Somali Pirates Undeterred by Naval Build-up, but Risks Heightened


Founding Member
Regular Member
Feb 19, 2009
On the one hand, it was not much of a fight. Seven Somali pirates, presumably mistaking the German Navy supply boat FGS Spessart for a commercial vessel opened fire on the Type 704A Rhön-class tanker as it cruised in the Gulf of Aden Sunday afternoon. German sailors returned fire and, when the attacking skiff tried to withdraw, gave chase while calling in for support. Soon ships from several allied navies – including Dutch, Greek, and Spanish frigates (respectively, HNLMS Zeven Provincien, the Hydra-class HS Psara, and the Santa Maria-class SPS Victoria) and the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer – converged on the area while a Spanish plane and two AH-1 twin engine Cobra helicopters operated by United States Marines joined in the pursuit. Five hours later, Greek sailors managed to stop and board their quarry and took custody of the pirates onboard and their weapons, which included automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The seven suspects were handed over the commander of Deutsche Marine’s F122 Bremen-class frigate FGS Rheinland-Pfalz, who is holding them pending a decision on what to do with them. (Der Spiegel reported this week that the decision may hinge on how smoothly the trial, which began on Wednesday in Mombasa, Kenya, of nine pirates captured by the Rheinland-Pfalz at the beginning of March after they tried to takeover the German-owned freighter MV Courier goes.)

On the other hand, this episode – which was not without its comical aspect given that seven pirates in a wooden skiff were chased down on the high seas by of no fewer than five warships and three military aircraft while another naval vessel brought up the rear – underscores the correctness of the cautionary note I sounded six weeks ago in this column when I observed that “the challenge of piracy is not just ongoing, but incidents of attempted hijackings may actually increase, notwithstanding the increased attention which the international has focused on the phenomenon.” In fact, a review of events this past week bears this out:

▪ On Wednesday, the crew of a Norwegian chemical tanker, the MV Sigloo Tor, successfully used high pressure fire hoses to repel an assault by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Unfortunately, when the pirates were intercepted a short time later by commandos from the Greek frigate Psara, they threw their weapons overboard and, in the absence of other evidence of their participation in the attack, were released.

▪ On Monday, a South Korean bulk carrier, the MV Eastern Queen, came under RPG and automatic weapons fire from pirates while at approximately 9 45 N 58 50 E, well in the Indian Ocean away from the Somali coast.

▪ Earlier last Sunday, several hours before the incident with the FGS Spessart, pirates attempted to board the Norwegian-owned, Singaporean-flagged chemical tanker MV Siteam Leader as it sailed 80 nautical miles north of Berbera, Somaliland. The captain managed to take evasive maneuvers and escape his assailants.

▪ Last Saturday, authorities in Sana’a, Yemen, reported that pirates had killed a Yemeni fisherman and would two others during an attack on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Aden.

▪ Later the same day and in the very same area of the attack on the Yemeni fishing boat, a speedboat open fired with RPGs and automatic weapons on a yacht from the Maldives, the Grandezza. The pirates attempted to come alongside and board the vessel with ladders, but desisted when one of their number fell overboard and had to be rescued.

▪ Likewise on Saturday, the German-owned, Liberian-flagged cargo ship MV Maersk Neustadt was assaulted by a speedboat launched from a nearby “mother ship.” By increasing speed and conducting evasive maneuvers, including using its wake to keep the pirates at bay, the master of the Neustadt managed to shake off his attackers.

▪ Earlier that same day, pirates released the Bahamian-registered liquefied petroleum gas tanker MV Longchamp, which had been seized in January as it was en route from Norway to Vietnam. The boat and its thirteen crew members was reportedly freed after the Hamburg, Germany-based operators paid a multi-million-dollar ransom.

▪ Last Friday, three commercial vessels – the MV Explorer III, the MV Ocean Explorer, and the MV FD Gennaro Aurilia – were targeted in two separate, but failed attacks.

▪ Also on Friday, the state-owned Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation reported that a yacht from the islands, the Serenity, which was headed to Madagascar, was presumed to have been seized by Somali pirates. The vessel, with two Seychellois onboard, had charted a course that was to take it well south of areas where pirates were thought to be active. NATO sources say that the boat has been spotted at anchor south of the notorious pirate haven of Eyl on the northeastern Somali coast.

▪ Last Thursday, the Norwegian-owned, Bahamian-flagged chemical tanker MV Bow Asir was captured by pirates as it sailed in the Indian Ocean 490 nautical miles south of the Somali coast. On board were a load of caustic soda and a crew of twenty-seven.

▪ Last Wednesday, pirates seized the Greek-owned, Panamanian-registered cargo ship MV Nipayia along with its Russian captain and 18 Filipino crew members. The boat was more than 380 nautical miles east of the southern Somali port of Kismayo.

These attacks clearly show that the Somali pirates have hardly been cowed by the international naval presence which has assembled in an unprecedented effort to prevent a repeat of last year’s wave of more than one hundred hijackings and other attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden and other waters near the Horn of Africa. The pirates have simply shifted their operations to areas which they know are not being patrolled, with strikes increasing taking place on the high seas of the western Indian Ocean, as the seizures of the Nipayia and the Bow Asir illustrate. An anonymous U.S. official quoted in an American Forces Press Service story about the latest hijackings admitted that they expand the pirates’ operating area, presenting “a monumental challenge” to anti-piracy operations since just to control the more heavily trafficked shipping lanes in the area would require at least 61 ships – and, added the Navy officer, that would be just “a small portion of the area we are talking about” needing to secure. This inconvenient conclusion, however, has not prevented more nations from sending vessels from their fleets to the region to join other navies already present.

Last Friday, the Canadian government announced that it was dispatching the Halifax-class frigate HCMS Winnepeg to undertake anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast in conjunction with other NATO countries. Defense Minister extolled the mission in terms of Canada’s international responsibilities: “The security challenges facing Canada are real and globalization means that developments abroad can have a profound impact on the safety and interests of Canadians here. Canada’s participation in this maritime force is another example of our government’s continuing commitment to international peace and security, which also enhances the security of Canada and Canadians at home and abroad.”

Two days later, a task force from Russia’s Pacific Fleet, led by the Udaloy I-class anti-submarine missile destroyer RFS Admiral Panteleyev, set sail from Vladivostok for the Gulf of Aden. Accompanying the destroyer – which is equipped with anti-ship missiles, 30-mm and 100-mm guns, and Ka-27 Helix helicopters – is a salvage tugboat and a supply tanker.

On Monday, two ships from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force began their own anti-piracy mission off the Somali coast, the first such long-range deployment by military vessels flying the ensign of the Rising Sun since World War II. The Takanami-class guided missile destroyer JDS Sazanami and the Murusame-class anti-submarine and anti-ship destroyer JDS Samidare started escorting a convoy of Japanese commercial boats – three automobile carriers and two tankers – through the Gulf of Aden. While, as I noted here last year, Japan has been increasingly engaged in Africa, the mission of the two destroyers is circumscribed by the fact that they were dispatched under the pretext of carrying out a police action under the country’s Self-Defense Forces Law. Consequently, they can only assist vessels with clear links to Japan as demonstrated by ship registry or ownership or which might have Japanese nationals or cargo onboard.

As impressive as this burgeoning international armada might appear, the events of the last week clearly demonstrate the point I made here five weeks ago: “While the two dozen or so cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and other surface combat vessels which various countries have dispatched to the region…have made for great political theater and may have even proven useful in escort duty along narrowly defined sea lanes, there are simply not enough of them to make a real dent in the operations of the pirates.” Furthermore, not only might the presence of more than twenty navies not be particularly effective against the highly adaptable and increasingly sophisticated pirates, but there is the possibility that the concentration of warships from virtually every major maritime state might actually heighten the risk of conflict escalation in the region. As I noted here nearly three years ago with respect at that time to maritime issues on the other coast of Africa, risk is accessed in terms of three elements: threat, the frequency or likelihood of adverse events; vulnerability, the likelihood of success of a particular threat category against a particular target; and cost, the total impact of a particular threat experienced by a vulnerable target, including both the “hard costs” of actual damages and the “soft costs” to production, the markets, etc.

Thus the increased international naval presence in the waters of the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the western Indian Ocean actually heightens two risks.

First, there is a risk of a naval incident involving the various vessels and flotillas operating in a relatively tight area – most of the patrols have been concentrated in the Gulf of Aden – and each following different and often contradictory rules of engagement. In a commentary earlier this week, Bjoern Seibert of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) described “the scramble to patrol the Gulf of Aden” between the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the two organizations being nominally allied and having overlapping memberships:

Everyone loves good sport, but the EU-NATO rivalry is pointless and perhaps even counterproductive in this case. To cover a vast, remote area of operations quickly, efficiently, and in the absence of host nation support, coordination between the forces is vital. With separate command structures, duplications and even contradictions are unavoidable, likely at the expense of an efficient, cohesive anti-piracy effort.

Already, maritime operations are expensive. At a time when defense budgets in the United States and Europe are strained by financial crisis, inefficiencies due to pure institutional rivalry are not justifiable. Even when the missions do share intelligence, for example, some NATO equipment cannot be used aboard EU vessels. Every doubling adds dollars to the task.

This is the tension between formal allies, where at least the competition between is relatively benign. When it is a matter of interactions between countries or blocs whose relations are less amicable, it is a tribute to the professionalism of the naval officers on all sides that nothing untoward – as, for example, when at the beginning of March when five Chinese vessels shadowed and blocked an unarmed civilian-manned American oceanographic ship, USNS Impeccable, operating in international waters south of Hainan Island under the authority of the Military Sealift Command, a incident that came just one week after another unarmed U.S. civilian ship, USNS Victorious, was harassed on the high seas by a Chinese patrol boat – has yet occurred during the counter-piracy operations (see my article three weeks ago on the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s deployment to the region).

Second, there is the risk of a terrorist incident targeting the naval vessels. Bruno Schiemsky, who formerly served as on the United Nations committee monitoring the arms embargo on Somalia, wrote earlier this year in an article on Somali piracy for Jane’s Intelligence Review:

Although this criminal activity is motivated primarily by the desire for financial gain, encouraged by a weak state and high poverty levels, there are indications that the pirates based around Kismayo and Harardheere (not Puntland) are strengthening links with Islamist insurgent group the Shabaab. As part of this relationship, the pirates are becoming more closely involved in arms trafficking through the region, increasing their potential sources of revenue…Although sources indicate that the Shabaab as yet plays no active role in piracy attacks, despite its links to pirate groups, this may change as the Shabaab develops its maritime component.

There are already indications that, as Schiemsky suggests, al-Shabaab is in fact developing a primitive maritime capacity, mainly to ensure the security of its smuggling operations bringing foreign Jihadists into and out of Somalia as well as moving weapons and other materiel into the country. It should be recalled that the suicide bomber who killed four South Korean tourists and their local guide near the ancient fortress city of Shibam, Yemen, on March 15th, Abdel Rahman Mehdi al-Aajbari, had gone to Somalia for training and returned to his native country to carry out the deadly attack. Given that the leadership of al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked group that was formally designated a “foreign terrorist organization” last year by the U.S. Department of State, clearly puts such ideologically-motivated objectives as driving non-Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula above its more direct political goal of toppling the flailing “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia – to say nothing of the pecuniary interests which drive the pirates – would it be too far-fetched to imagine the temptation which the assembling fleet must present to them? And this is before al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden weighed in on their role in the fight against “the international Crusade” as “the first line of defense for the Islamic world in its southwest part” (see my analysis last week on “Bin Laden’s Somali Gambit”). Without belaboring the point too much, is a terrorist attack like the October 12, 2000 bombing of the USS Cole just waiting to happen off the Somali littorals?

In the end, as I noted last year in the New Atlanticist policy blog of the Atlantic Council of the United States, the problem of Somali lawlessness at sea will only be definitively resolved when the international community summons up the political will to adequately address the underlying pathology of Somali statelessness onshore, the magnitude of which was underscored by roadside attacks that in just the last few days have injured the TFG interior minister and a woman parliamentarian and killed a veteran politician. And if, given the circumstances, the wherewithal for such long-term commitment is simply not there, what might be done in the interim?

Since everyone acknowledges that while the increased naval deployments by the United States and other outside powers is simply unsustainable, naval and coast guard capabilities in the region are neither as advanced nor as robust as needed to address the challenge posed by the pirates, the international community needs to do more to assist in the building up of a local counter-piracy coalition, partnering, as appropriate, not only with willing states in the area, but effective and legitimate authorities in the territory of the former Somali state, subregional organizations, and the African Union (AU). In his March 16th report to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pronounced himself “encouraged” that last December’s International Conference on Piracy around Somalia was attended not only by officials from the TFG, but, perhaps more importantly, representatives from the as-yet unrecognized Republic of Somaliland and the largely autonomous State of Puntland, and that all three parties were willing to “to create a working group in the near future that would examine the way in which Somalia could work together with the international community to eradicate piracy and armed robbery from their shores.” Citing the example of the Puntland coast guard and its limited effectiveness against pirate groups operating in the waters off the northeastern area – at least as it was before the election in January of Abdirahman Mohamed Farole as Puntland’s president – Ban suggested:

In the interests of a durable solution to piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, it is important that local coast guards in the region, where possible, are assisted in ways that will enable them to constructively play a role in anti-piracy efforts conducted off the coast of Somalia and the surrounding region. As part of a long-term strategy to promote the closure of pirates’ shore bases and effectively monitor the coastline, I therefore recommend that Member States consider strengthening the capacity of the coast guards both in Somalia and the region.

Of course, to implement this course of action it will be necessary for the Security Council to modify the now 17-year-old arms embargo on Somalia, a step which the AU’s Peace and Security Council urged it to do on March 11th. One way to do this might be to declare from the start that the forces being created constitute a trust for the Somali peoples and that the international community is agnostic as to what form they ultimately decide their future polity or polities might take. The trust could be administered by the UN, the AU, or a subregional organization and funded by a combination of donor assistance, commercial fishing licenses, and fees on shipping in and out of Somali ports. The monies would be released from the trust to pay for the equipment and training, perhaps by carefully vetted private firms, of local coast guards who would be accountable to legitimate and effective authorities in their respective geographic sectors.

In short, the way forward is not without its hurdles, both legal and political, which must be overcome. Nonetheless, the Secretary-General’s recommendation is highly significant in that the pragmatic path it advocates—privileging the allocation of resources to effective and legitimate local actors who recognize the challenge that the piracy poses to their own interests and are willing to work against it – is not only the one most likely to most likely deter the pirates from their marauding, but also the approach that holds the most promise of reducing the chaos in the Somali lands which, alongside the opportunity for unimaginable wealth, is the principal driving force behind the ongoing attacks on the seas off the Horn of Africa.

At the risk of sounding anti-American I have to point out that Somalia is another feather in the cap for American foreign policy blunder :)


Tihar Jail
Aug 6, 2009
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Somali pirates open fire on US navy helicopter

Somali pirates defying a multi-national anti-piracy mission in the region have reportedly opened fire on a US navy helicopter from aboard a hijacked vessel.

The US navy said Thursday that a shootout had happened the previous morning as a helicopter was carrying out a surveillance mission over the vessel.

There has so far been no report of casualties or damages from the incident in the piracy-ridden waters off Somalia.

"Somali pirates aboard the motor vessel Win Far fired what appeared to be a large caliber weapon at a US navy SH-60B helicopter," AFP news agency cited a statement from the Bahrain-based US Naval Forces Central Command as reading.

"The helicopter was conducting a routine surveillance flight of M/V Win Far, currently held at anchorage by Somali pirates south of Garacad, Somalia, when the incident occurred," it added.

According to the navy, the Win Far is a Taiwanese-flagged vessel seized along with its 30 crewmembers earlier this year and has been used as a 'mother ship' to conduct other known pirate attacks, "most notably the US-flagged Maersk-Alabama in April".

The international naval presence in the dangerous Gulf of Aden waters is unable to monitor and patrol all of the shipping lanes that connect Europe to Asia -- an area that spans more than 2.5 million square miles.

This year, the number of attempted attacks on merchant vessels rose to 114, only 29 of which were successful, according to the US navy figures.

The pirates usually hold the ships and crew for millions of dollars in ransom.
Somali pirates open fire on US navy helicopter


Senior Member
Jun 29, 2009
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Laser gun to be used against Somali pirates - Telegraph

A laser gun that can be used to dazzle pirates, leaving them incapacitated, is just one of the hi-tech sea security gadgets being unveiled at a defence exhibition in London.

The device is powerful enough to incapacitate pirates up to 1,000 yards away, while leaving them physically unscathed.

The Laser Dazzle System has been created to help ship owners fend off the pirate gangs that have seized a number of vessels off the coast of East Africa.

Military boats have been armed with similar gadgets for years, but the defence manufacturer BAE Systems is now making them available for use on cruise ships and tankers.

Other anti-piracy tools being unveiled at the Defence Systems & Equipment International exhibition at the ExCeL centre in London's Docklands this week include a radar that can detect a dinghy from 15 miles away, and another device that can close down a vessel's engine remotely.

"We can put radar on the ships which looks over the horizon and can see a rubber boat. When it gets a bit nearer we can turn the engine off,” Dick Olver, BAE Systems's chairman, told the Daily Express.

Nick Stoppard, the firm's director of solutions development, added: “Piracy is on the rise. Attacks in 2008 were double those of the previous year. There is a clear need for better methods to help ships identify and evade the pirates before an attack occurs.”

There were 130 attempted hijackings by Somalian pirates in the first six months of this year, 19 more than during all of 2008.

An EU flotilla has been sent to patrol the waters – considered the most dangerous in the world – after a spate of high-profile attacks.

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