About the Author: Dr. Jun Bando serves as the Maritime Security Coordinator and U.S. Africa Command Liaison for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of African Affairs.
Since I last wrote about piracy in October, the situation has continued to escalate. More than 30 additional attacks have been reported in waters off the coast of Somalia, including the Gulf of Aden. Elements of the shipping industry have announced plans to reroute some vessels around South Africa to avoid the Gulf of Aden, and a supertanker carrying millions of barrels of oil has been hijacked several hundred miles from shore—two scenarios that only weeks ago were thought by many to be implausible. The escalation of risk at sea mirrors conditions on land in Somalia, where the eroding security situation necessitates the urgent deployment of additional peacekeeping forces.
In recent weeks, U.S. Government efforts on Somali piracy have intensified. Piracy has the attention of the highest levels of our government. Our senior diplomats are taking a leading role in coordinating the international response and reaching out to key participating countries to identify the resources—diplomatic, political, military, judicial—each country can contribute to this effort.
Military engagement must be coordinated—and not just deconflicted—among participating countries. As in efforts to fight other forms of organized criminal activity, an essential part of the fight will be ensuring that hijackers and their accomplices are brought to justice.
What are the United States and the international community already doing to address piracy in the Horn of Africa?
Several countries have deployed naval vessels and aircraft to the region. Since September, the U.S. and coalition partners have maintained a Maritime Security Patrol Area in the Gulf of Aden. The U.S. and others have contributed to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Combined Task Force-150 counterpiracy operations. NATO, Canada, and European Union member States have provided escorts for vessels delivering United Nations World Food Program emergency assistance to Somalia.
Although naval vessels have successfully prevented a number of attacks, pirate acts have nonetheless continued to increase, along with the greed of hijackers. The supertanker seized on November 15 belongs to Saudi Arabia and the pirates are reportedly demanding millions of dollars in ransom.
The U.S. is leading efforts in the United Nations Security Council to renew the authorities in Resolution 1816, which provides countries cooperating with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia with the authorization to enter Somali territorial waters and use all necessary means to repress piracy and armed robbery at sea.
We’re seeing greater involvement by the African Union and its member States in fighting piracy. Two weeks ago, Kenya agreed to prosecute eight piracy suspects captured by British naval forces near Somalia. (In 2006, Kenya also prosecuted piracy suspects captured by the U.S. Navy.)
Despite these and other efforts, including significant activity by the European Union to initiate its own counterpiracy mission, the continued increase in piracy clearly signals that international efforts against piracy in the Horn of Africa must be strengthened. On Tuesday I’ll travel with a delegation to Paris to support discussions with the French on strengthening counter-piracy cooperation. Stay tuned for further developments.