American Officials Address Piracy

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Nov. 19, 2008, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell today defended the military effort to deter piracy in the Gulf of Aden and called on commercial ships to do more against this scourge of the sea.

The U.S. 5th Fleet forms the core of the American effort in the Maritime Security Patrol Area, but other nations are involved. “Any number of countries are out there now, patrolling and having a deterrent effect in a huge body of water,” Morrell said. The Gulf of Aden – where recent attacks have occurred – has about 1.1 million square miles of open water.

More than 20 nations – under command of a Danish flag officer – are coordinating their efforts in the region.

The increasing level of piracy is having an impact on commercial shipping. Insurance rates for ships transiting the area went from $900 a year ago to $9,000 today, officials said. The criminal activity also affects the safety of mariners and has slowed delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia – the ungoverned area from which the pirates are operating.

The United States is working with the commercial shipping industry and the International Maritime Organization to ensure that crews employ reasonable self-protection measures -- proactive look-outs, evasive maneuvers and embarked security teams, for example -- to discourage pirates from attempting to take their vessels.

Though the overall number of successful pirate attacks has decreased, numbers of attempted attacks have risen, Pentagon officials said. Of 95 reported attacks on merchant vessels in 2008, 39 have been successful. The pirates have kidnapped 330 mariners, representing seamen from 25 nations.

Some attacks are thwarted by the presence of coalition military forces, while simple defensive measures have thwarted others. Embarked security teams are one way to foil these attacks, and U.S. officials are working to convince shippers to have these teams.

“Companies don’t even think twice about using security guards to protect their goods on shore,” said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. “Protecting valuable ships at sea shouldn’t be any different.”

Though naval forces have the duty to protect international shipping lanes, shipping companies also have an obligation to secure their ships and to help prevent piracy incidents, Morrell said.

“There are shared responsibilities here,” the press secretary said. “I think we are stepping to the plate -- doing more than ever, for that matter. I think it's incumbent upon the companies to look more and more at what they can do to try to prevent these incidents from happening.”

The problem also includes a governance aspect, Morrell noted.

“This problem emanates not at sea. … It starts onshore, and clearly the Somali government needs help,” he said.

Somalia has no functioning government, and the warlords in the various regions do not have the capacity to deal with stopping piracy. Somalia needs more help from the United Nations and the African Union “to try to deal with some of the economic and governance problems that lead to the pirates,” Morrell said.

(Source: American Forces Press Service)

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