Reliable Security Information


Battling Pirates

After the rescue of the Captain of the Maersk Alabama, the ship's officer told reporters

"We would like to implore President Obama to use all of his resources and increase the commitment to ending this Somali pirate scourge," the first officer said Monday at a news conference in Mombasa, Kenya. "Right now there are ships being taken. At sea, it's a global community. It doesn't come down to nations." Modern piracy is not a new problem and it is as an issue that requires a firm response. That response, however, should be driven by a sound analysis of the threat, rather than hostage rescue headlines. While keeping the global sea lanes is a global concern, the responsibility for ensuring the freedom of the seas falls to the nations that use the world's ocean highways. The United States, among other countries, can and should contribute to this task and the many other challenges to keeping the sea safe. The real issue is: what is appropriate?

Most Americans know little about America's role as a maritime power and the importance of maritime commerce to the U.S. economy. Since 2004, The Heritage Foundation's Maritime Security Working Group has work to address that shortfall producing cutting-edge policy recommendations for making the seas safer for the United States, its friends and allies, and global commerce. The group--composed of representatives from academia, the private sector, research institutions, and government--addressed some of the most pressing issues confronting maritime security. The Foundation's most recent report "Securing the High Seas" specifically addressed the US role in dealing with a range of challenges, including piracy. In particular, the group focused on developing America's long-term capacity to deal with these issues--not just worry about them when they are in the headlines.

In order to protect maritime trade, the working group focused on three essential enablers: expanding the capabilities of the U.S. Coast Guard by fully funding Coast Guard modernization and ensuring that the service has the resources to perform all of its missions; improving the sharing of intelligence and use of commercial information: and, most importantly, enhancing international cooperation.

In addition to this report, in 2005, in its first report, "Making the Sea Safer: A National Agenda for Maritime Security and Counterterrorism," the group outlined the future threats to and gaps in U.S. maritime security. Rather than focus on episodic, short-term issues like inspecting containers, the group offered a broader and more thoughtful assessment of the maritime challenges facing the United States. In 2006, the working group's second report, "Trade Security at Sea: Setting National Priorities for Safeguarding America's Economic Lifeline," made the case that, based on the nature of existing and emerging threats, the United States' highest priority in maritime security should be ensuring the resiliency of global maritime commerce, thereby ensuring unimpeded trade and travel, regardless of what terrorists, pirates, or other malevolent transnational actors might attempt in the maritime environment.


See GlobalSecurity.org's Piracy Backgrounder

Comments (2)

AustinAndy:

The problem is that the pirates use mother ships to get to the area of the shipping lanes and small skiffs to attack the vessels. Therefore, it seems that the most effective way to prevent further piracy is to attack wherever the bases of these pirates may be and destroy the capability of further attacks by sinking the mother ships of the pirate fleets.
Other options:
1. Continue to pay the ransoms - failed.
2. Invade the Somalian homeland - failed.
3. Arm the merchant mariners - possible success but diplomats have vetoed this; now we have unarmed victims for the pirates to attack.
4. Patrol the vast areas of the sea lanes - Sec. Gates has already indicated that there are too few naval assets to be successful - doomed to failure.
5. Get international cooperation to patrol - doomed to failure; we cannot even get the UN to agree on a definition of terrorism.
6. Provide aid and nation building assets to the Somalian government??? - ludicrous, not our responsibility, and are you kidding? failure.
7. Sink the mother ships - pirates will get mad and submit a strong note of protest, strong words to follow. Good chance of success.

ted johnson:

why didn't we sink the mother ship when they attacked the alabama. piracy has always been a crime, punishment was hanging, so lets just do it.now they are threatening to step up their attacks against the U S. i say don't wait for them to start, eliminate them now to prevent the attacks. hire the blackwater crew to sail on these ships. it'll be cheaper than ransom, and should cure the problem.

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