18 June 2012
The current sea state in the Gulf of Aden is as low as the number of piracy related incidents at sea over the last week. The few
reports made came from the narrow straits of Bab-el-Mandeb. Most if not all were the result of eager local fisherman, approaching too close for comfort in the eyes of the passing merchant ships. Apparently and fortunately, without ill intent.
|Operation Ocean Shield personnel conduct a firendly boarding with a local dhow somewhere in the Indian Ocean
This overall picture does not come as a surprise. In the Gulf of Aden naval ships and patrol aircraft from all over the world are keeping a good lookout over the many merchant ships that daily transit the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor--the shipping highway that connects America, Europe and Asia. In addition, merchant ships apply best management practices and embark vessel protection detachments to fence off those pirates that come too close.
In other parts of the vast Indian Ocean operation area, such as the Arabian Sea and the Somali Basin, the monsoon dictates the flow of events. Or better, prevents events. This clockwork seasonal phenomena creates strong winds and high sea states in large parts of the Indian Ocean, making it near impossible for the pirates to use their preferred method of attack: fast skiffs with four pirates using their weapons to intimidate and a ladder to climb on board.
It is not always as calm like this. No attacks does not mean no pirates or pirate related activity. One week on patrol as Commander of NATO's Task Group 508 shows me that there are still 7 highjacked vessels with over 200 hostages. The highjacked ships are supplied from pirate camps or villages. The hostages are well guarded and more often than not subject to harsh treatment, or worse. Negotiations are ongoing, demanding large amounts of ransom money. Money that later on is used to limit or block normal development in Somali towns and villages which affects regional security and stability.
Equally important is the fact that the monsoon will disappear again, almost as quick as it came, roughly around the end of August. The seas will calm down and the pirates will be eager to start yet another hunting season. They know this as well as I do, and therefore I assume they are already making plans and preparations--which is what I do as well. I see it as my task, and the task of the ships and crews, to ensure that the pirates will find it nearly impossible to go to sea, but when they do manage, for us to be in a position to prevent any attack.
To achieve this, we are busy even when the incident rate is low. When you want to stop the pirates, you must understand them. And to understand them you must observe movements, talk to other seafarers and learn from the locals. Both on the high seas and in the coastal water. A sound understanding provides me with the tools that allow me to anticipate and out-manoeuvre.
In that respect, today was yet another fruitful day. USS Taylor, the US contribution to CTF 508, visited a dhow on a trading route between Yemen and Somalia, intersecting somewhere along the shipping route. The flagship HNLMS Evertsen assisted a cargo dhow with engine problems and visited a merchant ship enroute to the Somali port of Bosaaso. All crews were happy with our presence. All of them gave us their appreciation. As the dhow captain said, "the Somali waters are not the best waters for one's engine to give up." Besides a lot of local information, these three events showed yet again that the pirates are still there, that they instill fear amongst the seafarers and that there is still for us a job to do.