January 20, 2010:
Western intelligence specialists are focusing on how the Somali pirates operate, in order to gain insight on how best to interfere. While the Somali pirates have to work harder for their money, because of all the foreign warships in the area, they have plenty of incentive. With up to $100 million in ransoms in play, the few thousand men, associated with the few warlords who dominate the business, keep coming up with new ways to get around the warships, and defensive measures adopted by the crews on merchant ships.
American and NATO intel specialists are collecting more and more information about the pirates. Some comes from eavesdropping on communications, a lot more is coming from the growing number of maritime recon, and UAV, aircraft monitoring pirate activity. Most of the pirates are coming out of a few small ports along the north Somali coast. Increasingly, pirates are using large fishing boats (also stolen) as mother ships, to go far (over 1,000 kilometers) out to sea, where the supertankers roam. The use of mother ships makes the pirates easier to track, if you know which fishing boat is full of pirates, and when it left port for the hunting grounds. Meanwhile, the Gulf of Aden is covered by regular patrols, and merchant ships more frequently move through in a convoy, under the protection of one or more warships. The distant supertanker (and superfreighter) shipping lanes are attracting more and more pirate attention.
While all this makes it easier to interfere with pirate attacks, the lack of laws, and will, prevent the crews of the warships of doing anything to the pirates, other than firing back if fired on (rare), or firing on them to halt an attack on a merchant ship (less rare). So better intelligence makes it possible to interfere with more attacks, but not to reduce the number of pirates. As long as the pirates continue to take ships, they will keep coming. All the security measures forced the pirates to make twice as many attacks in 2009, to take the same number of ships as 2008. For the pirates, that was good. And the future looks bright.