Pirate contact group to meet today

A Contact Group on Somali Piracy (CGSP) created by the United Nations Security Council last month will hold its inaugural meeting at the UN Headquarters Building in New York City today.
The US Department of State says 24 countries and five multilateral organisations are planning to participate in the inaugural meeting which will be chaired by the American Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Mark T. Kimmitt.
“The CGSP will focus on coordinating activities between states and organizations to suppress piracy off the coast of Somalia,” the state department statement adds.
It is anticipated that discussions will address:
  • Improving operational and intelligence support to counter-piracy operations,
  • Establishing a counter-piracy coordination mechanism,
  • Strengthening judicial frameworks for the arrest, prosecution and detention of pirates,
  • Strengthening commercial shipping self-awareness and other capabilities,
  • Pursuing improving diplomatic and public information efforts, and
  • Disrupting pirate financial operations.
The CGSP is expected to issue a statement after its meeting.
Meanwhile, the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua is reporting from aboard the People`s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 052B destroyer Wuhan that the country`s first expeditionary naval deployment in 600 years is picking up speed.
A surface escort group consisting of one destroyer and a support ship on Monday commenced an escort mission for four merchant ships including one from Taiwan in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia.
“The mission is also escorting two other ships from Shanghai and one from the Philippines to protect them against pirate attacks,” the report says.  
Naval Special Forces are aboard the first and the last of the commercial ships.
The phased-array radar-equipped Type 052C air defence destroyer Haikou, currently detached, will rejoin the mission later.  
In another development, Xinhua reports Taiwan may also send escort vessels to protect its ships off the Horn of Africa.
Further US moves
In a further development, the US Fifth Fleet has announced the formation of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) to better counter piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.   
The task force will include ships and assets from more than 20 nations under US Navy Rear Admiral Terence “Terry” McKnight and will be fully operational by the end of this week.
The 5th Fleet press release adds that the US-led Combined Maritime Force created as part of the “coalition of the willing” to combat al Qaeda after the September 2001 terror attacks in the US, created a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) in the Gulf of Aden in August 2008 “to support international efforts to combat piracy”.
“Coalition efforts included CTF-150 assets patrolling the area with ships and aircraft. However, the charter for CTF-150, established at the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom, was for the conduct of Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Operations included the deterrence of destabilising activities, such as drug smuggling and weapons trafficking.
“The establishment of CTF-151 will allow CTF-150 assets to remain focused on those activities, giving CTF-151 the ability to focus solely on the counter-piracy mission,” the statement adds.
“Some navies in our coalition did not have the authority to conduct counter-piracy missions,” added CMF commander Vice Admiral Bill Gortney.
“The establishment of CTF-151 will allow those nations to operate under the auspices of CTF-150, while allowing other nations to join CTF-151 to support our goal of deterring, disrupting and eventually bringing to justice the maritime criminals involved in piracy events.”
The British Guardian newspaper reports from Nairobi that CTF 151 will operate alongside other coalition forces patrolling the region, including the EU’s Operation Atalanta and individual deployments such as that by Russia, Iran and China.
“The sudden concentration of warships off Somalia has already had a positive impact, with only two successful hijackings in December,” the paper said.
“But Somali pirates are still holding at least 14 vessels, including the Faina, a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and other arms, and the Sirius Star, a Saudi supertanker carrying 2m barrels of oil.
More than 20 countries, including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Pakistan and the UK, are already members of the CMF that conducts MSO from the Suez Canal to the Strait of Hormuz and from Kenya to Pakistan. “With more than 30 warships working together, the coalition focuses on combating terrorism, drug and people trafficking, and piracy,” the Guardian explains.
5th Fleet spokeswoman Lieutenant Virginia Newman says the US “for now” is “the only confirmed member of CTF 151 but other countries will announce their participation in the coming days.”
Gortney also commended the merchant marine for the role they have played in defeating pirate attacks, which has included pulling up ladders to stop pirates climbing on board, travelling at high speeds and staying in close radio contact with other vessels and international warships.
“The most effective measures we’ve seen to defeat piracy are non-kinetic and defensive in nature,” he said in the 5th Fleet statement.
The US News and World Report quotes an Office of Naval Intelligence study that points out that the most obvious way to prevent falling victim to piracy is to avoid the areas where they thrive. Ships moving through pirate-infested waters outside corridors patrolled by various naval task groups are “often looking to save time or just as often looking to avoid attention”.
“Another step ships can take is simply to go faster. Analysts at the Office of Naval Intelligence conducted a review of all pirate attacks and unsuccessful attacks over a period of several months. Vessels with an average speed above 15 knots reported 10 unsuccessful pirate attacks, while vessels travelling below an average of 14 knots reported 11 successful attacks.
In addition, none of the successful pirate attacks occurred at night, leaving mariners with a clear formula for minimizing trouble. “All vessels are advised to proceed through the entire Gulf of Aden at maximum possible speed. Vessels with characteristics that put them at higher risk, like maximum speeds of 15 knots or less, as well as those with low freeboard, are advised to minimize risk by transiting as much as possible of the eastern Gulf of Aden in hours of darkness,” the report concluded.
For deterring speedboat-riding pirates, several ships reported success with fire hoses, parachute flares, smoke bombs, and sound cannons, the report found.
But Andrew Mwangura, the head of the East African Seafarers’ Association, told the Guardian that despite the recent lull, piracy was likely to continue until the anarchy on land in Somalia ended. The potential rewards – a single ship can fetch a ransom of millions of pounds – meant there was no shortage of gunmen willing to risk their lives at sea, he said.
US News and World Report adds that British insurer Lloyd’s of London expects pirates to earn up $50 million this year based on past trends. It notes the average pirate ransom off Somalia has jumped from about US$500 000 in 2007 to between US$1-8 million.
In addition to sending ships, some states are also contemplating military detachments on ships. Xinhua last month reported Switzerland was considering placing soldiers aboard Swiss merchant ships.
There is no other solution than to send soldiers if our ships are threatened,” Swiss President Pascal Couchepin was quoted as saying by the Sonntags Zeitung newspaper. Couchepin, who is also the country’s interior minister, said the Swiss cabinet had not made a final decision, but its position was clear on this issue. Landlocked Switzerland has a merchant fleet of 35 ships — mainly container vessels — on the high seas.