Getting the respect you deserve


The 20-warship-strong international fleet of the clueless has tutored the Somalian pirates well.  The latter-day corsairs have learned that these modern navies with sophisticated weapons are largely toothless creatures, unwilling to take concrete, long-term action to curb piracy (by say, killing pirates) in that part of the world.  Naturally, the lawless are taking full advantage of this weakness, and have expanded their reach well into the Indian Ocean.

The pirates have drawn an international flotilla of at least 20 naval ships to the busy shipping lanes off Somalia’s coast, mostly in the Gulf of Aden. That seemed to stem the attacks for a while. But Wednesday’s seizure about 500 miles to the south suggested that the pirates were shifting their operations to the Indian Ocean.

“It’s an incredibly vast area, and basically we’re seeing pirates in more than a million-square-mile operating area,” said Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain. “So while the presence of naval vessels has had an effect, we continue to say that naval presence alone will never be a total solution. It starts ashore.”

On Tuesday, the 5th Fleet’s commander, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, issued an advisory warning of “several recent attacks that occurred hundreds of miles off the Somali coast” and stating that “merchant mariners should be increasingly vigilant when operating in those waters.”

The notice also warned that “despite increased naval presence in the region, ships and aircraft are unlikely to be close enough to provide support to vessels under attack. The scope and magnitude of [the] problem cannot be understated” because of the enormous size of the area.

— Stephanie McCrummen and Karen DeYoung. “FBI Hostage Negotiators Helping Navy With Ship Captain’s Rescue“, Washington Post, April 9th, 2009.

As usual the Americans have sat down and crunched the numbers, giving the work the seriousness it is due, even if their political masters are unlikely to spring into action.  This is what I love about the Pentagon, and certain sober American statesmen; they take that whole pax Americana thing seriously.  Somebody has looked at the traffic stats for the Gulf of Aden and figured out how many vessels need to be on station in order to safeguard the world’s commercial traffic.  That number is sixty, three times the number of warships currently on the scene.

The attack also highlighted the logistical challenge of patrolling the waters off Somalia, whose coast is roughly the length of the East Coast of the United States. The costly problem of protecting container ships hauling a variety of goods, including food, tanks and fake Gucci handbags, has drawn an unusual force of naval vessels from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan and India, among other nations.

But according to Campbell, the U.S. Navy spokeswoman, it would take 60 naval ships — many more than are currently deployed — to adequately guard the commercial vessels traversing the Gulf of Aden.  The area where the pirates are now operating is about five times that size.

The world will demand that something be done, of course, but will stop well short of any consequential action to rid the area of pirates.  The political and military leadership of the 21st century is resolutely determined to avoid any useful lessons from humanity’s long experience with pirates of centuries past.

As for Canada, sixty large surface combatants is four times as many as the entire Canadian Navy has in its inventory.  And our saltwater coastline is sixty-seven times as large as that of Somalia.  Moreover our smaller Kingston-class coastal defence vessels, limited to a 15-knot top speed, could not even hope to keep pace with the 20-25 knot top speeds of modern civilian bulk carriers.  Yet no suits on Parliament Hill nor gold-striped sleeves at NDHQ show the tiniest bit of shame at this obvious and glaring deficiency.

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2 Responses
  1. Kateland says:

    Have you seen this suggestion to the piracy on the high seas.
    I does admit franchising private bounty hunters hold a certain charm to me….

  2. Chris Taylor says:

    I would be all for the return of the prize money for captured vessels, and Admiralty prize courts, etc.
    I am surprised some enterprising shipping magnate has not outfitted a Q-ship decoys, armed to the teeth, and sailed them through the Gulf of Aden.