Everybody’s Stopping Pirates… Except Us

Worldwide, the war against Somali pirates looks to be the biggest opportunity for naval forces to strut their stuff in the last fifty years, and everybody wants to get in the newspaper stories about it. China, of all countries, is joining in the fun with a pair of destroyers, which may depart before the end of the year. The same article mentions, offhand, that an attack on a Chinese merchant vessel off Somalia was thwarted yesterday… by the Malaysian Navy. While that’s true, there’s a bit more to the story than that.

Apparently, pirates actually boarded the vessel, but were confronted by the crew, who “used beer bottles, fire hoses and homemade incendiary bombs” (!) to hold off the attackers. Eventually, the crew retreated to a locked room and sent a distress call; a Malaysian warship sent an armed helicopter, which scared the pirates into fleeing.

At the same time, India has turned over their ever-growing bounty of pirates to Yemeni authorities, who presumably intend on prosecuting them. Also, depending on who you talk to, it sounds like the multinational Task Force 150 might have actually gotten involved in yesterday’s incident, sort of kind of almost. If true, it would be the closest thing the Task Force had achieved to actually doing something about piracy all year. They try to grab a little bit (more?) of the glory, by claiming that the Malaysian warship “cooperates” with the group, which is an interesting choice of words that’s open to all sorts of interpretation.

The waters in and around the Gulf of Aden now sport, or will soon sport, warships from at least a dozen countries – the U.S. and Canada; the U.K.; Germany, France, and Holland; Denmark; Greece; India and Pakistan; Russia; and now China. There has to be a certain amount of “cooperation”, just to avoid – ahem – “incidents”, but I think it’s kind of telling that it’s the warships operating independently which are having the most concrete effects against piracy. I’ve joked before about piracy being an insurgency-at-sea, but that might not be too bad of an analogy; evidence, however accidental or unintentional, suggests that some counter-insurgency tactics translate fairly well to counter-piracy efforts. The only problem is that the Western navies don’t seem to have realized, or accepted, this yet. I know I keep harping on about TF150, but they’ve achieved less, in terms of concrete results, in the last year – hell, two years – than the Indian Navy has achieved in the last three months. Assuming that they’re not busy doing other stuff, or hindered by politics, it seems time to admit that what they’ve been doing isn’t working, and that a shift in (naval) tactics is necessary.

I don’t think that shift in tactics is going to happen; the United Nations seems to be on the verge of giving up on naval patrols in lieu of other options, and it’s kind of hard to blame them. The problem might be due to inter-service rivalry; the world’s navies have had their chance to end piracy, and failed – so, rather than have the navies try something else, some people seem to think it’s time for armies to take their turn. I think that’s a terrible idea that the West cannot – in any sense of the word – afford to undertake. But I, happily, am not a policymaker; nor, equally happily, am I in the hypothetical but very unenviable position of having to explain to representatives of some of the world’s largest, most modern, and most powerful navies that the road to success might lie in emulating India, of all places…

(As an aside, it occurs to me that the various navies involved in TF150 have no real vested interest in ending piracy. Other countries – India, China, Malaysia, Russia – are getting involved because ships belonging to their nationals are victims of piracy, so there’s incentive to actually go out and do something concrete, rather than just go through the motions. Now, if we gave them incentive – docked everyone’s pay for every ship seized by pirates, and paid everyone involved a bonus, a bounty, for each captured ship rescued, pirate captured or killed, or pirate vessel destroyed – how long would it be before piracy around Somalia was eradicated?)

Published in: General | on December 18th, 2008| Comments Off on Everybody’s Stopping Pirates… Except Us

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