Ludwig von Gress
I first wrote about Somali piracy two years ago in Africa, Čína a piráti. The situation is not improving. Last week I had to write “with TV news crews focused north on ‘free’ and so arabospringy Egypt, our friendly Muslim pirates keep on plying the trade mostly unmolested in their never ending spring”. The joys of piracy are still endless, Hollywood sanctioned and practically painless. Let’s use as an example the Italian 56,000 tons bulk carrier Montecristo, boarded by 11 Somali pirates about 620 nautical miles off the African coast in October this year. The crew of 23 locked themselves up but managed to transmit an emergency signal. USS De Wert and the Royal Marines on board of RFA Fort Victoria rushed to the rescue.
Let’s pause here. USS De Wert FFG-45 is a Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate with 15 officers and 190 enlisted men, plus 30 for the two SH-60 helicopters. It is not yet thirty years old and the armament and electronics, though impressive, are not relevant for our purposes. RFA Fort Victoria (A387) is a Fort class combined fleet stores ship and tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary providing ammunition, fuel, food and other supplies to RN vessels around the world. It can accommodate three helicopters and almost 300 personnel.
Some second grade arithmetic – how many fully trained people do you need to capture 11 pirates? Of course, the exact number of Marines involved is not known, so ignoring that, it was 535 naval personnel just on the water and an unknown, probably larger number on the land. No wonder that the Somalis surrendered in advance of any boarding (described in NATO-speak as compliant boarding) and as the spokesman for the NATO Ocean Shield pointed out, thankfully suffered no injuries. The operation, under command of Italian Admiral Gualtiero Mattesi, was hailed as a victory.
An admirable victory certainly, but was it a cost-effective victory? The captured pirates will be slapped on the wrists and will be back in business after the next monsoon season. According to U.S. risk management company Aon there has been a 267 percent year-on-year increase in attacks in the Arabian Sea. And from UPI: “The pirates, organised mainly along clan lines, have evolved into highly sophisticated groups. They use “mother ships,” usually hijacked modern fishing trawlers, to penetrate deeper into the Indian Ocean for extended voyages and capable of launching multiple attacks. There are believed to be 7-10 gangs financed by money-men in the Persian Gulf with agents in London’s shipping insurance fraternity who identify targets with the most valuable cargoes for ransom.”
The cost to global shipping is estimated to be $9 billion a year and nobody should be deluding himself that the money comes out of the shipowners’ pockets.
Beside the lone ranger navies of China, Russia, India and Iran, various naval task groups operate off Somalia and in the Indian Ocean. These include the European Union’s Operation Atalanta, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield and the U.S.-led Combined Task Force-151. But all is not well; the EU operation Atalanta requires a minimum of four to six warships to patrol the coast but the euro-zone financial problems mean that by December there will be less than that minimum.
France and Spain permit armed detachments on their vessels and Italy is considering doing same. The secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, Peter Hinchliffe, said recently: “To date, no ships with armed guards on board have been captured.” The former naval power, Great Britain belatedly woke up. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that British-flagged ships will be allowed to carry armed guards against pirates.
Cameron, when asked by the BBC whether he was comfortable with allowing private security operatives to “shoot to kill,” said: “We have to make choices. The fact that a bunch of pirates in Somalia is managing to hold to ransom the rest of the world and our trading system is a complete insult and the rest of the world needs to come together with much more vigour.”
Personally, I am in favour of mercenaries, because if your government, shackled by political correctness is unwilling or unable to help, you are more than entitled to resort to DIY. In fact, recalling my limited contact with some brave Ukrainians, I believe that they, given perhaps a bottle of vodka, could have handled those Somali eleven in such a way they would never dream of pirating again, Johnny Depp notwithstanding. (The crew of Montecristo comprised seven Italians, six Ukrainians and 10 Indians)
Still, a deeper problem would remain. It is not inconceivable that the Somalia based pirates are manipulated and supported by some far-sighted would-be-world-power so that its naval presence and even bases could be plausibly explained in Western media. Naturally, China or Russia spring to mind. And if the propaganda is handled as skilfully as usual, the Chinese naval bases in Africa could perhaps even be financed by a USA taxpayer via UN commissariat.
Regardless of the fanciful title of this article, it is not about just one navy; it is about practically all those navies from the so far semi-democratic countries which, muzzled by politicians, are reduced to using the seas east of Africa as not-overly-friendly training waters. That is not meant as disparagement of the navies concerned, but the reflection on the sad political reality.
An anecdote at the end: Paul and Rachel Chandler were, after spending 388 days in a Somali desert with their captors, released and subsequently reunited with their Rival 38 sloop Lynn Rival. The yacht, mauled by the pirates and then abandoned, was found and transported to Portland Naval Base in Dorset by the Royal Navy. If not a deterrent, a guard or a pointer, the politicians at least allow RN to be a retriever.