Global coordination can stop pirates: US

In a set of hearings on Capitol Hill, analysts testified that commercial ships traveling off the African coast should not be armed, despite increasingly brazen attacks on them by pirates.

A State Department official has also told the United States hopes that growing international cooperation will improve maritime-security efforts, reports.

Acts of piracy more than doubled in the Gulf of Aden area during 2008. The area spans the Horn of Africa and Somalia‘s north coast and is a vital shipping lane connecting the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Americas. In 2008, an estimated $30 million in ransoms was paid to pirates who hijacked vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

According to the International Chamber of Commerce, there were a total of 293 pirate attacks worldwide in 2008, and more than 900 hostages were taken.

Eighty percent of the volume of global trade was seaborne in 2008.

Merchant Captain Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage April 8, 2009 by Somali pirates and later freed by US Navy personnel, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that arming commercial crews “should not be viewed as the best or ultimate solution.”


Phillips skippered the merchant ship Maersk Alabama hundreds of kilometers off the Somali coast until machine-gun-wielding pirates boarded. The pirates were turned back by the Alabama‘s crew, but Phillips was taken hostage.

On the question of arming crew members, Phillips said, “To the extent we go forward in this direction, it would be my personal preference that only a limited number of individuals aboard the vessel have access to effective weaponry, and these individuals receive special training on a regular basis.”


William Baumgartner, the U.S. Coast Guard’s top law official, testifying before a House of Representatives subcommittee about whether ships’ crews should be armed, said the matter would be handled best if companies that insist on arming personnel hired specially trained security staff.


He said arming vessels carrying certain cargo such as oil would be hazardous. Coast Guard guidance recommends nonlethal defensive tactics: frequently changing course, traveling as fast as possible, and using nets, wires and hoses to deter pirates attempting to board.

The Coast Guard is working with the International Maritime Organisation and other United Nations agencies to enhance counter-piracy guidance.

Phillips, the sea captain, emphasized that the US government must continue to seek international partners willing to employ legal, military and diplomatic solutions to the problem. John Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, agreed and said the government’s strategy cannot come down “to the precise aim of three Navy snipers,” referring to the Navy special operations forces who killed the Somali pirates holding Phillips captive.


(The bodies of the pirates were turned over to local Somali authorities by the Navy April 30.)

Stephen Mull, a senior adviser to the State Department, told members of Congress that the United States senses a “growing international consensus” to do more to counter piracy. He said the United States hopes to achieve enhanced regional capacity to deal with the problem — training and equipping regional coast guards, coordinating coastal and naval exercises, and pooling surveillance information.

The regional approach, Mull said, has proven successful in combating piracy in the Straits of Malacca and could be applied to other maritime challenges, such as smuggling, trafficking in persons and responding to natural disasters.

The United States plans to convene a meeting of more than 30 international partners, called the International Contact Group on Piracy, in coming weeks. It will press countries to refuse concessions to pirates and to freeze pirates’ ransoms. At the group’s next meeting in New York, the United States also will push more countries to prosecute pirates, according to Mull.


Meanwhile, the United States continues to work with the Transitional Government of Somalia to suppress piracy. There will be no long-term solution to piracy unless Somalis do more to solve challenges that threaten their own and regional security and economic development, Mull said.

Solutions include developing judicial and law enforcement capabilities to address the pirate attacks in the more than 4 million square kilometers of ocean beginning at enclaves along Somalia‘s under-governed and economically devastated coast, according to the Coast Guard’s Baumgartner. Because piracy is a universal crime under international law, every nation has the legal authority to establish jurisdiction over piracy and punish offenders regardless of the perpetrators or victims’ nationalities, he said.

So far in 2009, there have been 15 cases of authorities from various countries halting pirate vessels, double the number for all of 2008.

Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested establishing an international court to try suspected pirates.


Reuters says Russia last week said it had captured a pirate vessel with 29 people on board off the coast of Somalia, but it has not yet decided where to try the suspects.

“It is necessary to consider all possibilities, including, maybe, the formation of some kind of international court on this theme,” Medvedev told Prosecutor General Yury Chaika in televised remarks.

“Often states where these pirates come from do not take any actions, in short, they aid this kind of crime,” Medvedev said.

Russia is among several naval powers with warships in the area to protect one of the world’s busiest sea lanes from spate of hijackings by Somali pirates.