Sea Transportation: Russia Sends Lawyers, Guns and Infantry


July 20, 2009: The new Russian task force heading for Somalia, to join the anti-piracy task force there, will be a little different. It will contain detachments of lawyers and marines. Currently there are 35 warships from sixteen nations confronting, by Russian reckoning, some 5,000 pirates (ashore, mostly, and afloat.) The Russians have noted that, because most nations participating in the patrol do not allow their sailors to prosecute, or even harm, the pirates, the attacks on merchant ships are increasing. Russian officers have witnessed pirates attacking merchant ships, even while a warship was in plain sight. The pirates appear to be well aware that the warships can shoot, but they cannot hurt anyone (unless the shooters are French or American). The sailors on those warships can arrest pirates, but can't (with a few exceptions) hold them.

All this, not surprisingly, has made the pirates bolder. While the warships have cut down on the number of merchant ships actually taken, the number of attempts has increased. The process is frustrating for the warship sailors, as the "catch and release" rules they have to observe means an endless number of piracy attempts. The pirates know that, no matter how vigilant and diligent the warships are, some merchant ships are going to be taken, and held for a multimillion dollar ransom. In the first six months of this year, there were 130 pirate attacks on merchant ships off Somalia. Currently, sixteen ships, and 225 crewmen are being held for ransom.

With all that, the Russians appear to be changing their ROE (Rules of Engagement). The relief task forces headed for Somalia is coming from the Pacific Fleet, and consists of a destroyer, a sea going tug, and a tanker. The Russians are also sending a detachment of lawyers and criminal investigators, to begin prosecution of captured pirates. There is also a detachment of naval infantry, whose purpose was unspecified.

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