Posted by- Neelam Mathews
Oct 22, 2011
Speaking at the International Seapower Symposium in New Port, Rhode Island, Chief of Naval Staff, Adml Nirmal Verma said “the international efforts towards combating piracy would benefit if there were fewer disparate task forces and independent naval operations.
India’s relative autonomy of efforts towards combating piracy off Somalia can be traced to its preference for a UN mandated operations which we believe if adopted would holistically enhance the efficacy of operations”.
Ransom amounts have increased to an average of $5.4 million per ship, from just $150,000. According to a recent study by One Earth Future the economic cost of piracy maybe as high as $12 billion a year. Presently nine ships with over 300 seafarers of a range of nationalities, including 53 Indians are hostages.
I would highlight the work of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) under the aegis of the United Nations, which we believe is doing sterling work for coordinating international cooperation particularly information sharing. In the similar vein are the efforts of the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) initiative and that of UK Maritime Trade Operation (UKMTO) which functions from Dubai. These engagements have facilitated an agreement between independently deployed navies like Japan and India to coordinate their anti piracy operations, so that international shipping has more flexible options for escort schedules.
The international efforts off the Gulf of Aden have resulted in piracy spreading to other areas of the Indian Ocean which had not experienced these attacks earlier. Some of these areas have been not too distant from India’s Lakshadweep and Mincoy group of islands and naturally therefore this has been a cause of concern to us. It has become evident that pirates are changing their modus of operations as they have been observed to use hijacked merchant vessels as mother ships. This has given them an extended reach of over 1000 nautical miles from the Somali coast.
Given their changing tactics and operations, …. To my mind, their Centre of Gravity is the elaborate network of financers that fund operations and facilitate revenue collection. A recent UN report revealed that of the ransom paid in each incident of piracy only 20% reaches the pirates, while financers and sponsors hive off 50%. The question that begs to be answered is that how do they manage to divert funds in so unfettered a manner? Therefore, there is a need to build a strategy beyond multinational maritime counter piracy operations to facilitate tracking of the fiscal trail.
What is required is the collaborative engagement of both major maritime powers as well as the littoral states. The importance of littoral states towards a viable solution was best amplified by the success of the South-East Asian countries to combat piracy. …. Somalia does have comparatively stable neighbours who could contribute to a regional response and international efforts could provide impetus to the fledgling Somali Coast Guard. Larger maritime forces could facilitate training of local navies and coast guards.
Units of the Indian Navy have been tasked to carry out escorts in the Gulf of Aden, irrespective of their nationality, since October 2008. So far, of the nearly 1800 ships that have been escorted by the Indian Navy in the Gulf of Aden, more than 80% have been flying flags other than Indian.
If piracy is to be deterred, the present ‘risk versus reward quotient’ must be inverted exponentially by the development of appropriate laws and Rules of Engagement. These require both national and international consensus which can be facilitated by an exchange of the first hand operational experience of navies presently involved in anti piracy operations, beside ideas from legal and academic circles as well as the expertise and local knowledge of the regional players.
Naval forces have been facing a major dilemma about apprehending pirates at sea, due to the inadequacy or ineffective legal mechanisms to prosecute pirates who have been arrested. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 apprehended pirates benefit from the 'catch and release' policy followed by most navies till now. In India we are presently faced with the challenge of prosecuting over a hundred pirates apprehended by the Indian Navy and held in our country. We have moved to make new and effective domestic laws, and we hope to have these in place.
To mitigate such risks we have been using acoustic devices that have long range capability with built in phraselators that facilitate passing instructions in Somali language.
Towards minimising the possibility of situational escalation we have resorted to a rather unique measure of using our ship’s life rafts. Once the mother ship has been forced to stop, the pirates and crew are made to leave the mother ship and get on the life rafts released by the naval ship. This ensures that the pirates cannot carry arms; after which, they can be brought onboard for further investigation.
The shipping community could consider installation of mechanisms to disable their engines once it becomes evident that pirates are succeeding in gaining control. This may discourage their attempts to commandeer the vessel with of course the attended risk of force escalation by the pirates on account of their frustrations. This reemphasises the importance of establishing a citadel onboard.
Finally, I would conclude with the reflection that, the international efforts towards combating piracy would benefit if there were fewer disparate task forces and independent naval operations. India’s relative autonomy of efforts towards combating piracy off Somalia can be traced to its preference for a UN mandated operations which we believe if adopted would holistically enhance the efficacy of operations. Our Prime Minister in his speech at the UN General Assembly last month called upon the comity of nations to evolve a comprehensive and effective response to the problem of piracy and has assured the world of India’s readiness to work with other nations in this regard.