War with Somali pirates is heating up – By Will Watson
Even as the military, governments and the maritime industry are stepping up action against Somali pirates, the pirates themselves appear to be using more aggressive tactics against commercial ships operating in the theater.
European Union (EU) governments promised last month to take the war on piracy ashore and that’s what they did in mid-May when EU naval forces launched an attack on pirate bases near the port of Haradhere. Five pirate speedboats were destroyed in the helicopter gunship led raid along with other nearby supplies. In response, pirates threatened to kill hostages aboard captive vessels.
The EU navies aren’t alone in taking the battle to pirates as Privately Contracted Maritime Security Personnel (PCASP) teams have been involved in numerous running gun battles with increasingly aggressive pirate forces. Over the past two months, pirates have departed from traditional tactics— using one or two skiffs with six to eight pirates aboard each— to attack commercial ships.
Help From Somalia
Unconfirmed reports surfaced in early June that the Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) may have made a unilateral attempt to free a captured Suezmax tanker. Sources told Somali media that the armed paramilitary force tried to rescue the M/T Smyrni but claim the armed assault was rebuffed when pirates aboard the hostage ship returned fire. There were reports of injuries both among the pirates and the PMPF operators.
Such stories have emerged before and have been difficult to confirm. Sources in the region say rescue attempt was made at Bina, near Bargaal, where it was moved to from Hurdiyo, a small village between Bargal and Hafun in Somalia’s Bari region. The captive tanker may now be moved to another area.
Fierce Attacks Reported
Reports are now being received of attacks by as many as a dozen speedboats with heavily armed pirates aboard— attacks that have led to running gun battles between the pirates and armed teams. Fortunately, none of the attacked vessels have been taken and no serious injuries have been reported among the armed teams or crews.
Those skirmishes came as the International Maritime Organization was calling for international standards on the use of force by armed teams against pirates. “International standards or regimes should be established,” IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu told reporters, adding that, “That regime should not be made compulsory, but provide an international framework on which the flag state and the (shipping) companies may decide to employ arms on board.”
This escalation is thought to be a response to the flagging success by pirates in capturing commercial ships since most began taking on armed teams some months back. There have been 151 attacks on ships in 2011, compared to 127 in 2010 — but only 25 successful hijacks compared to 47 in 2010.
Private Patrols Joining Navies
Soon, the 25 military vessels — from the EU and NATO countries, China, Russia, India and Japan (patrolling approximately 3.2 million sq miles of ocean) will be joined by private armed craft that plan to offer protection to convoys of commercial vessels. The private company, Typhon, is buying three boats, which are currently being fitted out in Singapore. Those boats will be used to establish an exclusion zone around escorted convoys… convoys, whose routes will be dictated by commercial dictates, unlike those transiting the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor (IRTC). To sweeten the deal, Typhon’s leaders say that vessels using their services will get a major break on insurance premiums.
Another Nation To Try Pirates
The Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius has said it will accept and try suspected pirates captured by British forces patrolling the Indian Ocean under an agreement with the United Kingdom. The nation’s Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in London. Foreign navies trying to counter piracy off Somalia have been reluctant to take suspects to their own countries because they either lack the jurisdiction to put them on trial, or fear the pirates may seek asylum. ¶
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 edition of Sidelights and was reprinted with the permission of The Council Of American Master Mariners. Will Watson is a CAMM member and works as maritime security liaison for the Marshall Islands Registry, the world’s third largest flag state. Will is also vice president and governor of the Maritime Security Council and sits on the board of advisors of the National Maritime Law Enforcement Academy.