Analyst: Piracy high visibility, low probability issue
The renewed urgency of governments to find ways to confront piracy off the coast of Somalia after a recent spate of attacks must be balanced against the fact that only a tiny percentage of merchant ships are ever captured, according to an analyst on the matter.
Governments are meeting this week in Brussels, Belgium, at a donor's conference to raise money for Somalia's transitional government to take steps against pirates on land so they can't launch attacks at sea. The U.S. government, in the wake of the attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama and the hostage-drama of Capt. Richard Phillips, has begun an intensive review of its policy options for protecting commercial traffic in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, and governments with navies patrolling the area plan to discuss how they can collaborate better against pirates.
Among the options some have proposed are launching attacks against pirate bases along the beaches to wipe out their equipment and infrastructure, to full-fledged nation-building efforts to bring stability to the lawless country.
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Deliberations should be viewed in the context that 111 vessels were attacked in and around the Gulf of Aden out of 20,000 vessels that transited the area in 2008, and of those, only 42 (or 38 percent) were actually captured, said Stefan H. Leader, a senior intelligence analyst at The Analysis Corp. in McLean, Va.
So far this year, pirates have only taken about 25 percent of the ships they have attacked because of heavy seas in the early months, more navy patrols and the use of evasion by ship captains, he said.
'There is a chance of less than one-third of 1 percent that any single ship is going to be successfully hijacked. That seems to justify the point of view shippers take that this is an annoyance, but not a real serious national security problem,' Leader said.
He made his comments as an audience member during a presentation on piracy at the Middle East Institute in Washington on Thursday.
The main speaker, Retired Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cosgriff, made a similar point in addressing the use of naval convoys to protect commercial vessels. The European Union task force on scene, in particular, offers a limited set of scheduled convoys through the Gulf of Aden, but they can only protect a few vessels at a time and require such a huge disruption in normal sailing schedules to coordinate passage that most vessel operators ignore the escorts.
A convoy 'from a commercial point of view, is a terribly inefficient use of assets, especially when, relatively speaking, the risk is so low' for a potential attack, said Cosgriff, who was responsible until last year for naval operations in the areas as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet.
Ocean transportation companies in most cases are resorting to passive defensive measures, or routing their ships around South Africa instead of the Suez Canal passage to protect their vessels. They are also paying ransoms to release captured vessels and crews, a practice that has also created an incentive for more pirates to join the money chase. ' Eric Kulisch