US Navy issues new alert to mariners

The US-led Bahrain-based Combined Maritime Forces patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden has issued a new Special Maritime Advisory in the wake of a spate of deep sea pirate attacks this week.
The US 5th Fleet says the message highlights several recent attacks that occurred hundreds of miles off the Somali coast, and states that merchant mariners should be increasingly vigilant when operating in those waters.
“We continue to highlight the importance of preparation by the merchant mariners and the maritime industry in this message,” said Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, the Commander of the Combined Maritime Forces.
“We synchronize the efforts of the naval forces deployed to the region. However as we have often stated, international naval forces alone will not be able to solve the problem of piracy at sea. Piracy is a problem that starts ashore.”
While the majority of attacks during 2008 and early 2009 took place in the Gulf of Aden, these recent attacks off the eastern coast of Somalia are not unprecedented. An attack on the large crude tanker Sirius Star in November 2008 occurred more than 450 nautical miles off the southeast coast of Somalia.
The notice also reiterates the fact that despite increased naval presence in the region, ships and aircraft are unlikely to be close enough to provide support to vessels under attack. The scope and magnitude of problem can not be understated. The area involved off the coast of Somalia and Kenya as well as the Gulf of Aden equals more than 1.1 million square miles (2.5 million square kilometers), roughly four times the size of Texas or the size of the Mediterranean and Red Seas combined.
The length of the Somali coastline is roughly the same length as the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
Ships and aircraft of Combined Task Force 151, the European Union, NATO and a number of international navies continue to patrol the region, but the closest military ship could be days away from a merchant vessel sailing hundreds of miles off the coast. While maritime patrol aircraft from a number of nations fly counter-piracy missions, the same aircraft are also providing critical support to Coalition forces operating throughout the region.
Despite the recent successful attacks, merchant mariners have proven successes as first line defenders against pirates. A number of merchant vessels have employed evasive maneuvering and other defensive measures to protect their ships and their cargoes.
Recent examples of proactive measures include the crew of Panamanian-flagged motor vessel Protector evasively out-maneuvering pirates and repelling their would-be attackers with fire hoses; the crew of Motor Vessel Sea Green firing several warning flares at suspected pirates as they approached, successfully warding off an attack; and the merchant mariners aboard Motor Vessel Africa Star rigging barbed wire along the sides of the ship to prevent pirates from boarding. In all three examples, merchant mariners were able to prevent the theft of their vessels via methods they undertook to secure their ships and protect their crews.
Korea task team
The 5th Fleet separately reports a Republic of Korea (ROK) Task Group has arrived in Bahrain to join the fight against piracy.
The Munmu the Great (DDG 976, pictured) is the first ROK navy warship to be deployed to the Middle East since the establishment of the Korean Navy 64 years ago.
While operating as part of CTF 151, the ROK task group will help escort Korean ships transiting the region as well as join US, UK, Danish and Turkish naval forces that have conducted counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
“We welcome the participation of the Republic of Korea naval forces who will conduct counter-piracy efforts as part of CTF 151,” said Royal Navy Commodore Tim Lowe, Deputy Commander, Combined Maritime Forces.
“They will play a vital role and join a growing number of international navies deployed to the region to deter, disrupt and thwart piracy off the Somali coast.”
The 300 person ROK Task Group is commanded by Captain Jang Sung-Woo and is comprised of Munmu the Great, its embarked helicopter and visit, board, search and seizure teams.
While in Bahrain, the task group will conduct training with US Coast Guard boarding teams as well as visit with Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) leadership.
IMB concerns
Meanwhile, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is warning the latest attacks by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa country threaten trade routes in the region.
“This recent surge of activity is worrying for a number of reasons, principally because attacks have taken place many hundreds of miles off the country’s coastline,” IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan told Reuters.
“The problem of Somali piracy has now spilled over to neighbouring countries, threatening trade routes into their ports,” he said.
Pirates are shifting their focus to the east coast of Somalia, away from the busy Gulf of Aden route, after foreign navies deployed ships there to combat a wave of attacks last year. The deployment has proved effective there.
More than 25 percent of the world’s oil is estimated to pass through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, which has heightened worries about piracy.
The IMB said there had been 25 attacks on vessels off Somalia’s east coast resulting in seven hijackings this year — all of them since March 1.
“The surge marks the return of a high volume of pirate activity in the Indian Ocean,” the London-based watchdog said.
It said that, since the beginning of April, five attacks had been confirmed, three vessels hijacked and about 74 crew taken hostage.
“These recent attacks have shown that the pirate gangs are able to successfully operate far out to sea using mother ships,” said the IMB’s Mukundan.
He said vessels not calling at east African ports had been advised to try and stay at least 600 miles from the coast.
“We may have to review our advice in the light of the recent attacks,” he added.