By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2012 – Hoping to build on successes over the past year in combating piracy, the top U.S. commander in Europe and other key stakeholders in the fight gathered in London this week to help chart the way forward.
Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who also serves as the NATO commander, joined leaders from the NATO Maritime Component Command, European Union, shipping security officials and other experts to explore ways to improve their cooperation in tackling this transnational threat.
“We face a significant global problem that has caused extensive and expensive disruptions to the global maritime grid,” Stavridis noted in his blog post on the U.S. European Command website. “In particular, off the Horn of Africa in the northern Indian Ocean, we’ve seen hundreds of pirate attacks and dozens of successful hijackings over the past years.”
He estimated costs to the international community as high as $5 billion to $10 billion per year, noting that hundreds of mariners have been held hostage by pirates for ransom.
“Although the success rate and the numbers of attacks are down this year, we still have seven ships and more than 100 hostages held by Somali pirates on the largely ungoverned east coast of Africa,” the admiral said.
NATO, the European Union and a variety of other nations, including Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Iran and the Gulf States, have come together to help address this problem, he noted. With a fleet that averages 20 to 30 ships, they patrol waters stretching from the Red Sea, past the Gulf of Aden and down into the northern Indian Ocean.
Shared concern about the problem led last week to the first bilateral counter-piracy exercise between the United States and China. Crew from the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill and other Navy assets joined Chinese People’s Liberation Army sea elements, including the frigate Yi Yang, for training near the Horn of Africa.
The sailors’ focus was on bilateral interoperability in detecting, boarding and searching suspected vessels, as well as the ability of both Chinese and American naval assets to respond to pirated vessels, a USS Winston S. Churchill spokesman reported.
Meanwhile, the shipping industry has implemented best business practices: traveling in convoys, hardening their defenses such as stringing concertina wire along their decks, posting lookouts and hiring private teams, Stavridis reported. They appear to be paying off, he said, recognizing that although many ships with embarked private security teams have been attacked, none has been successfully hijacked.
Participants at this week’s conference, co-hosted by the U.N.-sponsored International Maritime Organization, discussed ways to increase cooperation between shippers and protecting forces and ways to move ashore to pre-empt pirate strikes and disrupt pirates’ bases and logistics systems.
Another focus, Stavridis said, was on building capacity within local coast guards and to applying a comprehensive approach to make piracy less attractive as an occupation.