The scourge of the Somali pirates continues, despite a continued presence of naval forces patrolling the region.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which tracks pirate attacks, the first three months of 2011 saw a record number of pirate attacks. There were 97 attacks off the coast of Somalia in the first quarter of 2011, compared with just 35 during the same period last year.
According to IMB Director Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, “Figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea in the past three months are higher than we’ve ever recorded in the first quarter of any past year.”
Mukundan says the pirates are becoming more violent. While only two injuries were reported in the first quarter of 2006, pirates murdered seven crew members and injured 34 during the same corresponding three month period in 2011.
“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the violence and techniques used by pirates in the seas off Somalia,” said Mukundan.
As merchant ships attempt to avoid known pirate waters, and as naval forces cooperate to stem the attacks of global shipping that must pass through those waters, the pirates become more brazen and conduct attacks farther from home. The Somali pirates are making more use of mother ships that they hijack and use to mount attacks far from Somalia.
According to IMB’s Cyrus Mody, some of these hijacked mother ships are quite large, and have 50 to 100 pirates aboard.
“The positions of some of the attackers’ mother ships are known. It is vital that strong action is taken against these mother ships to prevent further hijackings,” said Mukundan.
Mody says the navies need a system to legally arrest, detain, and transfer pirates for prosecution.
Combined Maritime Forces Fight Pirates
To promote security and stability, the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) is a multi-national naval partnership that exists to coordinate the naval activities over approximately 2.5 million square miles of international waters in the Middle East. Twenty-five member nations participate in the CMF in some fashion: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, U.K., and U.S.
As part of the CMF, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 conducts counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia, covering an area of approximately 1.1 million square miles. The CTF 151 mission is to “actively deter, disrupt and suppress piracy in order to protect global maritime security and secure freedom of navigation for the benefit of all nations.”
Various naval ships participate. The command staff is comprised of personnel from a number of coalition countries, and it manages daily operations from aboard the TCG Gokceada. Republic of Singapore Navy Rear Adm. Harris Chan Weng Yip currently commands CTF 151.