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Somali Pirates Defeat Warships
by James Dunnigan
October 18, 2008

Discussion Board on this DLS topic

The U.S. naval officers leading the anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden has warned shipping companies to take additional precautions, because the fifteen warships in the Gulf cannot possibly protect all the merchant ships passing through the area.

The key problem is that no one wants to go ashore and take on the Somali warlords responsible for the surge in piracy. No wonder, as the natural state of Somalia, over the last few centuries, has been violent anarchy. This would be bloody, mainly for the Somalis, and no nation wants to get accused of war crimes and brutality by the media.

For the last century, however, order was imposed, first by colonial governments, and then by post-colonial dictators. But Somali dictators have been unable to maintain their rule over the entire region known as "Somalia." A government of sorts was always found in some of the coastal towns, which enabled trade with the outside world. But this has been threatened by the recent growth of piracy. Some warlords are taking over coastal villages and running piracy operations from them. Local fishermen eagerly join these gangs, seeing the possibility of a huge payday. This is all possible because of the current anarchy. In the past, piracy was suppressed by foreign navies destroying the towns of villages the pirates used as bases. This is no longer politically acceptable, and no one is yet willing to send troops ashore to fight the warlords who created and maintain the pirate operations. The nations with the military forces able to go into Somalia (like the U.S., Britain and France) are well aware of the region's history, and the willingness of the Somalis to just keep fighting.

The availability of speedboats, satellite radio and GPS have made it possible to conduct piracy deep into the Straits of Aden (a major choke point for international shipping). Many nations are sending warships to try and control the pirates at sea, without going ashore. This, and forcing ships to transit the area at high speed, or in convoys, will be expensive, but this is believed to be ultimately able to keep losses down and prevent insurance rates for ships from skyrocketing.

Russia, however, is sending a warship to join in the anti-piracy effort. The Russian frigate, however, will be acting alone, not as part as Task Force 150 (the international naval and air force patrolling the Gulf). The Russian ship is coming from the Baltic, so it won't arrive until early October. Everyone is curious to see how the Russians will deal with the pirates. The Russians often go Old School in cases like this.

Foreign navies are trying to provide some protection against the growing pirate activity off Somalia's north coast, partly to try and keep insurance rates down. As the risk of ships getting seized in the Gulf of Aden passes one percent, the maritime insurance companies, as expected, have raised premiums (covering passage through the 1,500 kilometer Straits of Aden) from an average of $900 to $9,000. That's expected to go higher because, when you do the math, you realize that the current increase does not quite cover the million dollars per ship ransom (which is also going up.) The insurance increase has made certain that all ships moving through the area are aware of the pirate risk, and more ships are alert enough to spot and speed away from the pirates. Most ships moving through the Straits of Aden have a top speed in excess of what the pirate speedboats can achieve. But the larger ships take time to reach their top speed, and the trick is to rev the engines of the larger ship soon enough to get away from the approaching pirate speedboats. This requires posting more lookouts (because the speedboats are low enough in the water to not show up well, if at all, on the navigation radar of larger ships). The pirates will continue to go after the ships that they can catch, and these will tend to be the smaller and slower ones from poor (often Moslem) nations. That could have interesting repercussions. Recently an Iranian ship was captured, which appears to have a toxic, and apparently illegal cargo onboard. A Ukrainian ship was also taken recently, with a cargo containing 33 T-72 tanks (for Kenya) and much other military equipment as well.

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