Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pirates Adapt to Navies

As Reported HERE

Pirates change tactics, adapt to Navy’s success

By Sam Fellman - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jan 29, 2011 8:46:50 EST
Piracy may have fallen off markedly in the Gulf of Aden and the South Korean navy may have recently retaken a pirated freighter, saving its crew, but neither success should be grounds for declaring victory, said the Navy’s top commander in the region.
Instead, he cautioned that the pirate threat, which is evolving and spreading far from African shores, calls for a more robust approach.
“We are facing a thinking opponent,” Vice Adm. Mark Fox, 5th Fleet commander, said in meeting with reporters Wednesday. “They know our red lines. They know our modes of operations.”
The two sides are locked in a maritime chess match. After increased hijackings of merchant ships by African pirates, NATO, aided by other nations including China, stepped up patrols through the Gulf of Aden. The pirates, who had launched raids from the Somali coast in small, short-range skiffs, countered with a new advance: motherships.
These ships are a “game changer,” Fox said. Pirates have turned large captured ships into floating bases, loaded with skiffs and weapons, he said; the vessels are outfitted with the fuel and supplies to head far out to sea while evading maritime patrols.
The monsoon season once kept pirate skiffs ashore, but motherships allow for year-round piracy. About eight of these “pirate action groups” are spread throughout the region, he said.
Fox continued, “Just as we have pressurized them in the Gulf of Aden, they have gone where we’re not. And if you think of the scope and the scale of the distances involved here, the Somali basin is larger than the entire East Coast of the United States, from the Mississippi east.”
The pirates are also taking many more hostages, Fox said. Pirates held 770 hostages as of Jan. 26, more than double the 350 they held in September, Fox said. They’re holding the hostages longer and demanding higher ransom. This, too, has changed the calculus.
“The new center of gravity in this is the hostage piece,” Fox said.
As a result, Fox called for measures that would broaden the counterpiracy effort, from creating a legal framework for bringing suspected pirates to justice in now-lawless Somalia to developing more lethal force options and tracking pirate supply chains. Fox said the multinational coalition should take a cue from counterterrorism operations, which run the full gamut of force, intelligence and engagement.
“We’ve not used the same level of rigor in terms of following the money on the counterpiracy piece as we have with the counterterror,” Fox said. That means, he added, “Doing the supply chain. You know, ‘Where are they getting their fuel? How are their outboard motors getting there?’”
Fox stopped short of calling for more lethal force against pirates and acknowledged that there is no established link between terrorist groups and piracy.
The shipping industry is spooked. Once-safe routes near the coast of India are now pirate hunting grounds. And pirate methods are increasingly brutal, Fox said. Hostages are routinely tortured or suffer mock executions and gunshots next to their ears.
“Once somebody’s been pirated and they’ve been held hostage for a while, that crew is not all that energized to ever go back into that region,” Fox said. Fox endorsed a United Nations report, about to be released, that calls for extending an international law approach to piracy in the Gulf of Aden. That would resolve another long-standing problem: getting captured pirates off Navy ships quickly.
“They spend an awful lot of time on a U.S. ship while we’re waiting for a legal finish to the problem,” Fox said. “I don’t want any pirates to get any sea service ribbons on my ships.”

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