The pirates of Somalia had a quiet start to 2009, and the US Navy is taking the credit.
At the end of 2008 the Navy announced the creation of Combined Task Force 151, a unit dedicated to fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden, joining the navies of more than a dozen other countries from around the world operating off the coast of Somalia. After boom times earlier in the year that at one point saw the pirates holding nearly three dozen ships, successful hijackings fell to just a handful in December. Task Force 151's commander, Rear Admiral Terry McKnight, thinks the US has been a decisive factor in the drop.
But as Wired magazine's ‘Danger Room’ blog points out, the US Navy hasn’t actually ever engaged any pirates - unlike the navies of countries like India, Germany and Russia. And even Rear Adm. McKnight notes that the weather might be as big a factor in the drop in attacks as the presence of the US Navy, noting that the pirates’ boats tend to be small fishing craft, not suited for heavy weather and rough seas. “When the weather picks up, they tend to stay at home, and not out here,” McKnight said in a recent conference call. So much for being a decisive factor.
In fact, hot on the heels of McKnight's press conference, the pirates did land their first major prize of the year - a German tanker the MV Longchamp, which is believed to be carrying a cargo of gasoline. The pirates used a bit of trickery to catch the tanker, first launching an attack on another ship to draw naval vessels in the area away from the Longchamp, which they were then able to quickly board and capture. The German tanker's crew is reported to be okay, and will now likely be held along with their ship for ransom (the Somali pirates are estimated to have made $50 million last year from this cargo ship catch-and-release process).
And another navy is now looking to get in on the action off Somalia. Japan announced that they would be sending one of their destroyers to join in on the international patrols, though Japan will have to amend the law to allow the ship to go. Under the post-war constitution the United States wrote for Japan while we were occupying them after their surrender, Japan's military can only act in self-defense, so, technically, the Japanese ship could only respond if the pirates attacked either a Japanese-owned vessel, or one with a Japanese crew. Prime Minister Taro Aso is planning to introduce an amendment to the law to let their navy engage pirates attacking any ship.
Japan appears to have decided to send their navy to Africa after China sent two warships to the region last month, the first time in modern history that the Chinese Navy has operated away from their home waters.
3 days ago