World Maritime Day: Orchestrating the response to piracy

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Members of a Visit Board Search and Seizure team assigned to USS Gettysburg and U.S. Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Team South detain suspected pirates after responding to a merchant vessel distress signal while operating in the Combined Maritime Forces area of responsibility in the Gulf of Aden. Department of Defense photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric L. Beauregard.
Members of a visit, board, search and seizure team assigned to USS Gettysburg and Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Team South detain suspected pirates after responding to a merchant vessel distress signal while operating in the Combined Maritime Forces area of responsibility in the Gulf of Aden. Department of Defense photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric L. Beauregard.

Today is World Maritime Day 2011, a day in which we recognize the maritime industry’s contribution towards the world’s economy. While there are many challenges and successes to take note of, there is one particular issue generating a worldwide rallying call – the threat of piracy.

At an annual cost now estimated to be between $7 and $12 billion, piracy is a global issue requiring a global response. With this threat of piracy in mind, the International Maritime Organization chose this year’s World Maritime Day theme to reflect how nations must work together in “orchestrating the response.”

A Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment Team and Navy personnel assigned to the Visit Board Search and Seizure team, both assigned to guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain, conduct a pre-counterpiracy operations brief. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
A Coast Guard law enforcement detachment and Navy personnel assigned to the visit, board, search and seizure team, both assigned to guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain, conduct a pre-counterpiracy operations brief. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

We often hear of pirates attacking in the Indian Ocean, but piracy affects countless bodies of water and places around the world. Regardless of where an attack takes place, piracy is a threat to cargo, ships and most importantly the lives of those at sea. Eliminating piracy and other transnational threats requires international cooperation.

To prevent attacks, the Coast Guard and the international community continue to develop methods of deterrence. Commercial U.S. ships are required to assess and plan for various safety and security threats, including piracy. This plan, known as a vessel security plan, outlines potential risks and mitigation measures and is submitted to the Coast Guard for approval.

The Coast Guard also chairs a working group that capitalizes on strong partnerships with 70 participants from a variety of backgrounds, including international governments and states, labor groups and maritime shipping industry associations.

The working group uses shipping best practices and experiences from the various backgrounds of the participants to provide guidance for vessel self-defense, security and coordination with military support forces in high-risk waters around the globe.

Members of a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment and a visit, board, search and seizure team head back to the guided missile destroyer USS Farragut after disabling a suspected pirate skiff in the Indian Ocean.  U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cassandra Thompson.
Members of a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment and a visit, board, search and seizure team head back to the guided missile destroyer USS Farragut after disabling a suspected pirate skiff in the Indian Ocean. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cassandra Thompson.

“Where a year ago the Somali pirates were seeing a 55 percent success rate, in the first several months of 2011 they have seen only a 17 percent success rate,” said Robert Gauvin, the Coast Guard’s executive director of piracy policy. “The use of these counter-piracy tools are consistently effective when used and are making pathways in changing the business plans of the pirates as fewer ships and crewmembers are available to collect hostage ransoms on.”

Ships and their crews are not in it alone, however. The working group encourages mariners to reach out to appropriate military forces for support when planning a voyage in risky waters.

“Reporting into the military support centers in high-risk waters during the vessel voyage and working with military escorts through the international routing transit corridor in the Gulf of Aden have been highly effective as well and ensure further reductions of risk for attacks by pirates,” said Gauvin. “A larger number of flags are now mandating the use of these self defense best practices and further supporting the military groups patrolling the high risk waters to counter the piracy risk and respond to attacks and hijacking attempts.”

While there are a variety of military units supporting mariners near the Horn of Africa, the U.S. calls upon both the Coast Guard and Navy to combat the threat of piracy. Coast Guard law enforcement detachments operate jointly with the Navy’s visit, board, search and seizure teams to combat the expansive threats the maritime domain brings.

Combining Coast Guard and Navy teams takes advantage of the unique capabilities and authorities each service offers. The teams also partner to provide training in maritime laws, boarding procedures, evidence collection and tactical procedures.

Piracy raises a threat against lives and economy and is a challenge that must be met to ensure the safe and secure movement of good and services around the world. As we commemorate World Maritime Day, piracy is brought to the forefront of our minds. Countering piracy is an ongoing battle and requires commitment and cooperation from the international community.

Piracy: Orchestrating the response

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