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Sea Transportation: Somali Pirates Defeat Warships
   Next Article → ARMOR: The Keeper

September 30, 2008: 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.

Next Article → ARMOR: The Keeper
  

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Taleh       9/30/2008 8:59:10 AM
Some notes on your  paragraph starting with "In the last century,,," If Somalia seems to be a difficult place  "to rule"  I would remark that convincing non-Somalis that there are forms of government which are not Centralized appears to be even more difficult.
 
Somali society had, and still apparently has in the North, a functioning government. These are the "Tribes" which are, after all, the localized versions of economic operating units which manage everything from Health, Education, and Welfare, to defense,  Tribes have extensive diplomatic relations with other Tribes over wide areas via a Diplomatic Corps which we in America would describe as Marriage and In-Laws. And just because Services (laws, defense, etc) do not have buildings, titles, and phone numbers, does not make them less real. Only less visible to those who neither understand a group of people nor speak the language.
 
The final insult to the country comes from the western press (e.g. BBC) which always includes the boiler plate line about Somalia not having a functioning government for XX years (at least they update the counter).  In fact , although Siad Barre had people who "functioned", his main efforts involved doing the things terrible rulers do - needless attacks on neighbors and cruel suppression of the people they profess to support. He was last seen heading for the airport in Mogadishu (Hamar to some of us) in the Presidential Tank.

 
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Dave_in_Pa    Pirates hanged from the yardarm   9/30/2008 2:10:14 PM
When Western nations still were unashamed about protecting their interests and their own flagged vessels, pirates were dealt with properly.  This was done mainly by the British Royal Navy, but the US Navy and others on occasion.
 
The US war on the Barbary Pirates is a prime example that is perhaps the most parallel example to today's Somali Pirates.
 
Unless and until responsible Western Powers, most likely the US or the US and Allied Navies, go in and destroy the pirate bases, the mother ships and kill a lot of pirates, nothing will change.  Basic psychology and sociology: you get more of what you encourage and less of what you discourage. Paying huge ransoms for captured vessels only guarantees more captured vessels, the only growth industry in Somalia. (To borrow and modify a Churchill quote on India, "Somalia isn't a country, it's a geographic abstraction, like "equator".)

 
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Wanderer       9/30/2008 8:32:27 PM
Call me old fashioned but we know where all this piracy is originating.  Send in an MEU, crucify the buggers en masse back in their holdouts and broadcast the video across Africa with the repeated message "Thus To All Pirates" in common languages.  Piracy should take a downturn immediately.
 
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WarNerd       10/1/2008 1:23:59 AM

Somali society had, and still apparently has in the North, a functioning government. These are the "Tribes" which are, after all, the localized versions of economic operating units which manage everything from Health, Education, and Welfare, to defense,  Tribes have extensive diplomatic relations with other Tribes over wide areas via a Diplomatic Corps which we in America would describe as Marriage and In-Laws. And just because Services (laws, defense, etc) do not have buildings, titles, and phone numbers, does not make them less real. Only less visible to those who neither understand a group of people nor speak the language.

You are confusing the services a government can choose to provide with the duties a government needs to perform.  Primary among those is the creation and enforcement of a system of laws, negotiation and enforcement of agreements with foreign countries, and the control of borders.  Most critically this description of Somalia seems to lack a concept of foreign affairs where the foreign is farther away than the next tribe.
 
Your model of an acceptable Somali society would require the world's governments to negotiate separately agreements with each and every warlord, tribal leader, or other Somali egomaniac with 2 followers and a Kalashnikov.  This is not going to happen.
 
In the absence of an authority capable of fulfilling these rolls you invite outsiders to make, and enforce, those decisions for you.  Based on past history in Somalia there is no possibility of this being done gently.
 
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oOOOo    Fear the Press   10/1/2008 8:39:55 AM
In the face of irresponsible journalism pushing the notion that every miscreant on the planet has more rights than a US citizen absent any responsibility to obey any law on the planet we have governments with the physical capability of effective action lacking the will to act.
 
The insurance companies taking losses here should sue the journalists responsible for the inaction. Probably wouldn't win, but we would be discussing the elephant taking a dump on the coffee table - and forcing press to pay some legal fees.
 
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xirrix       10/1/2008 9:48:52 AM
The real problem is lack of international consensus. There are too many other competing and higher priority big-ticket items right now, like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Nobody wants to be the "heavy" and go ashore to take out the land bases and inflict heavy damage on the pirates. Black Hawk Down, anyone? No thanks. For now, international navies need to take them on at sea, international waters, and especially while in the act of privacy.

One avenue would be for the U.S. to go to the U.N. and ask for a limited authorisation to use military force against the waterborne vessels. It would be difficult to get such permission for actions within the 12-mile sovereignty limit, but it could be done. Engagement would be restricted to vessels observed to have been taking part in piracy operations. Any vessel so observed would be ordered to heave to, and if it failed to do so, it would simply be sunk.

Piracy in Somalia will get some international attention when the pirates pull off something really spectacular or brazen, like the commandeering of an oil tanker or a passenger cruise ship. Imagine the international response if they snag a liner with 2000 western tourists aboard. I'm not even sure if that's possible, or if cruise ships ply the Gulf there, but the headlines would be sensational.
 

 
 
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Gerry       10/1/2008 7:13:45 PM
In this day and age diplomacy and rights have nulified any meaningful action against the Somali pirates. While sucking thier thumb on one hand and the other with a finger up thier pituee the Russians will come to save the day, just like Crusader Rabbit,  McGiver, Mighty Mouse, or Superman. It is comical to see how enept the world governments are at solving simple problems.
 
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greyghost       10/1/2008 8:33:05 PM
    I would like to see a decoy ship. A container ship or a conventional cargo ship with hidden "vulcans" and .50 cals on board.  Have the usual crew of 16 to 20 guys and have the "cargo" to consist of 150 to 200 armed troops to destroy the pirates. I would sail that ship .1 kilometers closer to shore and half a knot slower than everybody else. When the pirates make their move do everything possible to insure there are no survivors. 
 
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The-Great       10/5/2008 12:21:08 AM
Why not just pay some Mercs to get rid of the pirates or bribe the Russians to take of them with heavy-handed tactics, these people deserve whatever retalliation comes thier way IMO.
 
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