LONG BEACH, California - Rules of engagement, concers over hostage safety, and the issue of captured pirates' human rights frustrate the U.S. Navy's ability to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, a representative of the U.S. Navy's think tank told maritime security stakeholders yesterday at the Maritime Security Expo.
Patrolling the Gulf of Aden is “a demoralizing mission for the Navy,” because no clear rules of engagement exist to regulate how naval forces handle pirates encountered on the open seas, said Kim Hall, field representative of the Center for Naval Analysis, currently stationed in Bahrain with the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
She said the U.S. Navy can only directly engage pirate skiffs during an attack on another ship or in self defense if pirates fire on U.S. sailors. Even when the U.S. Navy witnesses a successful attack it can do nothing for fear of harming the pirate’s hostages. Because of the concern for hostage casualties, the U.S. Navy even stands by as pirates refuel and resupply their captured vessels.
When asked if the U.S. Navy will engage the pirates today, Commander Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, told The New York Times:
“Once the attack takes place, this is a hostage situation, and there are 25 crew members on board that ship. As with any hostage situation, there has to be concern for those individuals.”
Another limitation on the U.S. Navy is what it does with captured pirates or “persons under control” (PUCs). No international consensus has emerged about what to do with PUCs because European nations bristle at proposals to return pirates to their home governments, most of which, like Somalia, are perpetual human rights abusers.
“Until a clear policy for PUCs is developed and more robust rules of engagement are adopted,” Hall said, “naval forces can do little more than maintain the current deter and disrupt posture.”
Piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden, she said, will cease when stability returns to Somalia, which recently ranked as the world’s worst failed state by Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace.
“This is a land-based problem in need of a land-based solution,” Hall said.
Hall’s presentation today at the Maritime Security Expo at the Long Beach Convention Center came as news broke that the Somali pirates that hijacked the Saudi supertanker, the Sirius Star, have dropped anchor somewhere off the coast of Somalia with its $100 million worth of crude oil inside.
The attack has raised eyebrows because of the pirates’ audacity: the Sirius Star is the biggest vessel and furthest out to sea of any vessel know to be captured by pirates, said James Boutilier, an advisor to the Commander of Canada’s Maritime Forces Pacific.
Despite pirates increasing boldness, pirate attacks have dropped from their dramatic upsurge in August, Hall said.
After the August upsurge, the United States created the Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA), which is patrolled by coalition ships in the Gulf of Aden. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization has also recommended a narrow security corridor for ships to pass through inside the MSPA.
Despite the heightened security, pirates are entering the security corridor, Hall said. “There is no guarantee you won’t be pirated,” she said, although she did stress piracy is a rare occurrence in the Gulf of Aden and worldwide.
Boutilier agreed, saying less than 1 percent of all ships moving through the Gulf of Aden get captured by pirates.