International flotilla to fight Somali pirates

10 nations team together to defend security of international shipping


The rules of engagement are being worked out. Nick Brown, editor of Janes International Defence Review, said a key challenge is to determine "whether they will allow them to engage suspected pirate-like vessels."

Others including U.S. and British naval commanders are suggesting shipping companies hire private security firms, according to the Swiss government-funded International Relations and Security Network.

It quotes U.S. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney saying "the coalition does not have the resources to provide 24-hour protection for the vast number of merchant vessels in the region" and British Commodore Keith Winstanley suggesting security measures "would include shippers considering hiring private armed security escorts."

Fears for the environment were heightened after pirates fired rocket-propelled grenades at a Japanese oil tanker, leaving a hole that allowed several hundred gallons of fuel to leak out.

Somalia's pirates have become bolder, more heavily armed and more sophisticated as they have raked in millions in ransoms from shipping companies and possibly governments unwilling to risk fatalities.

The booty has paid for global positioning systems, satellite telephones and weapons, including 20 mm cannons, Brown said.

rules and others estimate pirates have made more than $30 million this year. The number of pirates has grown from about 100 five years ago to more than 1,000, and they have expanded their territory by using seized vessels and speedboats.

The shipping companies' International Maritime Bureau has extended the area they consider in danger from within 30 miles of Somalia's coast five years ago to 125 miles this year. In the past month, they extended the danger zone again, to more than 150 miles.

This year has brought 73 attacks in the Gulf of Aden and 29 ships have been hijacked - twice as many as last year, according to the Maritime Bureau.

The seizure three weeks ago of the MV Faina, a Ukrainian cargo ship, drew special concern because it carries 33 battle tanks and other heavy weapons. U.S. warships have surrounded the ship but have not moved in.

Ten pirates captured by the Navy were convicted and jailed in Kenya two years ago, but Brown said there have been few other successful prosecutions.

Cyrus Mody, the London-based manager of the International Maritime Bureau, said that "the international community, governments, need to sit down and find a solution to who is going to take responsibility if the pirates are caught."

Paul Enright, a private security consultant who has worked in Somalia 17 years, said more investment is needed to develop intelligence sources.

"The deployment of warships looks great, but there's an awful lot of steps missing," he said. "The threat has to be dealt with on land .... It's very difficult to attack at sea and rescue hostages."

In Puntland, the presidential adviser says that's the problem.

"I don't think they will succeed in their attempt to scare away pirates," Qabowsade said. "Bringing warships will not solve the problem unless they cooperate with local administrations affected by the scourge."

The European Union's special envoy to Somalia, Georges-Marc Andre, said European officials will go to Puntland, because "it is not only a matter of sending ships, it is also a matter of entering into dialogue on the ground."

Somali pirates maintain the ransoms are in lieu of taxes and license fees and reparations for illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste.

The piracy problem started small, with fishermen boarding trawlers that they said had no right to be in Somali waters.

Those claims are backed by the U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who said international companies have exploited Somali fishing grounds.

"I think Somalis are right to complain of illegal fishing, to complain of dumping of waste, but no individual has a right to police the Somali coast," he said.

In the meantime, the international momentum is being driven by the growing flotilla off Somalia.

India says it is sending warships, and South Korea is considering dispatching vessels. Russia has sent a missile frigate.