The United States needs to shift its approach to fighting Somali pirates by applying techniques used to combat terrorism, as the armed gangs move further out to sea, says a US Navy commander.
Pirates are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from seizing merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden and increasingly in the Indian Ocean, despite efforts of foreign navies to clamp down on attacks.
The number of hostages is also rising sharply, jumping from around 350 in September to some 750 today, according to the US Military. Vice Admiral Mark Fox, the head of US naval forces in the turbulent region, said he was investigating possible links between pirates and Somali-based insurgents linked to al Qaeda but acknowledged he had no “explicit” ties.
Regardless, he believed that some of the pre-emptive techniques used to battle militants should be used to combat pirates, particularly the aggressive approach to tracking terrorist funding. He suggested the link between pirates and militants might be financial, Reuters reports.
“I gotta look at this and go: ‘Okay, they’re both (pirates and al Shabaab militants) in Somalia. There’s a lot of money,'” said Fox, commander of naval forces in the U.S. military’s massive Central Command’s region, which includes Afghanistan.
One of the hallmarks of the war on terrorism has been the policy of pre-emptive strikes to kill would-be attackers before they can act.
But Fox noted that the European Union’s Naval Force Somalia, known as EU NAVFOR, did not want to see more lethal strikes and declined to endorse them himself.
“EU has made an explicit (statement): ‘We don’t think that increased levels of lethal tactics are the way ahead,'” Fox said.
“And don’t misquote me here: I don’t advocate that we necessarily go into a higher level of lethal activity but I do advocate broadening the overall scope of how we’re tackling the problem.”
Fox said counter-piracy forces had made remarkable gains securing the Gulf of Aden, noting that there had only been one or two incidents there since September.
But international naval forces have struggled to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean due to the vast distances involved, and Fox stressed some of the attacks were taking place close to the coast of India.
“The pirates have adapted,” he said. “They have gone places where we’re not.”
London’s marine insurance market has widened the stretch of waterways deemed at high risk from Somali pirates as the armed gangs strike further out at sea,
The Joint War Committee, which groups syndicate members from the Lloyds Market Association and representatives from the London insurance company market, last month added the Gulf of Oman and a wider stretch of the Indian Ocean to a list of areas it considered high risk for merchant vessels and prone to war, strikes, terrorism and related perils.
A UN envoy proposed on Tuesday special courts be set up rapidly in the Somali enclaves of Somaliland and Puntland, and in Tanzania, to try captured pirates who are costing the world billions of dollars.
Meanwhile the Dutch Ministry of Defence reports that On 23 January, the Dutch naval frigate HNLMS De Ruyter took action against a ship in the Arabian Sea which was being used in piracy operations to attack passing merchant vessels. A skiff on board the mother ship was put out of action by precision fire.
At the end of the afternoon, the shipborne helicopter discovered the suspect vessel 40 kilometres away from HNLMS De Ruyter. The ship, which was suspected of piracy, did not respond when hailed by marine telephone and did not stop after warning shots were fired from the on-board gun. As it was unclear whether there were hostages on board the mother ship, overpowering the vessel was not an option. It was then decided that a sniper of the Marine Corps special forces would disable the engine of the skiff, making it impossible for the pirates on board the mother ship to carry out attacks, the press release reports.
With the participation of HNLMS De Ruyter in Operation Ocean Shield, the Royal Netherlands Navy is contributing to counterpiracy operations off the coast of East Africa until the end of February. The international NATO staff led by Dutch Commodore Michiel Hijmans is also on board the air defence and command frigate. Besides hunting down pirates, the ship, with 220 crew members, a special-forces team of the Marine Corps and a helicopter on board, is also serving as NATO’s flagship in the region.