As modern day Pirates wreak havoc in the worlds most commerce critical sea-lanes, US and coalition military forces have responded with a marked increase in the tempo of their operations. Based out of the maritime coalition headquarters in Bahrain along with the US 5th Fleet (US Naval Forces Central Command) The Combined Maritime Force (CMF) – a coalition of naval assets from more than 20 nations patrols more than 2.5 million square miles of ocean. The CMF area of operations encompasses the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the sea area inclusive of a grid that runs due east from Kenya and Tanzania (including the Seychelles Islands) to a line running due south from the border of Pakistan & India.
Within this area of operations lie three of the world’s most strategic waterway passages; the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez canal, and the Babel-Mandeb, along with the overwhelming majority of the worlds known oil reserves and approximately 20% of the natural gas resources. More than 10,000 ships of all variety operate daily within this sea area carrying millions of tons of raw and finished goods.
Attacks On The Rise In African Waters
In an alarming development, organized pirate groups have become more brazen and violent in their disruption of maritime traffic in the region. African coastlines have surpassed Asian shipping lanes as the most dangerous in the world. In fact, aggressive pirate attacks along the African coast have increased while attacks have declined in Asian shipping straits such as Indonesia, which has statistically been the most troublesome for the past decade. African waters account for 56% of all pirate attacks, jumping from 27 attacks in the first half of 2005 to 64 attacks since January 2008. And the attacks are often more violent than in Asia. Since January 2008, pirates near Somalia, the Gulf of Aden, Nigeria and Tanzania have taken more than 172 hostages.
African coastlines have surpassed Asian shipping lanes as the most dangerous in the world.
FIGURE 2. (Click Map to enlarge in New Window)
Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia are depicted in the map at Figure 2 above.
Black – Hijacked
Red – Attempted Hijacking
Yellow – Suspicious Approach
Red Circle – Military Intervention
Red Diamond – Refugee Boat Event
Green – Pirates captured
Prepare to be Boarded
Large cargo ships, cruise liners, tugboats and their barges all present desirable targets to pirates. Somali pirates, often armed with knives, automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades routinely hijack ships and hold the crews for ransom. Armed pirates who demanded a ransom attacked the Lourdes Tides, a supply vessel working for an undisclosed US company in Nigeria on May 13th. The ship and eleven-man crew were released on June 16th. The French yacht Le Ponant was attacked by Somali Pirates in April invoking a military rescue by the French Naval Vessel Le Commandant Bousan that responded to an open VHF radio distress call. The frequency of attacks has become so severe that the U.N.’s World Food Program has requested military naval escort to allow safe transit of its ships carrying 32,000 tons of food each month to Somalia, where civil war and drought have worsened the humanitarian crisis. To avoid the possibility of attack, ships often alter their course by hundreds of miles and consume more than a days fuel – the costs are “enormous”.
|Attack||Objective||Hostage seizure||Obtain ransom money||Cargo seizure||Consumption or re-sale||Narcotics seizure||Drug trafficking||Humanitarian Aid Interception||Consumption or re-sale||Robbery||Theft of personal property from cruise ship passengers||Vessel seizure||Increase force capability, oil & narcotics transportation||Human trafficking||Slavery, drug mules, prostitution or re-sale||Human trafficking||Harvesting of internal organ for re-sale|
Modern Pirate events include a wide range of attacks and intents as in the table above. Organized pirate groups are increasingly willing to take large risks in the face of growing coalition naval force anti-piracy mission capability.
The Economic Impact of Piracy
As hijackings and hostage taking are increasing off the coasts of Somalia in the east and Nigeria in the west; the impact is being felt in the global economy. According to security analysts, armed attacks on cargo ships, oil tankers, and cruise ships have already affected US commerce at a cost in excess of $1 billion so far this year. Piracy is also causing shipping companies to curtail shipments of oil, commodities and finished goods as they become more reluctant to risk ships, cargoes and crews. If the situation worsens, it could have major implications to world energy supplies and economic globalization.
“All Necessary Means”
Urged by the US and passed on June 2nd, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution allowing US and coalition allies to intervene by “all necessary means” to halt piracy off the Somali coast. The US and its allies have stepped up patrols to deter them with a highly visible presence. Maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets have also increased intelligence sharing in the region according to a Navy spokesperson for the 5th Fleet in Bahrain.
The US Navy, under the direction of Vice Admiral William Gortney (Commander, US Fifth Fleet & Commander US Naval Forces Central Command) is executing a significant effort to help regional countries to develop their own capabilities for having a dissuasive effect on the regions piracy. The US military has donated equipment, coordinated joint training exercises and encouraged Indonesia to increase cooperation with maritime neighbors Singapore and Malaysia to gain control of the Strait of Malacca, a crucial waterway for cruise ships, cargo and oil shipments to South East Asia. To support the effort, US military planners have increased the Indonesian Coast Guards capability with 15 high-speed patrol craft and seven radar units. Additionally, surveillance of territorial waters has improved with increased air patrol sorties from Malaysia.
CENTCOM – CMF ANTI-PIRACY NAVAL OPERATIONS PHOTO ESSAY
GULF OF ADEN – Merchant vessel Golden Nori transits under the escort of the dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) following its release from Somalia-based pirates Dec. 12. Pirates seized the Panamanian-flagged vessel Oct. 28 and held the 23-man crew hostage in Somali territorial waters. The release marks the first time in more than a year that no ships are held by Somali pirates. Whidbey Island is deployed to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations. U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Joe Donahue (RELEASED).
INDIAN OCEAN – Members of a U.S. Navy rescue and assistance team provide humanitarian and medical assistance to the crew of the Taiwanese-flagged fishing trawler Ching Fong Hwa. The vessel had been seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia in early May 2007 and was released Nov. 5, 2007 with U.S. Navy assistance. U.S. Navy photo (RELEASED).
INDIAN OCEAN – Rocket propelled grenades (RPG’s) and other armaments lay on the deck of USS Cape St. George (CG 71) after being confiscated during an early-morning engagement with suspected pirates. Cape St. George and USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) were fired upon while preparing to board a suspect vessel operating in international waters off the coast of Somalia. One suspect was killed and 12 were taken into custody. Coalition forces conduct maritime security operations to ensure security and safety in international waters so legitimate mariners can operate freely while transiting the region. U.S. Navy photo (RELEASED).
PERSIAN GULF (May 9, 2008) Members of the helicopter visit, board, search and seizure team of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) perform a helicopter rope suspension maneuver out of an MH-60 Seahawk helicopter over the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4) during a training exercise. Both Nassau and Lincoln are deployed supporting maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Coleman Thompson (RELEASED).
PERSIAN GULF (May 11, 2008) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Kestrels” of Strike Fighter Squadron 137 launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Lincoln is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility to support maritime security operations. U.S Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans (RELEASED).
GULF OF ADEN (Apr 3, 2008) The visit, board, search, and seizure team members assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) render assistance to a stranded fishing vessel. Bulkeley is one of six vessels assigned to the Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Wyscaver (RELEASED).
Increased Sea Area Control
In spite of some success, patrol and surveillance assets of the indigenous naval forces in the region remain wholly inadequate. For example, the Pakistani navy recently announced it has embarked on a worldwide search for between four and eight second-hand frigates to bridge a surface fleet capability gap. The ship procurements are “a matter of priority” according to Admiral Muhammad Afzal Tahir, Chief of Naval Staff. So far the effort has been unsuccessful when Elli-class frigates from Greece and Wielingen class frigates from Belgium were instead transferred to Bulgaria.
A notable exception is the successful acquisition of fast patrol craft by Oman from ship building specialist Austal. Powered by two MTU 16-cylinder 2000 M92-series diesel engines driving a Kamewa waterjet, the 30 meter long craft operates at a maximum speed of 40 kt and a range of 1000 nautical miles. Due to its relatively shallow draft of only 1.5 meters, the patrol craft is ideal for littoral and riverine missions.
As naval planners seek to improve the anti-piracy mission capability of their maritime assets, a sweeping re-evaluation of tactics and armaments is taking shape. In particular, planners have begun to focus on an increased need for smaller caliber armament such as 7.62 mm machine guns and non-lethal water cannons in addition to small caliber and remotely operated guns as in the Oto Melara 76/62 compact gun.
The increased use of maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and ship borne helicopters has led to improved detection, location, tracking and classification of suspected sea surface objects. Usually operating in the 8-10 GHz X-Band or NATO I-Band frequency spectrum, these aircraft deliver critical area-wide situational awareness and long-range surveillance intelligence through a broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) concept. Improvement in aircraft radars have increased detection in high sea states and enabled more sophisticated pulse-compression signal processing techniques as in the current crop of traveling wave tube (TWT) radars, now replacing the more conventional magnetron-type power generators. Newer coherent synthetic aperture radars (SAR) and inverse synthetic aperture radars (ISAR) promise to deliver higher performance and reliability.
Advances in surface vessel identification will also begin to re-shape the mission profile of maritime surveillance.
Advances in surface vessel identification will also begin to re-shape the mission profile of maritime surveillance. The emerging Automatic Identification System (AIS) will compliment the existing surface track identification standard, and will broadcast a ships position, course and speed along with information about its name, call-sign, dimensions ship type and destination over two channels in the maritime VHF band. AIS will soon become required for all commercial vessels exceeding 300 gross tons – any vessel tracked on radar that does not emit AIS data will call attention on itself.
In a region that is rife with an array of instability, from piracy to terrorism to the threat of nuclear and missile strikes, the presence of coalition forces and the increased pace of technology provides hope that the maritime environment of South West Asia will once again become a safer place for mariners with legitimate business.
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