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Why can't mariners shoot back at Somali pirates?

By Adriana Stuijt     Dec 15, 2008 in Crime
A very interesting debate is being waged on the website of AFRICOM about the role of Task Force 150. This multinational anti-terrorism task force patrols the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
Its fleet is supplied with naval vessels from i.a. Germany, Italy, France, the USA, the Netherlands, Denmark, Great-Britain and Pakistan. see online AFRICOM blog here
And while the multinational Task Force 150 fleet is not an AFRICOM mission, their website points out that Task Force 150 and the US military in AFRICOM are in constant, close contact with each other.
AFRICOM's task is to monitor maritime security while their US forces are engaged on shore - providing health care to local citizens while also sharing training information with African military forces such as in Ethiopia, Somalia and Mauritius.
AFRICOM also helps install maritime security devices in surrounding ports and has boosted the local communications networks considerably over the past few months.
Read here:
Since its inception on August 22, 2008, Task Force 150 has already helped deter more than a dozen attacks in the Gulf of Aden alone However, the AFRICOM website points out, 'criminals have still successfully targeted several vessels in the region'.
Initially commanded by Canadian Commodore Bob Davidsonn, the ships now are commanded by Danish Royal Navy commodore Per Bigum Christenson. They patrol the coastline to prevent criminal activities such as drug- and people- smuggling operations that support terrorist and violent extremist organisations.
Our efforts cannot guarantee safety in the region
However, this solely designed as a reactionary, not a proactive approach -- the long-term solution must be found ashore said vice-admiral Bill Gortney: 'This is a problem that starts ashore and requires an international solution. We made this clear at the outset - our efforts cannot guarantee safety in the region. Our part in preventing some of these destabilising activities is only one part of the solution to prevent further attacks...'
Merchant shipping companies should also get private security forces on-board
Said Christensen: "Mariners must remain vigilant. A ship's master and her crew are the first line of defense for their own ship.' He said merchant mariners have of course been in the forefront of this fight and have deterred attacks - 'simply by keeping a sharp lookout for suspicious small boats operating in the vicinity of their ships, increasing speed and maneuvering to avoid small craft." And, he noted that even 'repelling would-be boarders with fire-hoses does work'...
However, Gortney believed that the shipping industry itself should also become much more pro-active by hiring on-board security teams for their vessels.
"The Coalition does not have the resources to provide 24-hour protection for the vast number of merchant vessels in the region. "The shipping companies must take measures to defend their vessels and their crews, " he said.
One blogger from Maryland makes some important observations on the AFRICOM website -- noting that the merchant ships' failure to resist is the product of a combination of factors:
1. most merchant ships today are owned by large companies which restrict the discretion of their captains,
2. the ships are insured,
3. the Somali pirates generally do not mistreat the crews they capture, but if a crew put up a fight before being captured, they 'might get angry',
4. today's merchant ships are highly automated, usually with crews of 20 men or less. There aren't that many pirates, but there also are not very many defenders.
5. Most of the ports that the merchant ships call on are probably not comfortable with them having machine guns or rocket launchers on board."
More about Task force 150, Success rate gulf, Somalia, Multinational navy, Africom