Piracy Watchdogs Urges Navies to Fight Back

Pirate watchdog says the world should fight back against a growing pirate threat

NAIROB, Kenya Nov. 20, 2008 — -- The head of the piracy reporting center today applauded the Indian warship that blasted a suspected pirate ship and said such muscle flexing by the world's navies was long overdue.

"It's about time that such a forceful action is taken. It's an action that everybody is waiting for," Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, told The Associated Press.

The Indian warship, the Tabar, tried to stop a ship that matched the description of a pirate "mother ship" in the Gulf of Aden where numerous ships have been attacked by pirates. Rather than be boarded, the pirates fired on the Tabar. The warship fired back, starting fires on the pirate vessel and triggering several explosions that destroyed the ship.

"If all warships do this, it will be a strong deterrent. But if it's just a rare case, then it won't work" to control the unprecedented level of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, he said.

There is no consensus among the world's powers, however, to go after the pirates despite the fact that the ships that have been captured are anchored in clear view off the coast of Somalia.

The U.S. Navy said Wednesday that it's not about to use its military might to free a giant oil tanker or any other ship captured by Somali pirates because if naval forces recover one ship, they would have to recover them all.

Besides, a Pentagon official asked, what would they do with all the captured pirates?

The U.S. Fifth Fleet has dozens of ships patrolling the pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden and in the Indian Ocean. They have been joined by warships from several other nations trying to create a safe corridor through the busy shipping lanes.

Nevertheless, 95 ships have been attacked and 39 captured so far this year. Seventeen of those ships, including the massive Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, with its $100 million load of crude, remain in pirate hands.

The Sirius Star is anchored several miles off the Somali coast as ransom negotiations begin to heat up.

Another captured ship, the MV Faina, was seized by pirates in September and quickly cornered by U.S. warships. But since then, the U.S. crews have simply watched the Faina, its holds filled with weapons, to make sure its deadly cargo doesn't slip away to militants ashore.

Shipping companies cheered today when news broke that an Indian warship attacked and destroyed a pirate "mother ship" that fired on it rather than be boarded.

But the rare military action raised the question why the world's navies didn't simply take back the stolen ships.

A Navy official told ABC News that if the Navy rescued one ship then it would have to start doing it for all. There are 17 ships currently being held hostage by Somali pirates.

The official added that the Navy is already busy in the region -- carrying out military exercises, watching for terrorists and drug smugglers -- too busy to devote its resources to piracy.

It's up to the shipping companies, argue military officials and the International Maritime Board, to take steps to protect themselves in international water.

And once captured, it is the Navy's view that "negotiations are between the pirates and shipping companies."

U.S. Navy Too Busy to Take on Pirates

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell made similar points in Washington today.

"We are actively engaged in trying to prevent and deter piracy. This notion that there's inaction out there is just utterly false," he said.

Morrell said the patrols by U.S. and other warships have been a deterrent to pirates.

"More [attacks] are being prevented than are actually being carried out," he argued.

Nevertheless, there have been nine ships seized by pirates in the last 13 days.

"I also take issue with this whole issue that it's incumbent upon the armed forces of the world, the navies of the world, to solve this problem," Morrell said.

While the Navy has a responsibility to protect shipping lanes, "the shipping companies also have an obligation to secure their ships to prevent incidents such that we've been seeing at alarming rates over the past several months," he said.

If the U.S. Navy did intervene to rescue a ship, there are other problems to consider.

"And one of those is: 'OK, let's say you capture a bunch of pirates. What do you do with them?'" Morrell said.

He added that if countries are willing to board suspected pirate ships and rescue captured ships, "We need to figure out a more global, systemic agreement on how to deal with pirates."

"Don't look at this solely through the prism of what more can the U.S. Navy do, and why isn't the U.S. Navy being more aggressive," Morrell advised.

Somali piracy won't end until stability is established onshore in Somalia, a country impoverished by a generation of civil war that has virtually eliminated any functioning government or economy.

The current government is threatened by a growing Islamic insurgency, making it unable to develop a working economic system or take on the pirates.

"You could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know; it's not going to ever solve this problem," Morrell said, until the chaos on land has ended.

Morrell scolded one shipping company that has announced it will simply avoid the area and instead sail around Africa, an expensive three-week trip.

"I understand them wanting to take defensive measures, but ultimately, that's not the solution to this," Morrell said. "And to me, in scenarios like that, pirates win. And they should not be allowed to win. We need to use the Gulf of Aden."