By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press -- Thu Jan 8, 7:41 am ET
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A new international force to battle pirates off the Somali coast is being formed under American command in a bid to focus more military resources to protect one of the world's key shipping lanes, the U.S. Navy said Thursday.
But the new mission, expected to begin operations next week, will have no wider authority to strike at pirate vessels at sea or move against havens on shore. That raises questions whether it can significantly curb pirate flotillas after more than 110 ships were attacked last year.
International efforts to fight piracy have mounted in recent months. More than 20 nations are expected to take part in the new U.S.-led mission.
"This task force does not does have any greater rules of engagement," said Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain. "It does, however, bring a greater focus to counter-piracy operations under one command."
That could lead to more targeted strategies to foil the pirates at sea and gain information on their operations, Campbell told The Associated Press.
There are more than a dozen warships guarding Somalia's waters. Countries including the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and India have naval forces off the Somali coast or on their way there. The U.S. military announcement did not mention the nations taking part in the counter-piracy force, but Campbell said it would likely include nations with ships already in the region.
The announcement said the new force will be headed by U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Terence McKnight.
The 2008 spike in pirate attacks on commercial vessels in August prompted U.S. Naval Central Command to establish a security corridor within the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean near Somalia.
A more robust military presence in the pirate-infested area off the coast of Yemen and Somalia has helped deter some attacks, but it has not stopped hijackings of commercial vessels.
More than a dozen ships with around 200 crew members remain in the hands of pirates, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Among the most valuable ships the Somali pirates still hold for ransom are a Saudi supertanker, loaded with $100 million of crude oil and an Ukrainian vessel with Russian-made tanks and other heavy weapons on board. (These represent quite a pirate's treasure chest.)
There's a little bit more to this story than bandit groups of Somali men turning to piracy for fun and profit. Somalia has essentially existed without a functioning central government since 1991. This has allowed it's coastline to become a dumping grounds for European hazardous waste and an open coast for all kinds of illegal commercial fishing for Asians and Europeans.
The illegal dumping was exposed by the 2004 Tsunami when broken containers washed up on Somali shores. The UN has admitted that this dumping has been going on for over a decade. Somali piracy actually began when out of work fisherman took it upon themselves to protect their coast from both the dumping and the fishing. Unfortunately their coast line is more extensive than our Atlantic coastline. That's a lot of coastline and is why it is possible for Europeans to both dump their toxic waste and fish the same waters.
No European government has admitted that their factories and hospitals are using the Somali coastline to dump their waste. Here's a quote from the UN envoy to Somalia: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury, you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”
How could there be any clean-up, compensation, or prevention when governments don't admit it's happening?
I have to hand it to the Mafia, they sure do seem to be an indispensable part of how Europe does business, especially in the 'cleaning up' of European messes.
So once again it's the US Navy to the rescue because the Somali coastal waterways are more than just convenient illegal fishing and dumping grounds, they are part of a strategic waterway between Asia and Europe, and the pirates who were once a sort of quasi coast guard are now a real threat stealing really important cargoes. They have managed to get the world's attention.
I hope this twenty nation anti piracy navy will go after both kinds of pirates, those that dump their cargoes and those that steal cargoes. In both cases the actions are criminal and need to be treated equally as such. It will be interesting to see how the US Navy proceeds.
In any event Somali coastal waters represent another example of how rich interests criminally exploit the third world and then find themselves having to fall behind their government's military or tax payer largess to bail them out. This is really just a naval version of a Wall Street bail out. When do we say enough is enough?