Piracy drill off Africa larger than ever

As piracy in the Gulf of Guinea off west Africa soars, professionals from over 20 nations are taking part in Obangame Express, a naval-exercise aimed at improving maritime safety and security in the region.

The issue of piracy and enforcement is one that needs to be tackled due to the fact that it’s a growing problem. This is mainly due to lack of ships and trained personnel which is required since large areas of water need to be patrolled and watched over. The more training done with various nations and navies, only helps in curbing the problem. More cooperation and training is needed, and such exercises will only help.

Netherlands to increase anti-piracy forces

Netherlands had decided to increase the number of anti-piracy forces participating in the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

The Netherlands will boost its military contribution to the NATO force fighting piracy in Somali waters after the country’s Parliament approved funding.

The Dutch Parliament voted last week to spend $16.5 million to provide extra personnel, two Cougar helicopters and an unmanned aerial vehicle to join Operation Ocean Shield, in which NATO warships and aircraft have been patrolling the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Also part of the new deployment will be an additional submarine to join the mission in the second half of 2012, Radio Netherlands reported.

The Netherlands has committed two vessels to Operation Ocean Shield as part of the expansion of forces. They include the helicopter-carrying frigate Evertsen, which is on its way to the region, and the amphibious transport ship Rotterdam, which will carry the two Cougar helicopters as well as the drone, the national broadcaster said.
Meanwhile, the multipurpose frigate Van Amstel, which has been deployed as part of the EU’s Operation Atalanta, will return to the Netherlands this month.

The mission of Operation Ocean Shield is to counter maritime piracy and build policing capacity with governments in the Horn of Africa region. It operates in conjunction with other naval forces including U.S.-led maritime forces, Operation Atalanta and national actors operating against the threat of piracy in the region.

The North Atlantic Council in March extended Operation Ocean Shield’s mandate until the end of 2014.

NATO in May released new statistics on piracy in the region showing a marked decline in the number of hijacking attempts.

Officials said a five pirate hijackings were recorded over the first four months of 2012, which would put the region on a pace for 20 for the year. That’s compared with 24 in 2011 and 45 each in 2010 and 2009.

But significantly, only 15 unsuccessful pirate attacks were seen between January and April — a pace of 60 for the year — while last year 129 such unsuccessful attacks by were recorded on shipping in the Somali Basin, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

As of May 11, pirates were holding eight ships with an estimated 235 hostages, NATO said.

A Dutch officer this month assumed command of Operation Ocean Shield. Commodore Ben Bekkering of the Dutch navy said the effort has been bearing fruit under the previous commander, Rear Adm. Sinan Azmi Tosun of the Turkish navy.

“On Admiral Tosun’s 6-month watch, the success rate of pirates has seen a sharp decline,” Bekkering said. “Pirates find it increasingly difficult to deploy from the coast and hunt at sea.

“But the many incidents over the last few months, including attacks and hijackings, make it absolutely clear that we can’t let our guard down,” he added. “I see it as my absolute task to ensure the trend continues and engage with all partners in the region to maximize our combined effect.”

The Dutch Parliament at the same time, however, turned down an appeal from ship-owners to allow merchant ships to hire private protection forces.

Defense Minister Hans Hillen said he understood the ship-owners’ position but said the government needed to retain control of armed forces at sea.

“All armed organizations have to fall under the state’s responsibility to ensure accuracy and proportional measures,” he told lawmakers.

The Netherlands, like a handful of European nations, NATO  itself and the U.S., are expanding anti-piracy missions to the Gulf of Aden. While geographically not close to the region, many European nations have growing Somali immigrants-population(s) and what happens in and off the coast off Somali directly and indirectly has an impact on them. The U.S. for example has had a number of its citizens of Somali background go to Somalia to train and wage Jihad. The idea of U.S. citizens going to terrorist training camps in Somalia is certainly troubling, hence it’s increased focus in the region.

Chinese navy flotilla heads for escort mission in Gulf of Aden

Chinese Destroyer "Qingdao".

The 11th Chinese naval escort flotilla, consisting of destroyer “Qingdao”, frigate “Yantai” and comprehensive supply ship “Huishanhu”, departed from Qingdao on Feb 27 for their escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and help  in the fight against Piracy in Somali waters to protect commercial ships from pirate attacks.  This is now common practice to have Chinese naval ships patrol in African waters. The activity has grown steadily the past few years as we have covered it.
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Video: PLA Navy makes port call to Hong Kong after patroling Gulf of Aden

After 6 months on the seas off the coast of Somalia, PLA Navy Type 054A missile frigates FFG 529-Zhoushan and FFG 530-Xuzhou sailed back into Chinese waters for a port call to Hong Kong.

The two advanced ships were part of a task force on anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden and are sailing back to their home port in Zheijiang province. The historical task force is the PLA Navy’s first overseas combat mission.

The move underlines the growth in Chinese naval power. And with a number of Chinese workers employed in potentially unstable countries around the world, the evacuation likely serves as a dress rehearsal for future crises.  Recently the FFG 530-Xuzhou has been sent to Libya to help evacuate Chinese nationals.

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South African Navy to take on Pirates mercenaries


The frigate SAS Mendi

South Africa has decided to respond to the piracy crisis off the coast of Somali like some nations by sending some military muscle. The South African Navy will take on the pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

The South African Navy is planning to send a force to patrol the Mozambican Channel to counter the threat of attack on ships by east African pirates. The force is to comprise at least one of South Africa’s frigates, believed to be the SAS Mendi, and a logistical support ship, which could see the force patrolling the channel for more than a month at a time. On board the frigate will be members of the navy’s elite Maritime Reaction Force as well as helicopter aircrews who will act as eyes and ears. The deployment, which is believed to be scheduled to take place within the next two weeks, comes as the pirates, who are mainly from Somalia, become bolder and strike further from their bases. The planned deployments come as the South African naval support ship, the SAS Drakensberg, recently set sail for the Ivory Coast as part of what is believed to be a bigger African Union military build-up following the disputed elections in that country and the threat of violence to millions of people in that region. Reports from military analysts and piracy specialists indicate that this month alone two vessels have been attacked in the Mozambican Channel, which sees billions of dollars worth of trade passing through it every year.

The frigate SAS Mendi, docked in Durban, is being fitted out for deployment in an anti-piracy role in the Mozambique Channel.

While the defence force has remained mum on its preparations for deployments to Africa’s east and west coasts, analysts say it is happening, with several believing that it could be too little, too late. Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said yesterday that the deployments should have happened years ago. “We should have done this years ago when we first received requests for help from the European Union, who warned us of the threat not only to shipping off the East coast of Africa, but also to shipping travelling through our waters,” he said. Heitman said the threats were real and serious. “Not only are they threatening the country’s economy, but they could also lead to an ecological disaster should the pirates successfully attack and possibly sink an oil tanker.” “Pirates see areas such as the Mozambican Channel as untapped gold mines. With the knowledge that there are very few African countries who can respond to attacks, the pirates know that they can operate without fear. Heitman said while the attacks could be dealt with, it would be difficult given the navy’s limited logistical capabilities. Institute of Security Studies military analyst Henri Boshoff said the response was not only a South African response but was part of a larger SADC military response to piracy. “The government is keeping a tight lid on how it is going to respond to these latest attacks.” Boshoff said while South Africa’s navy had conducted operations in the Mozambican Channel area and off the country’s East Coast, the latest attacks had triggered a strong response from South Africa. Attempts to get comment from the Defence Department were unsuccessful.

We seem to have crossed a paradigm shift on how the issue of Piracy is dealt with in the region.  Countries from  South Korea, Russia, China and the U.S. are now being more aggressive on how they fight the pirates.  We have seen the private sector step in due to the high financial gains that are possible.  Germany has turned to private mercenaries for example in escorting ships through the gulf of Aden.The route cause s are known: lack of economic development and rule of law.  What is missing is the will to affectively tackle the issue at the root.  That requires possible military intervention on land.  The U.S. to some limited degree has been doing that.  Don’t expect a full out invasion any time soon by US Marines.  The unsuccessful ’92 humanitarian mission, famously adapted as a movie “Black Hawk Down” is still alive in the minds of U.S. generals and commanders.

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Security Firm Blackwater Hunting Somali Pirates ?

According to a report by the New York Times, Blackwater or currently known now as “XE”, has been hunting the high seas for some Pirates.

WASHINGTON — Besieged by criminal inquiries and Congressional investigators, how could the world’s most controversial private security company drum up new business? By battling pirates on the high seas, of course.

In late 2008, Blackwater Worldwide, already under fire because of accusations of abuses by its security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan, reconfigured a 183-foot oceanographic research vessel into a pirate-hunting ship for hire and then began looking for business from shipping companies seeking protection from Somali pirates. The company’s chief executive officer, Erik Prince, was planning a trip to Djibouti for a promotional event in March 2009, and Blackwater was hoping that the American Embassy there would help out, according to a secret State Department cable.

But with the Obama administration just weeks old, American diplomats in Djibouti faced a problem. They are supposed to be advocates for American businesses, but this was Blackwater, a company that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had proposed banning from war zones when she was a presidential candidate.

The embassy “would appreciate Department’s guidance on the appropriate level of engagement with Blackwater,” wrote James C. Swan, the American ambassador in Djibouti, in a cable sent on Feb. 12, 2009. Blackwater’s plans to enter the anti-piracy business have been previously reported, but not the American government’s concern about the endeavor.

According to that cable, Blackwater had outfitted its United States-flagged ship with .50-caliber machine guns and a small, unarmed drone aircraft. The ship, named the McArthur, would carry a crew of 33 to patrol the Gulf of Aden for 30 days before returning to Djibouti to resupply.

And the company had already determined its rules of engagement. “Blackwater does not intend to take any pirates into custody, but will use lethal force against pirates if necessary,” the cable said.

At the time, the company was still awaiting approvals from Blackwater lawyers for its planned operations, since Blackwater had informed the embassy there was “no precedent for a paramilitary operation in a purely commercial environment.”

Lawsuits filed later by crew members on the McArthur made life on the ship sound little improved from the days of Blackbeard.

One former crew member said, according to legal documents, that the ship’s captain, who had been drinking during a port call in Jordan, ordered him “placed in irons” (handcuffed to a towel rack) after he

was accused of giving an unauthorized interview to his hometown newspaper in Minnesota. The captain, according to the lawsuit, also threatened to place the sailor in a straitjacket. Another crew member, who is black, claimed in court documents that he was repeatedly subjected to racial epithets.

In the end, Blackwater Maritime Security Services found no treasure in the pirate-chasing business, never attracting any clients. And the Obama administration chose not to sever the American government’s relationship with the North Carolina-based firm, which has collected more than $1 billion in security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Blackwater renamed itself Xe Services, and earlier this year the company won a $100 million contract from the Central Intelligence Agency to protect the spy agency’s bases in Afghanistan.

With lack of being held accountable (the pirates) by local or neighboring governments, this “market” based approach is not that surprising to solving the piracy issue.  The financial incentives are there for not the right solution, but one that is manageable.  Seeing a good opportunity, security firms are scrambling to meet the growing demand. Given the fact that navies patrolling the seas aren’t there for the long haul since they need constant refueling, repairs-maintance and crews eventually have to return home.  The only other viable solution is armed patrol for each ship and this is where Blackwater AKA Xe and other private security firms step in.  They are nimble, agile and have right personel since most of the employees are former soldiers from various nations like Israel, U.S., U.K, France, Poland, Australia, and South Africa even.  Until the U.N, African Union, Somali and neighboring nations effectively solve the piracy issue, expect more and more solutions to come out from private contractors and security firms.

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South Korea Special Forces Storm Hijacked Ship And Rescue Crew

South Korea special forces stormed a hijacked ship to rescue crew. Back last year, when pirates seized a South Korean oil tanker off the east coast of Africa, Seoul ended up paying a $9 million ransom to the pirates.  The decision to reward the pirates,  extortion at its highest level, was heavily criticized back in South Korea.  Obviously that decision had a big impact on this weeks operation.  This time when pirates hijacked and seized the Samho Jewelry, a Norwegian-owned ship run by South Koreans on its way to Sri Lanka, the government decided to fight back.

South Korean special forces stormed a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea on Friday, rescuing all 21 crew members and killing eight assailants in a rare and bold raid on Somali pirates.

The military operation in waters between Oman and Africa — that also captured five pirates and left one crew member wounded — came a week after the Somali attackers seized the South Korean freighter and held hostage eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 citizens from Myanmar.

“We will not tolerate any behavior that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future,” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in a brief televised statement, adding that the rescue was a “perfect operation.”

In photos of the operation, a small boat loaded with South Korean forces can be seen alongside the freighter. Some commandos already aboard the ship appear to be hauling others up. In other images, pockmarks from artillery fire blanket the ship’s bridge.

The successful raid is a triumph for Lee, whose government suffered harsh criticism at home in the weeks following a North Korean attack in November on a South Korean island near disputed waters. Critics said Lee’s military was too slow and weak in its response to the attack, which killed two marines and two civilians.

With a South Korean destroyer and a Lynx helicopter providing covering fire, South Korea’s special navy forces stormed the hijacked vessel in a pre-dawn rescue operation that left eight of the pirates dead and five captured, Lt. Gen. Lee Sung-ho told reporters.

The captain of the ship was shot by a pirate and taken by a U.S. helicopter to a nearby country for treatment, but the wound is not life-threatening, Lt. Gen. Lee said. The 20 other crew members were rescued unharmed, he said.

“This operation demonstrated our government’s strong will to never negotiate with pirates,” the general said.

Storming a ship held by pirates is rare and navies tend to avoid it because of the risk of harming hostages, who are usually kept below decks out of sight. So rescues are not normally attempted once the pirates are onboard the ship unless the crew is locked in a safe room — often called a “citadel” — with two way communications.

Authorities did not immediately give details on the location of crew members during the rescue.

The 11,500-ton chemical carrier Samho Jewelry was sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka when it was hijacked. It was the second vessel from South Korea-based Samho Shipping to be hijacked in the past several months.

In November, Somali pirates freed the supertanker Samho Dream and its 24 crew — five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos — after seven months of captivity.

Samho Shipping did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet referred all questions to South Korea, although it said the U.S. Navy was aware of the event.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. Piracy has flourished off its coast, sometimes yielding multimillion-dollar ransoms. The ransoms the pirates get are among the few regular sources of income for small businesses that supply the pirates with food and other goods.

In April 2009, a French navy commando team stormed the yacht Tanit. The shootout killed two pirates and one French hostage and freed four French citizens.

In the same year, U.S. navy snipers also shot three pirates who were holding an American captain hostage in a lifeboat after they had abandoned a larger ship, the Maersk Alabama.

The actions of South Korea in this case not only reduces the number of pirates on the seas, but also starves them of funds to launch further attacks on shipping in the area.  Although these actions by South Korea won’t make piracy disappear, they’re a good start, given that Somalia’s status as a failed state guarantees a high level of crime, not to mention provides terrorist networks with just as many opportunities for organization and operation as it does pirates.  Until Somalia manages to put down the warlords and create an effective government with the ability to police itself, as well as protect and nurture an economy that brings hope and choice to its people, terrorists and pirates will continue to attract the desperate into growing networks.

The only realistic method of suppressing the growth of these networks in the near term is to starve them of funding.  South Korea made the right decision in this case, and thankfully the operation succeeded in saving the hostages and freeing the ship.

Here is news report about the rescue operation

South Korea releases video of rescue operation

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PLA navy gets tough, repels pirates with grenades, bullets

China’s Navy has shown some muscle while on patrol in the Gulf of Aden on the lookout for Pirates.

The PLA navy has displayed a fresh appetite to confront pirates plaguing vital sea lanes off the Horn of Africa, breaking up recent attacks on shipping with stun grenades and machine-gun fire.

PLA commanders appear determined to showcase the potential of the large amphibious assault ship Kunlunshan just as monsoonal calms spark fresh attacks by Somali pirates on ships plying the Indian Ocean trade routes linking Asia to Europe and the Middle East.

State media reports and CCTV military broadcasts have highlighted an incident on August 28 when three waves of fast-moving pirate skiffs attempted to attack a convoy of 21 commercial ships under PLA escort.

The incident comes in a high-profile week for China’s rapidly modernising navy, with ships fresh from unprecedented exercises in the Mediterranean sailing up the Irrawaddy River to stop in Yangon, Myanmar, while another crossed the Coral Sea to visit Vanuatu and Tonga as part of a Pacific tour.

Helicopters launched from the 17,600-tonne Kunlunshan and the destroyer Lanzhou helped repel the pirate skiffs, with marines firing stun grenades and heavy machine guns to warn off the pirates, who later fled the area.

At one point a skiff came within less than a nautical mile of the freighter Haijie, the PLA Daily reported, but was chased off. Special operations troops were then placed aboard the slow-moving ship for extra protection.

Just as it marked new tactics from the pirates, who attacked the convoy at several different points in a battle that lasted more than 30 minutes, it also revealed higher levels of organisation and co-ordination from the PLA.

While the incident was not witnessed by foreign navies, PLA officials have outlined the incident to their international counterparts in the anti-piracy fight.

“From everything we can tell, it was a very successful operation,” said one Asian naval official monitoring China’s anti-piracy effort. “They seem more highly organised and eager to intervene… There was no panic. The pirates were persistent but driven off without loss of life.”

Gary Li, a PLA analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the sailors involved “seemed much more co-ordinated and cool-headed than before … and certainly prepared to use force to ward off attacks”. “They seem determined to use the Kunlunshan to its best advantage,” he said.

The Kunlunshan is one of the most closely watched of China’s new warships. The 200-metre ship is the only one of its kind in the PLA fleet and believed to be central to any plan to invade Taiwan, able to carry large helicopters, fast patrol vessels and even hovercraft.

Its appearance off the Horn of Africa comes ahead of the first anniversary later this month of the successful hijacking of a Chinese coal carrier.

The De Xin Hai was boarded by pirates as it sailed from South Africa to India and held at a stronghold on the Somali coast for more than two months pending the settlement of a ransom.

So far, it is the only Chinese ship captured since the PLA joined international anti-piracy efforts in December 2008 – the first time Chinese warships have entered a potential conflict zone outside home waters in six centuries.

While the PLA continues to escort convoys of ships mainly from greater China, including Hong Kong, it has yet to join international patrols of a special transit zone in the Gulf of Aden.

Such a move would force even closer co-operation with a range of international navies under American and European leadership and would pave the way for China to jointly chair co-ordinating sessions – another first for a once-insular PLA.

China has offered to head up the sessions but PLA officials have told their counterparts that they are still waiting for political approval from Beijing before pushing ahead with the plan.

Russia and India, eyeing a suddenly expanded PLA role in a highly strategic area, are also pushing for greater involvement.

“We are in uncharted waters in terms of co-operation at this point,” a European naval officer said. “These are fresh relationships and everybody is still feeling their way… everybody is trying to be very patient.”

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At no Surprise, Somali tops Countries Most at Risk from Terrorism

The risk consulting firm Maplecroft has released its Terrorism Risk Index for 2010, which tracks the frequency and intensity of terrorism attacks around the world. The most dangerous countries from a terrorism perspective are:

1. Somalia
2. Pakistan
3. Iraq

The firm ranks a total of 16 countries as being under “extreme risk” – a list that includes Colombia, Thailand, Philippines, Yemen, Russia, and Israel.

Greece has moved the most in the index, from 57th on the list to 24th and is now considered the European country most at risk from a terrorist attack. The U.S. is ranked 33th.

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