Improve effectiveness of naval activities:
Structure Vessel Traffic and Monitor High-Risk Areas
By Dr. F. J. Sluiman
Suspected pirate skiffs and mother ships off the coast of Somalia are boarded by naval forces to avoid attacks on merchant ships. Meanwhile, merchant ships are recommended to follow the best management practices BMP3 to deter or delay piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Notwithstanding all these measures, merchant ships suffer pirate attacks nearly every day, occasionally resulting in a hijack.
What has happened?
Next to dhows and whalers, Somali pirates started using hijacked ships as mother ships. This modus operandi makes preventive intervention by naval forces impossible and puts more pressure on the ransom negotiations of these ships.
Also, the initially successful citadel tactics recommended in BMP3 do not work when naval rescue is not possible within 24 hours after hijack. Pirates are able to breach the citadel within that time and rescue operations will then lead to violence against the crew.
Failing adequate protection, ship owners and operators turn to private security for protection. This solution, however, only work for a short term as it creates a downward spiral of violence resulting in more killings and more damage to ships.
What needs to be done?
The answer must be sought in a cooperative effort of naval forces where merchant shipping traffic is structured and high-risk areas are monitored. Traffic can be structured by establishing corridors in the Indian Ocean similar to the one in the Gulf of Aden. Ships should transit these corridors in sparse groups so as to avoid delays and to be able to always have a warship available within a distance of, say, 18 hours. Of course, the precise locations of the corridors and details of the group transits need careful consideration and adjustment should the situation change.
Properly implemented, this way of structuring vessel traffic allows naval forces to concentrate their surveillance efforts on the high-risk parts of the corridors. This leads to earlier detection of pirates and prevention. Moreover, by having a warship on site within 18 hours, naval intervention is always possible provided that crews secure themselves in the ship’s citadel when pirates manage to get onboard. This ensures good protection.
Cooperation between navies is imperative for the success of this solution. Support of IMO, whose action plan for 2011 promotes cooperation to combat piracy, may be instrumental in this regard.
Dr. Sluiman, of eXpert ICT, is a reserve officer assigned to the Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping organization in the Netherlands. He is the author of several articles concerning the issue of terrorism and piracy.