I have seen pirate skiffs attacking a foreign tanker with guns, only to watch U.S. Navy ships spend huge sums to follow the skiffs for hours. Eventually, after all pirates had climbed back aboard their primary vessel, which was permitted to leave, the skiffs were sunk. The international response to piracy must be more about results than mere pride in the number of assets in the area. If having a large number of assets present was the key to success, then we would have already won.
It is the use of these assets and the rules of engagement which have the power to take control of the crisis. The pirates are enemy insurgent forces hidden among the local fishing boats, and dealing with a force of this nature requires similar tactics to fighting insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are too many square miles and too many vessels to protect all ships at all times. Presently, thousands of sailors are spread out in just 30 locations throughout the vast pirate-infested waters on ships, which place hundreds of sailors in the same spot, rather than allowing the sailors to spread out evenly. If thousands of sailors are going to be committed to the solution, they could be utilized more effectively in small teams deployed to individual commercial ships, as the Navy currently does for their non-combatant logistics ships in that region.
A dozen helicopter-carrying vessels, mostly amphibious ships, could provide transfer points for embarking and disembarking small teams of 4 marines. The amphibious ships are already configured to carry large numbers of marines, and their helicopters can supply added force in the event of large attacks against a commercial vessel. However, in almost every case where pirates have come under even small fire, they have withdrawn their attack. Well-trained teams of 4 could provide a 24-hour watch and rapid response to any threat, no matter where the ship travels. This system would reduce the number of naval ships needed in the area, and thus require no increase in cost. Commercial companies and private vessels could pay a modest fee to an international fund helping to support the mission, as well as feed the embarked team. If the pirates begin to feel threatened just approaching ships, lose lives attempting a hijack, and have a very low rate of success, then the number of attacks is likely to go down significantly.
Griffin, Brian N , Civilian
USNS Rainier T-AOE 7
cargo engineer on oceangoing U.S. government vessels