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

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

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

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs