Extend Counter Piracy Efforts in the Indian Ocean to Include Other Maritime Governance Missions

With Piracy effectively suppressed in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute is recommending that steps be taken to allow these forces to counter other international crimes beginning with drug smuggling.

There are a number of impediments to effective enforcement, but the study authors suggest there are also mechanisms in place that may make this effort mort effective.

Good maritime governance has been lacking in this region. If they could create, what would amount to an international Coast Guard with a supporting judicial system, it might also serve as a model for other areas such as West Africa, the Straits of Malacca, and the Caribbean.

New Mission off Somalia?

gCaptain is reporting, “The United Nations Security Council authorized naval inspections of ships off Somalia’s coast and beyond suspected of carrying illegal weapons and charcoal, a commodity that generates millions of dollars a month in revenue for militants linked to al-Qaeda.”

Possibly there will be some Coast Guard involvement in the form of detachments on US Navy ships and conceivably with the 110 foot WPBs operating out of Bahrain.

Unfortunately, it appears, that if inspections are done, it will be in a haphazard fashion. The expectation is that the ships already in the Indian Ocean doing counter piracy will also do this. But really, the places the ships need to be to do these inspections is different from where they need to be to respond to piracy attacks, because innocent ships avoid the Somali coast. The place to intercept smugglers is close to the Somali coast.

This is the kind of operation the Coast Guard specializes in. It is essentially no different from drug or migrant interdiction. It is what the Coast Guard did in Vietnam as part of Markettime.

If the Coast Guard had some built in excess capacity to respond to contingencies, they could take on this sort of operation.

The entire US Navy is excess capacity to respond to contingencies. It is not built for routine peacetime operations. It would not be a bad thing for those that decide the budgets to see building a capable Coast Guard as the same sort of insurance.

Piracy Update, 21 December, 2011

Somalia/Gulf of Aden/Indian Ocean:

Since the last update on November 20, NATO Reports there have been four attacks and at least seven other apparently pirate related incidents of suspicious behavior or approach, but no successful pirate seizures in the Indian Ocean.

The Shiuh Fu No.1 fishing boat, pirated Christmas Day 2010; the whereabouts of the crew of 13 Chinese, 12 Vietnamese and 1 Taiwanese mariners is unknownThe Shiuh Fu No.1 fishing boat, pirated Christmas Day 2010; the whereabouts of the crew of 13 Chinese, 12 Vietnamese and 1 Taiwanese mariners is unknown.
The European Naval Forces (Operation Atalanta) have issued a press release reminding everyone of the approximately 200 hostages still held by Somali pirates.


“Since the start of the EU NAVFOR counter-piracy mission in December 2008, a total of 2317 merchant seamen have been held hostage for an average of nearly 5 months. The longest period in captivity is 19 months for the 24 crew members of the M/V ICEBERG 1, who are still being held.

“It is estimated that at least 60 merchant seamen have died as a result of their captivity in the hands of the pirates and many more have suffered torture and abuse. 49 of the 200 hostages are held without the collateral of a ship, following the ship sinking or being abandoned which means that their future is less clear as their value is seen as less than that of a ship. Additionally, a recent tactic of the criminal gangs has been to agree to the ransom payment for the return of ship and crew and then hold-back some of the crew when the ship is released to use to negotiate for the release of convicted Somali pirates from the home country of the detained crew members. Currently 4 South Korean and 7 Indian crew members from the M/V GEMINI and the ASPHALT VENTURE are held following the release of the ships.”

The Seychelles, whose economy has been damaged by the threat of piracy, has offered China their territory as a base from which to patrol against the pirates. (Don’t expect this to become a full fledged naval base, just somewhere to refuel.) There is already a small US drone operation on the islands.

European union reports they face a warship shortage for the Somali piracy mission, at least partly due to operations off Libya.

The British are using dogs to determine if suspected pirates have residual evidence of explosives as an aid to prosecution.

A couple of US warships DDG USS Carney and frigate USS De Wert have been proactive in disrupting pirate operations before they happen.

In something of a first, the flagship of the European Naval Force, Spanish oiler/replenishment ship SPS Patino (A-14), has escorted three humanitarian aid ships into Somalia. The operation is noteworthy for two reasons. First shipments are normally made using only one ship, but the situation has become so dire that multiple ships are now required, and second because the escort ship was not a “warship” rather it was an underway replenishment ship. The use of auxiliaries to counter pirates seems to be a mini-trend. The Patino, 17,045 tons full load, has an adequate speed at 21 knots, space for up to three helicopters, long endurance, and even its minimal armament is enough to deal with pirates. She even refueled a NATO warship, in passing, while conducting the escort.

Nigeria/Gulf of Guinea

There are encouraging signs the countries of the region are learning to cooperate in their counter-piracy efforts. (More here). NNS Thunder (the former USCGC Chase) should be arriving soon having departed Alameda a month ago.

Meanwhile the House Committee on Homeland Security’s subcommittee on Counter Terrorism and Intelligence has found that there is an emerging Islamic fundamentalist group in Nigeria that threatens the US.


Some information on the hijacking of a small ferry that took place in Turkey on 11 November.

Armed Security Guards:

Somewhat surprisingly the Greek seafaring unions have rejected the idea of having armed security teams on board as suggested by the Greek Coast Guard. This sounds more like bruised egos than a decision based on unbiased analysis.

India, on the other hand, has joined the growing number of countries that allow or encourage the use of armed security guards.


Piracy Update, 20 November, 2011

Somalia/Gulf of Aden/Indian Ocean:

NATO Reports show at least three attacks and at least three incidents of vessels being approached in a suspicious manner by skiffs that appeared to be pirates, but there were no successful attacks reported.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/33/INS_Suvarna.jpg/1024px-INS_Suvarna.jpgINS Suvarna, sister ship of INS Sukanya. Photo: INS SuvarnaM. Mazumdar/ Bharat-Rakshak. Original uploader was Mittal.fdk at en.wikipedia. Permission: CC-BY-SA-3.0.

India continues to deal aggressively with pirates. “The Hindu” reports the actions of the INS Sukanya (1,890 tons full load, 331′ loa) when five skiffs approached vessels in the five ship convoy she was escorting,

“While two of them managed to escape, INS Sukanya successfully intercepted the remaining three boats and…nabbed 26 Somali pirates with six AK 47 rifles, 12 magazines and about 300 rounds of ammunition.

“This is the fifth successful anti-piracy operation conducted by INS Sukanya in the course of her ongoing patrol mission in the Gulf of Aden that commenced in September, the Navy said.”

The uncertainty introduced by the Kenyan invasion of Southern Somalia is having an effect on the ransom pirates are demanding for the ships and crews they currently hold. Ransom demands have been cut as the pirates hope to “close the deal.

There are reports that Ethiopia has also moved troops into Somalia to support the Kenyan invasion.

While Kenya and Ethiopia move against Al Shabaab rebels in the South, there is a report the locals in Puntland are moving against pirates enclaves in the Northeast.

Nigeria/Gulf of Guinea

gCaptain reports three people were kidnapped after eight armed men boarded an offshore supply vessel, the MV C-Endeavour, belonging to Edison Chouest Offshore, off the coast of Nigeria. The report came by email from Kurt Glaubitz, a spokesman for Chevron.

Mekong River:

The attack that left 13 Chinese dead, reported in the last update, has resulted in China dispatching up to 1,000 armed police to work in the territory of Burma, Thailand, and Laos, to protect its trade on the Mekong.

Armed Security Guards:

The Marine Log reports H.R. 2838, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2011, that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives, “…strengthens existing authorities against piracy, as well as improves an existing training program to instruct mariners on acceptable use of force against pirates.  It authorizes armed security on vessels carrying government impelled cargo through high risk waters, and includes a report on ways to improve U.S. efforts to track ransom payments and the movement of money through Somali piracy networks.

“‘Somali pirates have vastly expanded the range of their attacks on merchant vessels.  But even more alarming, the pirates have dramatically increased the number and viciousness of their attacks in recent months,’ said LoBiondo (Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Frank A. LoBiondo (R-NJ). ‘To protect American seafarers, this legislation will strengthen an existing training program on use of force against pirates.  Additionally, it will provide authority for government agencies to reimburse shippers for armed security aboard vessels carrying U.S. aid to the region.‘”

The Maritime Executive reports there is a growing consensus in the US, that failure to provide armed security may open up ship owners to legal liability for failure to provide seaman with a safe working environment and a seaworthy vessel.

Elsewhere authorities remain unconvinced. The Netherlands is telling its ship owners that, if they use private armed security guards, they could be subject to criminal prosecution.

“Jumbo Shipping from Rotterdam and Vroon Shipping based in Breskens have both said they will carry armed guards while sailing under the Dutch flag.

“The ministry of defence has set up special teams to help combat the threat of piracy but the shipping firms say this is not a solution. ‘You have to order them six weeks in advance and we cannot work like that,’ the Jumbo spokesman said.

“Denmark, Spain, Norway and Britain do allow shipping firms to use private security guards while travelling close to the Somali coast.”

Piracy Update–23 October, 2011

As noted previously, Somali pirates seem to be having a harder time this year. Additionally we continue to see both increased acceptance of the efficacy of armed security guards and increasing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

Eaglespeak shows how the piracy problem off Somalia has increased in recent years with an animated display of attacks on a yearly basis from 2005 to Oct. 2011 that dramatically shows both the increasing number of attacks and the progressively greater geographic distribution of attacks.

The good news is that while the number of attacks is up, the number of seizures is down from this time last year. “Only 24 vessels were hijacked this year compared with 35 for the same period in 2010.”

It is probably premature, but the Somalia Report is suggesting we may be seeing an end to piracy in the region as we have come to know it. Others are not convinced.

Since the last report, it has been a bad couple of weeks for Somali pirates. Looking at the NATO data base, there have been six attacks, but none have been successful. In fact, the period has been a net loss for pirates with one of their previously seized mother ships, the 100-ton fishing dhow Hibid Fidi, being recaptured by British commandos, freeing its Pakistani crew.  A few days earlier Brits from the RFA Fort Victoria, with support from a USN helicopter from the frigate USS De Wert, broke up an attack on an Italian vessel, the 56,000-ton bulk carrier Montecristo. The vessel’s crew of 23 had taken shelter in the ship’s citadel. Meanwhile Somali authorities claim to have captured 15 would be pirates.

File:FortVictoria Plymouth.jpg

 Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Victoria, from Wikipedia Commons,  by User:Sreejithk2000

Use of the Fort Victoria, an underway replenishment ship, shows again that, at least for this type of sea control, you do not necessarily need a frigate, any armed vessel with a helicopter, boats, and space for an armed boarding team can do the job.

There is more information on the Montcristo attack here including information that the crew may have been steering the ship toward assistance from inside the citadel.

Armed Security Teams: There is more evidence of the acceptance of private armed security teams. A Japanese Company is hiring private security, while the Japanese government considers placing military teams on Japanese flag ships, and Italy is forming ten teams of six soldiers each to guard Italian Flag ships.

Gulf of Guinea: Here the motivation and methods appear to be different, but the area is becoming increasingly dangerous. 19 attacks have resulted in eight tankers have been hijacked in 2011 compared with none in 2010. The attacks below reflect only the last two weeks. From the Office of Naval Intelligence’s Piracy website:

1. NIGERIA: Vessel (JOAN CHOUEST) attacked by pirates on 17 October near the offshore Oso oilfield, near Bonny. (Open Source)
2. NIGERIA: Offshore tug/supply vessel (WILBERT TIDE) boarded by pirates on 17 October while underway near the offshore Oso oilfield, near Bonny. The Bangladeshi master was kidnapped as 20 armed men from two speedboats boarded the vessel. (Open Source)
3. NIGERIA: Product Tanker (CAPE BIRD) was hijacked by pirates on 8 October approximately 90 nm south of Lagos, Nigeria, and was released on 13 October. No further information on whether a ransom was paid or the cargo of oil was stolen. (Open Source)

There is some indication of how piracy can work in an area where there is still a viable national government.

Ghana has ordered two 46 meter patrol boats from China (very similar in size to the Fast Response Cutter) in an effort to beef up their anti-piracy forces.

Piracy Update, 1 Sept., 2011


If you are new to this topic there is some good background here in the form of advice from the International Sailing Federation intended primarily for yatchsmen. “ISAF Warning Letter”.

Changing Tactic:

Too early to tell if this is a trend, but the pirates seem to be changing their tactics attempting to swamp the defenses of even armed vessels by using as many as twelve skiffs, “Pirates Hunting in Packs.” Chart here. This incident took place near Somali shores where it is easier to gather a large number of boats.

Frustrated by an armed guard while it was under way, pirates subsequently seized a chemical tanker after the armed guard had left, while the ship was anchored in port in Oman, taking 21 hostages. Chart here.

Geographic spread:

The pirates seem to be extending their reach to operate beyond the waters patrolled by naval forces. There is a report that they may now be exploiting a business arrangement with the remnants of the Tamil insurgency to allow them to operate south of India in the vicinity of Sri Lanka, “Recommended Reading “Deadly Business”-at American Shipper.”

Piracy also seems to be spreading to the Gulf of Guinea on Africa’s Atlantic coast where oil is the prize.
Gulf of Guinea map

 A report carried by the Associated Press quoted Bergen Risk Solutions, a Norway-based consultancy:

“Our investigations indicate that the organized group responsible is based in Nigeria and has high-level patronage in that country,” it said, with prominent Nigerians having often been accused of involvement in the lucrative black market for oil and fuel.  This cargo, Bergen suggests, has been sold in: “several West African ports, possibly including Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire and Port Gentil in Gabon.”

There are some indications that there is a recognition of the problem and a desire to address it, “Steps toward and Iintegrated African Coastguard” and “West African Piracy Cooperation.”

Some successes:

The Naval Institute blog has a “feel good” story of how an attack was thwarted by the cooperative efforts of British and American forces, “MV Caravos Horizon Rotorheads and the Royal Navy in Maritime Security Operations,” by LCdr B. J. Armstrong. If you want to know more about the Navy’s MH-60S which was involved, there is more info here. The unfortunate aspect, is that these pirates are still free to go on to molest other ships. Another telling of the story here.

Prosecuting pirates has been difficult. The US has done it, but many countries operate under a “catch and release” philosophy. At least the Dutch have begun to act forcefully.

Armed Security Teams:

Their record remains unblemished, in that no ship with an armed security team has ever been taken by 21st century Somali pirates. In regard to the use of armed teams on merchant ships, the most common counter-argument is that this will raise the level of violence. Here is a counter to that, pointing out, that has not been the case, and in fact if the level of violence is increasing, it has been due to the actions of military forces in the area. “Lloyds List, Piracy and the Armed Deterrent.”

Is Congress more of a threat than pirates?:

There was an interesting discussion here that puts the piracy problem in perspective, “Pirates vs. Congress: How Pirates Are a Better Bargain.”

 Getting at the root of the problem:

There is some indication that the US may be attempting to get at the roots of the piracy problem, which are of course on shore in Somalia. “U.S. steps up clandestine operations in Somalia


Piracy Update, July 6, 2011

This is coming relatively soon after the last update, but there have been several interesting developments:

As a result of a pirate attack, a 144,000 ton Very Large Crude Carrier has been set afire and abandoned in the Gulf of Aden, 20 miles south of Yemen. The crew of 26 was rescued by the cruiser USS Philippine Sea. This occurred in the area most heavily patrolled by counter piracy forces.

Britain like the Netherlands is considering allowing their merchant ships to arm themselves.

There is a prediction that the pirates will start using heavier weapons. This sort of escalation has been predicted in the past, we’ll see.

Information dissemination has provided a grim and thought provoking post on the future of Africa and Al-Qaeda that touches on piracy, Somalia, and Al Shabaab. It provides a lot of background for USCG efforts in Nigeria, Yemen, and Djibouti and African Partnership station in general.


The UN has informed Reuters there is a financial link between some pirate organizations and Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, Al Shabaab. Not that the terrorist group is engaged in piracy itself, but rather it seems to be “taxing” Somalia’s most profitable industry. This may be viewed as making it illegal to pay ransom. Comment here and here.


Piracy Update, 29 June, 2011

Somalia’s “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) has confiscated $3.6M in ransom intended to free two ships and arrested the security team transporting the money.

They are not targeting pirates, but the US is apparently operating aircraft against targets in Somalia. “For the second time in four days, and for the third time since April, the United States has conducted an airstrike in Somalia….The key point here is that all of these attacks are apparently being conducted by helicopter, all of them are being done at night, and all of them appear to be well planned surgical strikes against Al Shabab targets in southern Somalia.”

The Dutch have released a video of their forces freeing an Iranian Dhow, that had been used as a mother ship, on 2 April 2011. There are several remarkable aspects to this operation. Pirates opened fire on the two RHIBs and the frigate. Snipers on the frigate using .50 cal. rifles and crews on the two RHIBs returned fire killing two pirates and wounding others. Ten pirates attempted to escape in a skiff but were captured. Another vessel under pirate control attempted to intervene, but was driven off by warning shots from the frigate’s 5″ gun. Sixteen pirates were taken into custody and sixteen hostages freed. Earlier report here.


Piracy Update, 12 June 2011

The economic impact of piracy is likely to take a huge leap, because of changes in the way insurance rates are figured. This is expected to add billions to shipping costs. Of course it won’t hurt the insurance companies, but we can expect the cost to be passed along.

The Practice of hijacking ships rather than simply robbing them is spreading to the South China Sea, an area where piracy was common in the not too distant past. Additionally there is a report that shipping companies may be withholding information from their crews regarding the kind of treatment they can expect at the hands of pirates. (Note: BMP means “Best management Practices” and NSC means National Security Council.)

So far, no ship with armed security guards on board has been taken by pirates. The US has encouraged its ships to hire security, but some other countries still contend it is bad policy. Some even prohibit the practice. The shipping companies seem to be coming around to the conclusion armed security is a good idea. At least one Dutch company is indicating they may re-flag their ships if the Netherlands does not permit them to hire private security.

Another indication this may be a very long campaign. Japan has established its first permanent base outside of Japan since WWII to support their counter piracy effort.

The fact that Yemen, just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia seems to be devolving into the the same sort of failed state, is not a good sign.