Somalia: New Navy Task Force Takes Aim At Pirates
Jacquelyn S. Porth
23 January 2009
Washington DC — A new multinational naval task force is patrolling the waters off the coast of Africa to scare off pirates who have been regularly attacking commercial shipping vessels laden with oil, fertilizer and iron ore.
For now, Combined Task Force 151 comprises three U.S. ships, but other nations, including the United Kingdom, are expected to join the effort that is focused on the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. In the meantime, naval forces from nearly two dozen nations are patrolling in the same waters -- in some cases bilaterally -- and are often providing escort to merchant vessels bearing their national flags.
Various navies that are already sailing in the region as a deterrent to pirates are expected to seek a mandate from their governments to join the task force under U.S. command. The USS San Antonio is the flagship for the operation, which includes a helicopter squadron, surgeons and U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement boarding teams specializing in maritime law, ship-borne searches and evidence collection.
The commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet -- headquartered in Bahrain -- says piracy is an international problem requiring an international solution. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said CTF-151 "is a significant step in the right direction" to deter and disrupt pirates and eventually bring them to justice. At last count, pirates were holding nearly a dozen ships and more than 200 hostages.
At a January 15 briefing for reporters in the Pentagon, Gortney said the plan is to go after the pirates aggressively through a combination of surveillance and rapid response while still adhering to rules of evidence.
Gortney said a three-pronged approach is under way. The first prong involves recruiting additional navies to the region to work the counter-piracy mission.
U.S. Rear Admiral Terence McKnight is in charge of the naval task force, which became fully operational in January. "We are out there in force," he said, working with coalition navies "to ensure commerce flows freely."
The second prong calls on the shipping industry to share their best piracy-deterrent practices. Merchant ship captains have stepped up efforts to elude pirates by taking evasive maneuvers, lining their boats with barbed wire, deploying foam and even locking crews in the bridge out of reach of the attackers.
Pirates are in business for the money earned by holding the crews and ships for millions of dollars in ransom; they are not interested in the cargo.
HOLDING PIRATES ACCOUNTABLE
The last prong will entail holding pirates accountable for their crimes. As Gortney put it: "We are going to go after the pirates . . . to make it unpleasant" for them to carry out their criminal activities.
If task force members inspect "fishing" boats loaded with pirate equipment such as rifles, grenade launchers, grappling hooks and boarding ladders, they seize the equipment, document it and then pitch it overboard.
The task force is coordinating with and sharing experiences with the Atalanta maritime force dispatched to the region by the European Union in December. Atalanta, with six ships under British command, has been escorting ships leased by the World Food Progamme to deliver relief aid to Somalia.
Gortney said the task force has been exchanging unclassified e-mails with the Chinese Navy about schedules and plans. Communications with Russian naval forces is by radio transmission. Both navies are primarily escorting their own national flag vessels.
Gortney said having the Russians and Chinese participating is a positive sign. "We look forward to their continued participation," he added.
The next step will involve the creation of a justice system in the region to prosecute captured pirates. Punishing pirates for attacking merchant ships will act as a deterrent to new recruits. Gortney said there must be serious deterrents for individuals contemplating careers as pirates.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1851, passed in December, calls on nations and regional organizations fighting pirates to establish special agreements with countries that are willing to prosecute them.
The international Contact Group on Piracy met for the first time in January, pulling together 24 nations as well as the International Maritime Organization to talk about the problem of piracy. The group is scheduled to meet again in March.
http://hamptonroads.com/2009/01/faced-r ... ght-africa
Faced with rising piracy problem, Navy is taking fight to Africa
By Louis Hansen
January 23, 2009
In just two weeks, a new U.S. Navy anti-piracy effort has picked up a pair of allies - the weather and a nation willing to accept captured pirates.
Choppy seas have discouraged piracy attempts since the Navy established the force, known as Combined Task Force 151, two weeks ago. The U.S. also has reached a preliminary agreement with Kenya to accept captured pirates, said Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, commander of the task force.
The Navy established the task force as piracy attempts in the Gulf of Aden continued to grow and Chinese and Russian navy ships moved to guard merchant vessels.
The U.S. task force is coordinating efforts with 14 nations, said McKnight, a Norfolk native in charge of both the force and Norfolk-based Expeditionary Strike Group Two. The navies have established a corridor along the Gulf of Aden to make it easier to protect merchant ships, he said.
Piracy attacks rose at an unprecedented rate in 2008, according to an annual report issued last week by the International Maritime Bureau. Reported incidents grew 11 percent, to 263 worldwide.
More than one-third of the attacks occurred in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia. The incidents peaked with 19 attacks in September, including the high-profile seizure of a Ukrainian freighter ship carrying weapons. That ship is still being held by pirates waiting for their ransom demands to be met.
The Navy's new task force is operating with the amphibious ship San Antonio and destroyer Mahan, both based at Norfolk Naval Station.
On Monday, the San Antonio's crew discovered artillery shells aboard an Iranian charter boat in the Red Sea, according to CBS News, raising concerns about the intended recipient of the munitions. Navy officials requested assistance from Egypt to perform another search of the ship, according to reports from CBS and The Associated Press.
A Navy spokesman declined to comment on the report.
The anti-piracy operation is being coordinated from the San Antonio, which is making its maiden voyage. The ship spent a month in the shipyard in Bahrain to fix oil leaks shortly into its deployment.
McKnight said the ship's communications systems, helicopter air wing and Marines make it an ideal ship to command anti-piracy operations. The ship also includes a Coast Guard law enforcement unit and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent to collect and preserve evidence to be used against suspected pirates.
"It's really a law enforcement operation," he said.
McKnight has been meeting with European navy officers to coordinate efforts. Kenyan assistance will be important, he added.
Captured pirates have often been released back to their native Somalia, where they face no punishment because the government has collapsed, he said. Kenya has agreed to a framework for holding suspects, and lawyers are working on the details.
The international cooperation has come about through common goals, he said. "We want free commerce throughout the world."