬†to dedicate assets and attention to combat piracy as are afforded¬†to the war on terrorism.‚Äù
He asks the question, ‚ÄúWhat will it take to evoke the U.N. Security Council resolutions and finally, aggressively pursue pirates in domestic territorial waters and inland?‚Äù
MM&P Senior Advisor, Captain James Staples, one of the world‚Äôs foremost anti-piracy and ship security training experts, explains,‚ÄúPeople are being killed, kidnapped and tortured. Ships are being hijacked. Cargo is being stolen. International trade is being disrupted. The ramifications of piracy are deadly and costly.‚Äù
Captains Staples and Phillips are long-time friends, sea-faring colleagues and classmates at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. They both agree, ‚ÄúThe solution is surgical strikes on pirate bases.‚Äù
MM&P‚Äôs Chief of Staff, Captain Klaus Luhta, points-out, ‚ÄúUnlike the 2007 White House counter piracy policy, the Obama Administration‚Äôs new plan does not specify that piracy is a threat to America‚Äôs national security interests.‚Äù He continues, ‚ÄúWhen piracy is deemed a threat to national security interests that allows for immense presidential latitude, including military action.‚Äù
Captain Luhta is a seasoned deep ocean ship deck officer, U.S. delegate to the United Nations‚Äô International Maritime Organization and attorney specializing in mariner crimes, seamen‚Äôs rights and regulatory and legislative issues.
Counter Piracy & Maritime Security Action Plan
The¬†new White House¬†Plan specifies,¬†‚ÄúA¬†national strategy for maritime security¬†and a national¬†policy for the repression of piracy and other criminal acts of violence at sea,‚Äù¬†including¬†guidelines on deploying ¬†‚Äúall appropriate instruments of national power to repress piracy and related maritime crimes.‚Äù
While military action is plausible, the White House Plan places emphasis on less aggressive tactics.¬†They include criminal prosecutions, diplomacy, intelligence-sharing, ¬†international co-operation, joint military exercises,¬†law enforcement,¬†naval interceptions, strengthening local governments and other strategies.
The White House Plan describes well-funded, organized criminal networks operating in Nigeria and Somali and growing groups in Cameroon, Guinea, India, Indonesia,¬†Ivory Coast¬†and Malaysia.
The pirates are involved in drug trafficking, gun-running, hijackings, kidnapping, money-laundering,¬†murder, stabbings, shootings,and smuggling.¬†They attack with¬†automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.¬†They steal ocean-going vessels and use them as ‚Äúmother ships,‚Äù which serve as launch pads for smaller, faster boats able to outrun cargo ships and tankers.¬†They steal and unload cargo, mostly fuels, according to The White House.
It says¬†some¬†pirate¬†groups¬†have equipment capable of siphoning thousands of tons of fuel from hijacked tankers and they have their own ships to transport the stolen petroleum and an infrastructure to resell.
Present Day Piracy Pandemic: African-Atlantic, Asian-Pacific, Horn of Africa
‚ÄúNow is the time for the world to strike with a heavy fist¬†to¬†crush the pirates, if not, they will become stronger, better organized and more treacherous,‚Äù warns¬†Captain¬†Staples.
He is a 35 year veteran ship captain and president of Boston‚Äôs OceanRiver Maritime Consultancy. Staples teaches an array of counter-piracy, security and other strategic nautical courses at MM&P‚Äôs Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies in suburban Baltimore.¬†Captain Staples is a frequent guest interview on television news channels and major daily newspapers, worldwide.
‚ÄúSomalia¬†is the birthplace of 21st¬†Century piracy. Somali pirates mostly restrict their crimes to thievery, hijackings and crew kidnappings for ransom. They operate in the Horn of Africa region where it meets, the Indian Ocean and The Middle East,‚Äù says Captain Staples.
‚ÄúCaptain Phillips was held hostage for five days, other hostages have been held for years. Case in point, in June, 11 crew members of an Iranian tanker escaped from a piracy base after three years and seven months in captivity. The ship‚Äôs owner refuses to pay ransom. The men recited incidents of inhumane treatment,‚Äù says Captain Luhta.
Somali piracy continues but is down sharply since 2006,¬†as a result of increased naval, coast guard and private security patrols, according to The White House.
However, Somali pirates¬†still threaten shipping traffic, especially in the Gulf of Aden, where 12 percent of the world‚Äôs petroleum passes, according to¬†Captain¬†Luhta. He continues to explain, ‚ÄúThe Somali government is so unstable due to decades of civil war it is incapable and disinterested in combating piracy.‚Äù
The growing piracy threats are in the Gulf of Guinea in the African-Atlantic where Nigerian pirates are attacking ships, including U.S.-registered vessels and American mariners involved in off-shore oil exploration and refined fuels transportation, according to The White House.
‚ÄúNigerian¬†pirates¬†are notoriously violent. They have tortured, stabbed, shot and killed their hostages,‚Äù says Captain Staples. ‚ÄúWest African piracy stems from uprisings in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta.‚Äù
Whilst the Somalis are infamous for attacking large ships, such as the Maersk Alabama, the Nigerians target smaller vessels such as barges,¬†tugs¬†and¬†work boats, servicing off-shore oil platforms, according to MM&P.
The newest piracy hotspots are in the Malacca Straits between Malaysia and Singapore and in the Makassar Straits¬†between Indonesia and Malaysia. Piracy is¬†sky rocketing¬†in these areas, according to MM&P.
Last month alone, pirates in the region hijacked three ships, according to published news reports.
‚ÄúAsian-Pacific pirates are very coy,‚Äù says¬†Captain¬†Staples. ‚ÄúAs an example, last month, they hijacked a Greek-owned tanker for five days.¬†The pirates held the captain and crew captive while they sucked¬†the ship‚Äôs tanks¬†of fuel. Once emptied,¬†the men and their¬†vessel¬†were released¬†with enough diesel to sail back to port.¬†This¬†all¬†happened while the Malaysian Navy was¬†searching¬†for the missing ship.‚Äù
Unlike Africans, Asian pirates are more interested in stealing cargo opposed to kidnapping for ransom, which the United States discourages, as emphasized in The White House Plan. It explains ransoms fund criminal networks. Although, payments typically set mariners free.
International Piracy¬†Security Dilemma
‚ÄúAlthough the White House has established¬†a new¬†policy, the United Nations‚Äô International Maritime Organization must assume a leadership role that includes empowering private¬†armed¬†security patrol¬†vessels¬†to protect commercial ships in both international and domestic waters,‚Äù says¬†Captain¬†Staples. ‚ÄúSecurity escort ships are banned from most domestic shipping lanes. When they do drift into domestic waters, the crews have sometimes been arrested and jailed for weapons violations.‚Äù
As an example,¬†35 members of the U.S.-owned Seaman Guard Ohio patrol boat have been detained for seven months in India, cites Staples.
‚ÄúAs the White House Plan mentions, international naval flotillas cannot protect every vessel sailing in pirate-infested waters. Private security forces are essential,‚Äù¬†insists Captain Staples.
Past Presidential¬†Piracy Policies
In 2007, President George W. Bush, issued a memo entitled, ¬†‚ÄúPolicy for the Repression of Piracy and¬†other Criminal Acts of Violence at Sea.‚Äù
The Bush White House memo specifies, ‚ÄúPiracy threatens U.S. national security interests and the freedom and safety of maritime navigation throughout the world, undermines economic security, and contributes to the destabilization of weak or failed state governance.¬† The combination of illicit activity and violence at sea might also be associated with other maritime challenges, including illegal, unlawful, and unregulated fishing, international smuggling, and terrorism.‚Äù
In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson declared war on the North African Barbary Coast States of¬†Algiers,¬†Tripoli¬†and¬†Tunis. They were seizing American merchant ships and enslaving the crews for high ransoms. The Barbary War was the first¬†U.S. Navy attack¬†on¬†a foreign country¬†and invasion of a foreign country by U.S. Marines.
Piracy¬†Price Tag &¬†Statistics
In 2013, the sales of stolen cargo coupled with crew-kidnapping ransom payments to pirates is¬†conservatively¬†estimated at $30 billion annually, according to Captain Luhta. This does not include the costs of naval flotillas, private security patrols and others counter-piracy measures.
According to¬†The International Chamber of Commerce Commercial Crime Services Bureau, in¬†2014, so far, there have been upward of 107¬†recorded pirate attacks on merchant marine vessels around the globe.
In all of 2013, there were upward of 264 pirate attacks.¬†More than 300 people were taken hostage at sea last year and 21 were injured. Nearly all incidents involved with guns and knives. A total of 12 vessels were hijacked, 202 were boarded, 22 were fired upon and a further 28 reported attempted attacks.
The number of mariners killed by pirates varies, depending on sources. As few as one and as many as 30, including seamen from undeveloped countries and deep sea fishermen, whose boats were stolen by pirates, were killed in 2013, according to MM&P.
Pirate attacks jumped by a third off the coast of West Africa last year, increasing insurance costs for shipping firms and transport rates for their customers.
Pirate attacks in the Asian-Pacific increased by 300 percent.
Neptune Maritime Security:
From the tone of the article, you could be forgiven for picturing groups of surly pirates sitting around a fire at a beach side camp, testing the wind with wetted fingers as they wait for their quarry to approach.
The reality, of course, is very different.
Pirates are simply criminals who happen to go out on the water to commit crimes. The idea that these men are pirates first and foremost and are now transitioning in to land-based criminality is a little na√Øve. Land-based kidnap for ransom, gun running and drug smuggling have all been favourite activities for many of the serious players in the piracy ‚Äòbusiness‚Äô, and locating and attacking their bases has been tried in the past.
The Puntland Marine Police Force, possibly the most successful anti-piracy outfit of the last few years, did just that in 2012 when it attacked a base being used by Isse Yuluh, the pirate commander behind the last, big scale merchant hijacking, the MT Smyrni. During the attack, the PMPF destroyed several ‚Äòtechnicals‚Äô (pick up trucks with mounted machine guns) used by Yuluh and his militia. And ‚Äòmilitia‚Äô is a key word here. The issues surrounding clan affiliations, militia ties and so on go far beyond the concept of a simple ‚Äògang‚Äô of pirates.
Tackling the root causes of piracy in Somalia cannot be done by firing a few Hellfire missiles from a drone. Instead, the money would be better spent on building economic capacity and offering local youths jobs, opportunity and hope. However, that needs money and a stable, central government which is able to unite the country. And that would appear to be some time away.