Sea Transportation: The New Anti-Piracy Patrol

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January 13, 2009: Western naval forces patrolling the waters between the Red Sea and India have been reorganized. An American admiral will command Task Force 151, newly reorganized to concentrate on dealing with the Somali pirates. Task Force 150 will continue dealing with counter-terror operations elsewhere in the region. For the last seven years, several international naval task forces have been patrolling the waters near Somalia. Early on, Task Force 150 looked after shipping in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Task Force 151 looked after the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Task Force 152 patrolled inside the Persian Gulf.

The new Task Force 151 contains ships and maritime patrol aircraft from twenty nations. The ships patrol the Gulf of Aden, scaring off pirates, or rushing themselves, or a helicopter, to the site of pirate attacks. The pirates leave when a warship or armed helicopter shows up. Each of the twenty nations contributing forces to Task Force 151, have different ROE (rules of engagement). Some ships are not allowed to capture pirates, or, if they do, must put them ashore as soon as possible. Other nations have made arrangements to turn captured pirates over the Kenya, or the fragile government of Puntland (where most of the pirate bases are located.) Some nations, like France, take captured pirates back to their home country for trial.

Most of the warships escort groups of merchant ships through the pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have increased their patrols in the Red Sea, where pirates have been spotted, but have not been active. That's probably because the pirates know that the Egyptian and Saudi sailors have orders to shoot on sight, and shoot to kill. That's an ROE a smart pirate tries to avoid.

So far, the presence of so many warships in the Gulf of Aden has reduced pirate attacks, and successful captures of ships. While 42 ships were taken in 2008, only two were seized by pirates in December. The pirates appear to be adjusting their tactics in response to all those warships. The pirates are also aware of the many ROEs, but it's unknown if any of the pirates have gone so far as to create and distribute a list of the known ROEs for the various warships off the coast. In any event, most Somalis are illiterate.

On the other hand, most of the Somali pirates are armed and quick to use their weapons. Many also go to work drunk or high on drugs. This makes them even more unpredictable and dangerous. The new American commander of Task Force 151 will attempt to increase coordination and cooperation among the 20 nations participating. This is like herding cats, but an effort is being made.

 


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