By Rear Adm. Joseph W. Kuzmick
Director, Operations and Plans
I had the opportunity to testify yesterday about the Navy’s role in combating piracy around the globe. As I discussed with members of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, there are three main regions of the world where our efforts are focused.
Somali Piracy off the Horn of Africa.
Motivated by escalating ransom payments that grew to millions of dollars, Somali men turned to piracy in the mid-2000s. As a result, piracy evolved from a fairly ad hoc, disorganized effort to a highly developed criminal enterprise that focused on hijacking entire merchant vessels in demand for ransom. At their peak, pirates could operate for weeks at a time 1,200 nautical miles from the Somali coast in an operating area greater than the size of the United States.
Why we’re seeing success: We began to see a decrease in the number of attacks and successful hijackings in 2011, which can be attributed to a number of factors to include: implementation of best management practices, an industry-developed set of guidelines for merchant vessels to prevent pirate attacks; the deployment of international naval forces under Commander, Task Force 151, whose mission is to deter, disrupt and suppress piracy in order to protect global maritime security and secure freedom of navigation for the benefit of all nations; and the increased use of privately contracted armed security personnel on merchant vessels — to date, no vessel with these armed security personnel has been successfully hijacked.
Moving forward: In addition to the overall decrease in the number of pirate attacks and the number of successful hijackings, the combined effectiveness of best management practices, international naval presence and privately contracted armed security personnel has made a positive impact throughout the entire region. So far this year, there have been no successful hijackings or attacks.
Armed Robbery and Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
The majority of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea occur within the territorial sea of the coastal nations and the methods of profiting also differ. More often, armed robbery and piracy in this region are focused on kidnapping crew for ransom and hijacking to steal cargo. Prior to 2005, the number of incidents here often doubled the number of attacks off the coast of Somalia. However, since 2011, we’ve seen a decline in incidents.
Why we’re seeing success: Just as the characteristics of piracy and armed robbery differ in this region than in Somalia, so too do the efforts to combat the issue, especially since the armed robbery and piracy tactics are continuing to evolve and adapt to law enforcement techniques. A robust program of theater security and cooperation exercises and events aimed at promoting the professionalism, sustainable capability, effectiveness and interoperability of coastal states navies, coast guards and other constabulatory forces provides a more effective means of countering this threat. The creation of Africa Partnership Station is a reflection of the cooperation efforts put forth.
Moving forward: Africa Partnership Station is a comprehensive international approach designed to build maritime security in Africa in a collaborative manner. Working together with partner nations, governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, Africa Partnership Station is now a year-round, maritime capacity building continuum, which progresses from basic training to exercises and then leading into combined law enforcement operations. U.S. Naval Forces Africa has developed and hosts four regional security exercises around the African continent as a part of Africa Partnership Station: Obangame Express, Cutlass Express, Saharan Express and Phoenix Express.
Piracy in Southeast Asia.
Nearly one quarter of the world’s commerce and half its oil pass through the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea. Piracy and maritime crime in this region bear similarities to that in the Gulf of Guinea. The majority of incidents are quickly executed, non-confrontational “smash and grab” operations that take place within territorial waters while the ships are at anchor or berthed.
Why we’re seeing success: Like the Gulf of Guinea, Southeast Asian nations have functional navies, coast guards or other constabulatory forces capable of law enforcement operations. Accordingly, we have focused our efforts on theater security and cooperation in an effort to strengthen partner nation maritime law enforcement capabilities.
Moving forward: U.S. 7th Fleet is leading the effort to help train partner nations in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training is an annual multinational exercise that highlights the value of information-sharing and multilateral cooperation in interdiction scenarios. Additionally, 7th Fleet conducts annual bilateral cooperation afloat –readiness and training exercises with various Association of Southeast Asian Nations nations.
The threats that piracy and maritime crime pose to the U.S., our international partners and the industry and seafarers who make their living at sea are multi-faceted. The response to these threats requires a broad array of operational capabilities, skills and competencies, and the support and expertise of numerous U.S. government, international and commercial entities.
The Navy plays a unique role, and remains committed to working with our fellow government agencies, our international partners and with industry to forge long-term solutions for regional maritime safety and security.
As long as 90 percent of the world’s commerce continues to travel by water, there will be a need for a strong, forward-deployed Navy to protect our national interests abroad and to ensure economic stability around the globe by guaranteeing freedom and safety of the seas.