Seventeen ships flying the flags of different countries were in the custody of different Somali pirate groups in Somalian waters. They have been demanding payment of ransom for their release. These ships captured by the pirates have a total crew of 242, of whom 81 are reported to be Filipino nationals.
2. There was a total of 134 piracy-related incidents during 2008--- unsuccessful as well as successful attacks on commercial ships. Of these 49 were successful sea-jackings and the remaining 85 were attempted sea-jackings, which were evaded or beaten back by the crews of the ships. As against this, till May 10, 2009, there have already been 115 incidents this year. Of these, 79 were evaded or beaten back and the remaining 36 were successful sea-jackings.
3. Thus, despite the deployment of anti-piracy patrols by the navies of many countries, the Somali pirates continue to operate successfully even in seas far away from Somalia, including in the seas near Seychelles. Since most of these naval patrols are concentrated in the Gulf of Aden area, the pirates have been avoiding these areas and shifting their operations to areas beyond the quick reach of the naval ships.
4. The different groups of naval patrols operating are as follows:
The “Atlanta” group of the European Union:
Participants: Spain, Germany, France, Greece and Italy
(A total of 6 frigates and 2 support vessels plus some Orion P-3A and P-3C, Breguet-Atlantique maritime surveillance planes)
The “Allied Protector” group of the NATO:
Participants: Portugal, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and the US.
(A total of 5 frigates)
“Combined Task Force 150” (An anti-terrorism task force under Operation Enduring Freedom, but available for anti-piracy tasks too)
Participants: France, the US, the UK and Pakistan
(1 command ship, 3 frigates and 2 support vessels)
“Combined Task Force 151” (anti-piracy)
Participants: the US, Turkey, Singapore and South Korea
(1 destroyer, 1 frigate, 1 cruiser and 3 support vessels)
Participants: India, China, Malaysia, Japan, Russia, France and Seychelles.
(3 destroyers, 3 frigates, 1 patrol boat and 5 support vessels)
5. Of these, only CTF 150 has a designated, rotating common command and control. The remaining remain in communication with one another, but take orders from their respective national command.
6. According to Japan's Kyodo news agency, Japan plans to send two of its P-3C Orion patrol aircraft to help in anti-piracy patrols. They will operate from Djibouti. Yasukazu Hamada, the Japanese Defence Minister, is expected to issue the necessary orders after the plan is approved by the Japanese Cabinet. If approved, this will be the first time that Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force's P-3C aircraft would be dispatched on an overseas mission. On approval by the Cabinet, the Defense Ministry is planning to send an advance team to Djibouti before dispatching the planes towards May-end. The planes will start operating in June. The plan to be submitted to the Cabinet for approval provides for the stationing of 150 Japanese Self-Defence Force personnel at Djibouti. This will include the flying and maintenance crew plus a contingent of the Ground Self-Defence Force for physical security for the planes and the Japanese personnel at Djibouti. China did not react adversely to the earlier Japanese decision to send two destroyers to the Gulf of Aden. It remains to be seen how it will react to the deployment of the maritime patrol aircraft with such a such a large number of Japanese personnel at Djibouti. The Chinese could view it as an attempt by the Japanese, encouraged by the US, to play a more active military role in areas far away from Japan under the pretext of anti-piracy patrols.
7. During April, 2009, there were two successful commando operations mounted by the US and French Navies to rescue their nationals captured by the pirates. In one incident, a French naval commando group freed four French hostages on a yacht after killing the two pirates who had sea-jacked it. A French hostage was killed during the intervention. In the other incident, the US captain of a commercial ship (Captain Richard Phillips of US-flagged " Maersk Alabama") was rescued by a US naval commando group after killing the three Somali pirates who had held him in custody in a life-boat of the ship. Somali pirate groups had warned of retaliation against the Americans and the French, but no retaliatory attacks have so far taken place.
8. The US Navy is reported to have increased the flights of its unmanned Drone planes over Somalia----partly to monitor the ground situation which has been marked by an increase in the activities of pro-Al Qaeda elements and partly to look for the movements of pirate groups. The US Coaast Guard has also issued an advisory to all US-flagged ships moving in the areas where Somali pirates are active to carry security guards and to submit their anti-piracy security plans to the Coast Guard for approval. While the posting of security guards on board the ships has been made obligatory, it has been left to the discretion of the ship owners to decide whether the security guards would be armed or not and what arms they would carry. This has been done because many ports do not allow commercial ships with armed guards to enter them.
9. Two problems relating to anti-piracy remain unresolved. The first relates to the responsibility for the prosecution of the pirates captured by the ships of different navies. National laws in many countries do not allow for such prosecutions in respect of arrests made on the high seas. Moreover, many of the Somali pirates are minors----- hardly around 15 years of age. The European Union countries have reached an agreement with the Government of Kenya under which it has agreed to prosecute them in its courts, but it has been demanding that the expenditure incurred by it on their prosecution including the fees for the defence lawyers should be re-imbursed by the EU country which captured them.
10. The second problem relates to mounting commando action to rescue ships and crew captured by the pirates before they manage to take them to Somali waters. Most countries whose flags the sea-jacked ships fly are not prepared to give their consent for armed commando action to free the ships.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)