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.
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.
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
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.
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.