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Counter-Terrorism: Why The Pirates Hate Mercury
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September 23, 2009: Not all the 30 warships performing anti-piracy duty off the Somali coast are under the same command. The Russians, Chinese and Iranians in particular are uneasy taking orders from some Western task force commander. So the British took the initiative of establishing a "neutral" communications channel for all the warships on anti-piracy patrol. This is a secure Internet based communication system called Mercury. All the ships engaged in counter-piracy operations have access to Mercury. This makes it possible for ships to request information, or cooperation, from other ships, despite whatever currently icy diplomatic conditions may exist between the two nations involved. Thus the Iranian warships can discretely work together with U.S. warships.

Since all the nations with warships off Somalia, are concerned with safeguarding shipping lanes that everyone uses, there has been considerably more cooperation than one would expect otherwise. The Law of the Sea ("always come to the aid of a mariner in distress") makes friends of many who are quite hostile to each other on land. The cooperation has made life much more difficult for the pirates, forcing them to try and operate further out in the Indian ocean. But that has not escaped the attention of expanded aerial reconnaissance by U.S., French and Japanese patrol aircraft. Some warships are below to support these long range patrols, and board any suspicious ships found.

The pirates have, in the past, used hijacked fishing trawlers as mother ships. These ocean-going vessels are usually only about a hundred feet long, but are broad and have accommodations for twenty or more people. Thus they can carry plenty of pirates, and have the speedboats stored on the deck or towed (which is a dead giveaway to aircraft overhead). Maritime patrol aircraft know how to tell a trawler that is down there fishing, and one that is simply serving as a pirate mother ship.

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