http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/20/pirate ... bases.html
Security At Sea
Claude Berube, 04.20.09, 03:15 PM EDT
To stop the pirates, build a network of off-shore bases.
The most recent spate of piracy has established three irrefutable principles.
First, that piracy occurs because it has a largely lawless land from which to operate. Second, that while the number of attacks has been small relative to the number of transits, shipping companies as well as their ships and crews face significant consequences if they are taken. Third, that coalition naval forces, while extremely efficient in carrying out their mission, still have too few assets to adequately patrol the western Indian Ocean.
Any long-term solution for the Somali pirate problem must address each of these premises in order to ensure consistent seaborne stability. And under the current conditions, a public-private collaborative enterprise might be the answer.
Private industry has already played some role in fending off attackers. Both non-lethal and armed security personnel have been hired to protect some ships--but both options have shortcomings.
In the case of the former, one firm simply stopped its service when it appeared the Somali pirates were becoming too violent; in the latter, some shipping companies are concerned about increased insurance rates for having armed security on board, the potential for the escalation of force and endangerment, or the simple arms restrictions imposed to varying degrees by different ports and nations.
The private military company Xe (formerly Blackwater) has offered its ship as an escort--which includes armed security, small boats and air platforms--but to date it hasn't had any customers in the region. Ships have also tried setting up deterrent devices on board; however these are not ideal when dealing with pirates who have proved to be highly adaptive in their approach.
Coalition naval forces based at nearby stations have performed extremely well, but again the territory has proved too large for the number of available dedicated platforms--even when assets are specifically directed to convoy freighters and tankers.
Should the shipping industry find that its regional operational cost or ransom payments are exceeding some pre-determined threshold, it may want to pursue a different, longer-term option.
During the Battle of the Atlantic, U-Boat attacks targeted ships, which were often lost despite the presence of Allied ships and the use of convoys. One of the moves that abated the U-Boat threat was an increased use of airborne anti-submarine warfare planes. For the first few years, when patrol aircraft were land-based, U-Boats were able to attack in the black spots between various coverage areas. As the war progressed, though, aircraft acquired longer range--and, more important, convoys had their own air patrols on escort carriers, which essentially eliminated the black spots.
If the shipping industry applied this strategy to today's piracy threat, it could establish a series of interlocking security outposts in the Gulf of Aden as well as along the coastlines of Somalia and, farther south, Kenya.
Building bases in the sea is not new. In the 1990s, for example, the Pentagon considered using large mobile offshore bases that were capable of logistics or operational support.
The shipping industry could explore this option, setting up modified oil rigs at specific points along sea lanes, where manned or unmanned aerial surveillance platforms or small, private-security, high-speed patrol and intercept craft could be based. These outposts could be responsible for surveillance duties, steering local freighters or tankers away from potential threats and cooperating with coalition naval forces.
If oil rigs don't prove fiscally feasible, then another option might already be available--through one of the companies that has first-hand experience with piracy. Maersk Line Limited, whose ship the Maersk Alabama has been one of the 2009 targets, has proposed to the Department of Defense that S-class container ships be used as afloat forward-staging bases. Such assets could provide stability needed for legitimate commerce in that region.
Just as important is deterring illegal fishing in the area, which is part of the reason Somali fishermen turn toward criminal piracy. Ideally, a secure and economically viable fishing region would provide more stability ashore--and, as a result, at sea--by destabilizing the criminal rings themselves.
Today black spots or shadow zones around Somalia only benefit criminals. But well-lit watchtowers, in the form of maritime security outposts, can help change that.
Claude Berube teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy and has written several articles on maritime security. The views expressed are his alone.