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Naval Vessels Unable to Give Complete Protection from Somali Pirates

– Last month, before Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi oil tanker in the Arabian Sea, a magazine warned that just such an attack was likely to happen. The warning came from the magazine Fairplay, one of the publications of Jane's Information Group. Jane's is a leading authority on defense and the world's militaries.

Jim Wilson is the Middle East correspondent for Fairplay. From Dubai, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why the magazine warned of a Somali pirate attack far from their normal area of operation.

"Probably because we received information from our contacts and our sources and analysis, which led us to believe that this was the most logical course of operations and expansion for pirates. The pirates are businessmen. And like good capitalists the world over, they're taking their profits, reinvesting in their business and using it to expand their operations," he says.

Asked what it means for international naval anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, Wilson says, "It rather shows the difficulty of protecting shipping against pirates, especially protecting shipping against pirates using naval force. You have to remember in the area of responsibility for Coalition Taskforce 150…which runs all the way down to the Seychelles and up into the Red Sea, they've got something like 2.5 million square miles of water. That's a lot of water. And they don't have…many ships to protect it all.… It's not surprising that shipping is being attacked despite the very large numbers of warships being put down there."

To secure the area from pirates would be a massive and probably unrealistic undertaking.

"For a pirate to be deterred, he has to be able to see the warship. A pirate's eyesight level from the skiff, which they typically use to attack shipping, is about five miles. Now the front guns of a frigate will be about a 10-mile range. So that means to deter the pirate, and also to respond to the pirate attack, you need to have a warship somewhere in the five- to ten-mile range. Much further than that and they won't be able to respond to the attack in time. By that I mean the pirates will get on board the vessel before the ship can make an effective response," he says.

He estimates it would require stationing a warship every five to ten miles in the Gulf of Aden, bringing the number to anywhere between 50 and 75 ships. However, he says keep in mind that the Somali pirates hijacked the Saudi tanker in the Arabian Sea, 450 miles (over 700 kilometers) southeast of Mombasa, Kenya. That's much farther than any previous attacks. He says it's just "not possible" to fully protect such a huge area.

"The problem of piracy is a problem afloat. To solve the problem afloat you need to solve the problem ashore. The problem ashore is chaos, anarchy, lawlessness in Somalia," he says.

But finding a political solution for the Somali conflict has been difficult. Wilson says, "I never said it was an easy solution, but it is the solution." He says that attacking pirates at their bases raises the delicate issue of violating a country's sovereignty, even a country like Somalia with its interim government under attack from insurgents.