Date: April 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — Piracy has been rightfully called an insult to civilization. The recent pirate attacks on the motor vessels Maersk Alabama and Liberty Sun focused the attention of the American public on what has been an increasingly significant international issue. It is important that the American public and the international community know that the U.S. Government is working hard to find an enduring international solution to this international problem.
Maritime piracy is a symptom of instability in Somalia. The only long-term solution must address piracy’s root causes in Somalia itself: political instability and lack of economic opportunity. The U.S. supports a reconstituted Somalia with lawful control over its entire territory. The new unity Transitional Federal Government offers the hope that Somalia can return to the rule of law and legitimate economic activity. Until this happens, the U.S. and the international community must treat the symptoms and secure the maritime domain and protect its seafarers by improving response options, reducing vulnerabilities, and establishing effective legal mechanisms to deliver consequences against pirates.
In December 2008, the National Security Council published the “Strategy for Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan.” The plan is founded on the principles of the National Strategy for Maritime Security and “recognizes that nations have common interest in achieving two complementary objectives: to facilitate the vibrant maritime commerce that underpins economic security, and to protect against ocean-related terrorist, hostile, criminal and dangerous acts, including piracy.” This requires a whole-of-government approach, integrating military, law enforcement, judicial, diplomatic, and commercial interests.
There are positive effects of the international military response, including the U.S. Fifth Fleet’s Combined Task Force 151, a European Union Naval Force, as well as a number of ships from other nations operating independently but cooperatively with these task forces. Essentially, this is the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power in action. Examples of its success include the interdiction of 16 pirates in February by U.S. Navy and Coast Guard forces working from the USS Vella Gulf; the French capture of three pirates in mid-April, bringing the total facing French prosecution to 15; and most recently the rescue of Richard Phillips, heroic Captain of the Maersk Alabama. The Cooperative Strategy was promulgated by the three maritime U.S. military service chiefs in October 2007.
On the vulnerability front, working through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and via the international Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, the U.S. has engaged with the shipping industry to develop self-awareness and self-protection measures that reduce their vulnerability to attack. These most recent attacks against U.S. ships have added to the already heightened sense of urgency, and have raised the possibility of armed security teams as a specific measure to be employed by merchant vessels to reduce their vulnerability to pirates. The Coast Guard, working closely with the maritime industry, will issue a new Maritime Security Directive to address additional security measures authorized and required by vessels operating in waters threatened by piracy. It is important to recognize that armed security is but one of many protection measures, including the application of non-lethal tactics. There are numerous examples of these measures succeeding in thwarting pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa region.
Regionally coordinated operations and information sharing, an approach that has been highly successful in reducing piracy in the Strait of Malacca, are critical to the sustainable disruption of piracy. In January, the Djibouti Code of Conduct was adopted, providing a legal framework for the interdiction and prosecution of pirates. The Code also contains practical law enforcement measures, including a shiprider program to share scarce patrol resources and information sharing and operational coordination mechanisms. This agreement has so far been signed by nine regional nations.
The passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1851 in December 2008 further assisted in establishing an effective legal framework for prosecuting pirates. This resolution encourages nations to employ the operative provisions of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) Convention. SUA provides a robust mechanism for effective consequence delivery applicable to 78% of the World’s nations. Complementing this, in January the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Kenya for the transfer and prosecution of suspected pirates. Seven of the pirates captured by the USS Vella Gulf were transferred to the Government of Kenya under the terms of this MOU.
One thing is abundantly clear. The U.S. and its international partners are adapting and becoming more effective. Although cooperation between governments will be critical to addressing piracy, cooperation and coordination within our government comes first. In the Maersk Alabama response, the Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) protocol, a novel concept to orchestrate intra-governmental efforts in maritime incidents, played a positive and significant role. This protocol facilitates interagency unity of effort, efficient information flow and decision-making.
Piracy is a complex problem that is not going to be solved overnight. Establishment of rule of law and economic opportunity in Somalia are essential for a long-term end to this threat. In the meantime, there must be continuous strategic and operational engagement alongside our international partners. Such a coherent on-shore and off-shore strategy will enhance the security of the global commercial shipping lanes and halt the rise of piracy.
Editors Note: Additional information on combating piracy can be found at:
Fact Sheet – Coast Guard’s history combating piracy
Fact Sheet – The Coast Guard’s role in international piracy incidents
Coast Guard combats piracy CG journal
Coast Guard, Navy apprehend pirates
Cooperative Maritime Strategy
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