Navy looks for ways other than armed patrols to fight Somali pirates
A top admiral says US Navy armed patrols can't chase Somali pirates indefinitely. Other ways must be found to get to the source of piracy off the coast of Somalia.
In Pictures Somali pirates
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As Somali pirates continue to find attacking cargo ships in the West Indian Ocean profitable, they have become more and more aggressive, forcing the international community to send naval ships from more than a dozen countries to help patrol the vast waters off Somalia.
But the patrols are expensive and deprive the global fleet of precious resources, and they can’t continue such costly operations, says Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, the top naval commander in Europe and Africa.
“I don’t think we can sustain the level of operation we’ve got down there forever,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald did not indicate the Navy would abandon the mission any time soon. Instead, his remarks suggest that the answer to piracy may lie elsewhere – especially if it becomes a more violent activity. He says the shipping industry should ensure it is doing everything to deter attacks, including hiring armed security guards, as well as taking other nonlethal actions to thwart pirates.
“The maritime industry has got to make a decision about how seriously they want to take this on,” he said, in a roundtable discussion with reporters at the Pentagon this week.
Naval patrols have been effective
About 40 naval vessels patrol those waters at any one time, including as many as 10 US Navy ships. Those patrols have been effective.
The US Navy’s presence alone has thwarted several attacks, including one Friday in which a helicopter from the destroyer Farragut scared off an attack from a pirate skiff. Last week, the USS Ashland, a Navy amphibious ship, received small-arms fire from a pirate skiff. When the ship returned fire and the skiff caught fire, the pirates jumped into the water and Navy personnel rescued them. Over the past 10 days, the Navy has apprehended 21 suspected pirates.
The industry has resisted hiring security guards in part out of fear of escalating the violence on the high seas. There are also legal issues with having weapons aboard ships that port in various countries, industry officials have said.