My new piece in Foreign Policy discusses the need to address the growing threat of piracy in the waters off western Africa, employing some of the strategies used to combat piracy to the east. These include not just military interventions, but also private-public security partnerships. We also must address the root causes ashore.

Here is an excerpt:

…. Most observers believe that the pirate activity in the Gulf of Guinea, off the west coast of Africa, is more vicious than similar action on the east coast by Somali-based pirates.

Over the past decade, piratical activity on both coasts of Africa, in the Caribbean, and in parts of Southeast Asia has caused billions of dollars in disruptions to global transportation. Hundreds of ships have been attacked in the Indian Ocean alone, and at one point during my time as the NATO strategic commander in charge of the counterpiracy mission, Operation Ocean Shield, we had over 20 ships and several hundred mariners being held for ransom. Jay Bahadur’s excellent volume, The Pirates of Somalia, revealed a culture fueled by kat (a narcotic chewed by many of the pirates), Kalashnikovs, expensive villas, and high-powered SUVs. A ransom could fetch a pirate group over $10 million, and there was a creeping sense of involvement by al-Shabab, the east African al Qaeda affiliate.

 A visit, board, search and seizure team from the guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) approaches a suspected pirate vessel after the Motor Vessel Nordic Apollo reported being under attack and fired upon by pirates.  Photo: US Navy

A visit, board, search and seizure team from the guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) approaches a suspected pirate vessel after the Motor Vessel Nordic Apollo reported being under attack and fired upon by pirates. Photo: US Navy

The international community responded with a significant military presence in the waters off eastern Africa — NATO, the European Union, the Gulf States, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, and even Iran all sent ships to fight pirates. Today, well over a thousand pirates are imprisoned, and piracy attacks off the Horn of Africa have dropped 70 percent from their highs only a few years ago. There have been only 11 attacks there so far in 2013, as compared to 70 attacks last year at this time and down from over 200 three years ago.

Unfortunately, the game is shifting west, and cases of piracy — like the one in which the two Americans have vanished — are up to 40 so far this year. But the modus operandi is different: more straight-up robbery than hostage-taking and negotiating for ransom. This is because in the west, it is far harder to find an isolated stretch of coast not under national control to hold a ship, and governments and their policing capabilities are stronger. The same holds true for the waters of Southeast Asia and the Strait of Malacca.

More needs to be done.

First, international cooperation along the model employed on the east coast of Africa should be used in the Gulf of Guinea. NATO and the European Union should offer to work with the nations of western Africa to counter piracy operations there, given the confluence of European and U.S. national interests in local shipping routes and hydrocarbon resources. The U.N. International Maritime Organization in London could help broker a dialogue.

Secondly…

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