News / Africa

Naval Patrols Reduce Somali Pirate Attacks, but Threat Continues


Joe DeCapua

International naval patrols against Somali pirates have made shipping lanes much safer.  But they’ve not been able to eliminate the threat altogether.  Naval experts look at what’s been done and what could be done to keep the pirates at bay.

Naval vessels from many countries now patrol the seas off Somalia and Kenya, protecting merchant and humanitarian ships.  Claude Berube, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, says generally they’ve done a good job.

“The short answer is yes, to a degree, and specifically to a geographic region,” he says.

Retired U.S. naval commander John Patch, an associate professor at the U.S. Army War College, agrees.  

“Success, yes, but in a very limited area.  And that is the transit scheme, a kind of traffic scheme they’ve set up, in the Gulf of Aden, where admittedly most of the most significant maritime traffic is going.  But it is in the large part only a small area,” he says.

Safer shipping lanes, so pirates seek booty elsewhere

Berube says the shipping traffic pattern is called the I.R.T.C, the International Recognized Transit Corridor.

“It’s very heavily patrolled by coalition and partner nations.  Consequently, the number of attacks have dropped precipitously.  And the number of successful attacks are down significantly as well,” he says.

Recent reports say Somali pirates have attacked more than 30 ships this year, with less than a third being seized.  Berube is currently co-authoring a book on private maritime security, dealing with responses to piracy, terrorism and other water-borne security risks.

He says since the Gulf of Aden is heavily patrolled, the pirates look for easy prey elsewhere.

“The first major shift was from the Gulf of Aden and the coastline of Somalia to a broader region off of Somalia and the Somali Basin, a couple of hundred miles.  The next phase was branching further out, several hundred miles out to sea in the Indian Ocean,” he says.

The Naval Academy professor adds, “There have been a number of attacks also in the Arabian Sea and some that have gone out as far as 1200 miles (1930 kilometers).”

Anti-piracy tactics

The pirates are willing to go great distances because piracy has become very big business, possibly in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  The pirates use mother ships to launch skiffs against merchant ships that are not protected by naval patrols.  As a result, maritime firms have taken counter measures.

“Some are looking at ships that can do greater than 15 knots.  Some are looking at ships with far higher transoms that make it far more difficult for pirates to approach them and to climb aboard.  Some have actually pursued armed riders,” says Berube.

One anti-piracy company uses a device that bombards approaching pirate vessels with powerful sound waves.  Also, when naval patrols seize a pirate mother ship, they usually sink it after taking the pirates on board.

The rule of law

Recently, a U.S. Navy ship fired on a pirate skiff after it was attacked. A pirate was killed.  And in another recent incident, a private security team member also shot and killed a pirate after a vessel was attacked.  So, why not simply blow pirate vessels out of the water every time?  Retired naval commander Patch says it’s not that simple.

“I think it comes down to rules of engagement.  If you don’t see the act actually being committed or you’re not actually fired on, our rules of engagement are pretty strict on when you can use deadly force,” he says.

And he says rules of engagement also make it a legal issue.

“No commanding officer of any ship wants a situation where he used force and then is told a week later that he shouldn’t have.  That he violated the rules and under international law maybe murder would be applied to that.  It’s a dangerous line to cross,” he says.
Professor Berube says use of deadly force is the last option for maritime operators.  And the recent killing of a Somali pirate by a private security guard won’t be forgotten.

“One told me quite frankly that if we fired, we failed.  The point is not to engage offensive against Somali pirates.  Their goal is to protect their client,” he says.

But legal questions are being raised.

“What we are going to see, though, is some sort of litigation in the future, we suspect, because this hasn’t been done before.  This was just the first case of a private guard killing a pirate.  Nothing was done in the courts, as we know.  But this is something to keep in mind in the future,” says Berube.

And attacking pirate bases in Somalia is not an easy option because Somalia is still considered a sovereign nation.

Different approach

Commander Patch believes he has come up with a proposal to deal with Somali pirates.  He outlines it in the Armed Forces Journal.

“The proposal is send the warships home.  And let’s get an international task force together of maritime police and put them inside Somali territorial waters under U.N. auspices, with a U.N. Security Council resolution giving them authority,” he says.

The maritime police would be a preventive measure, too.

“Smaller ships, closer in, to prevent the piracy problem from leaving Somali territorial waters.  Let’s let what is essentially maritime crime be treated by police forces, by law enforcement,” says Patch.

Professor Berube says another option might be to have private maritime security companies eventually take over the mission.

Both Berube and Patch say the U.S. and other nations must support Kenya and the Seychelles, which have agreed to detain and try captured pirates.  But Kenya says it may not be able to continue that mission, saying it’s low on resources.  Patch says anti-piracy efforts would suffer greatly if pirates are not able to be brought to trial.

“If we can’t do that we’ve lost a very significant link on handing the end stay for these pirates.  My guess is if Kenya says no, there’d better be another regional state or some kind of consortium put together to handle this or these folks are going to go free because of a lack of evidence or a lack of ability to handle them,” he says.

Patch says currently there’s no credible evidence linking piracy to terrorists in the region, adding the “prime motivation is money.”

Berube says many analysts propose the real solution to piracy would be a peaceful Somalia.  But he says that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.  

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs