Sea Transportation: USN To The Rescue

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August 11, 2008:  On August 8th, a U.S. Navy amphibious ship, the USS Peleliu, while cruising off the north coast of Somalia, got a distress call from a merchant ship ten kilometers away. The merchantman was under attack by pirates in speed boats. The Peleliu promptly dispatched three armed helicopters, which caused the pirates to flee. The merchant ship suffered some damage from bullets, plus an RPG rocket that landed in the superstructure, but did not explode. 

This year, Somali pirates have shifted their operations to the far north, on the Gulf of Aden (which separates Somalia from Yemen, in southern Arabia). Over 80 percent of the pirate attacks are now taking place in the Gulf of Aden, where heavy Red Sea traffic provides a larger number of potential victims.

While other pirate plagued nations have navies and coast guards that can battle the piracy problem, Somalia is without any central government, or seagoing military forces. So the international community has been sending more and more warships to patrol the coast.

For the last three years, an international naval patrol, CTF 150 (Combined Task Force 150, operating out of Djibouti) has patrolled the entire 3,000 kilometer long coast. But with only about fifteen ships (from half a dozen nations), the CTF 150 has been  able to slow down the pirates, but not stop them. The USS Peleliu is not part of the patrol, but was just passing through the area. Fortunately,  the 39,000 ship normally carries about 30 helicopters, six Harrier jets, and a battalion of marines, so it had the means to deal with pirates.

Moreover, unless this coastal patrol force was willing to send troops ashore to kill or arrest the pirates in the land bases, the pirates will keep playing hide-and-seek with the naval patrols, and continue to attack ships and get away with it.

 


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