Authors: Beatriz Binkley & Laura Smith
Somali Pirates © Veronique de Viguerie, via The Guardian
The past two decades have witnessed a significant increase in the level of worldwide maritime piracy. With more than 50 percent of all contemporary maritime attacks attributed to Somali pirates, no other region is capable of generating more piracy-related investigations and analysis. Unfortunately, as the proliferation and success of Somali pirates continues, the organizational sophistication of pirate gangs will also increase, and the problem will spread to other areas with similarly enabling factors. Somali pirates are models for other prospective pirates to emulate. Yet they also provide case studies into how shipping companies and the international community can work to address the piracy problem. Against this background, this analysis moves beyond discussing the root cause of Somali piracy and breaks down the anatomy of attacks, looking at the possible successes and failures at different stages of the process. However, with high rewards and low risks for the pirates, the struggle to reduce piracy may be an uphill battle. Continue reading
Update by Sean Hannan
On September 9, 2010, 24 Marines from USMC 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) force reconnaissance platoon boarded the Magellan Star after it had been taken over by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. In what is known as a visit-board-search-seizure, or VBSS, the Marine raiders boarded the pirate-controlled vessel and stormed the ship, taking the nine hijackers into custody without firing a single shot. According to Captain Alexander Martin, USMC “As soon as the first stack [of Marines] made our way into the bridge, their hands were up, their weapons were down, they moved to their knees, and were very compliant.”1 The Marines launched from the USS Dubuque which was operating under the control of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151).11 A Turkish frigate had been the first to respond to the Magellan Star’s distress signal, and the USS Dubuque and USS Princeton subsequently provided additional support. The eleven Magellan Star crewmembers retreated to a safe room onboard as the pirates boarded their ship3 and White House and Pentagon officials decided to launch the raid after it was confirmed the crew was out of harm’s way.4 The successful VBSS of the Magellan Star marks the first time US military forces have boarded a ship actively controlled by Somali pirates.5
This should be viewed as both an encouraging incident, and a precedent for direct military action against Somali pirates. Permission for the force reconnaissance operators to board and retake the pirate-controlled vessel is reported to have come directly from Defense Secretary Roberts Gates.6 Consent for the mission was also developed in conjunction with other top-level Pentagon and White House officials.7 This suggests that top-level officials are aware of the type of response needed to quell incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden. Indeed, the United States has been the lead military force in taking direct action against Somali pirates, as seen by the Magellan Star boarding, as well the rescuing of Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama by Navy SEAL snipers in April 2009.8 The United States continues to bear the burden of applying military force, and the United States Marine Corps has increased training in VBSS tactics in hopes of promoting readiness to conduct counter-piracy operations.9 Even before the Magellan Star incident, such training had taken place at USMC bases nationwide.10 East Coast-based Marine MEUs have been training in the use of VBSS from the air by boarding vessels using helicopters and MV-22 Osprey aircraft for fast roping onto ship decks. West Coast-based MEUs have been perfecting the art of seaborne boarding – the tactic used in the Magellan Star VBSS – using rigid inflatable boats. Both methods operate in conjunction with the US Navy, with sailors also taking part in VBSSs.11 While it is reported that the increased training is not a direct response to the number of piracy attacks off the Horn of Africa, it is a sign that more military intervention is expected.
While the root causes of piracy, such as underdevelopment and lack of domestic governmental control within Somalia, cannot be ignored, direct military action that defeats and deters acts of piracy will continue to be pursued by the United States operating under the jurisdiction of CTF 151. Military interdiction is necessary to fill the gaps while development and governmental control take hold in Somali. Hopefully, Somalis will desist from piracy as a legitimate economy develops. That development will take some time, maybe even decades to establish. The United States is preparing for a long fight. It can only be hoped that the fight is as successful as the retaking of the Magellan Star.
“U.S. forces board pirate-captured vessel.”
Lamonthe, “Conway endorses force.”
“Captain freed after snipers kill pirates.” MSNBC.com. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30178013/ (accessed September 14, 2010).
“Whether we call it operational or not, Hezbollah is deeply rooted in the tri-border region.”
-Ryan C. Crocker, career Ambassador within the United States Foreign Service
Discussion over the activities of Hezbollah in the TBA prompted a great deal of discourse between members of a panel taking part in a recent hearing sponsored by the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee. Testimony provided by Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, argued that “no credible information” has been collected “to indicate that Hezbollah has an operational presence in Latin America.”1 It was Benjamin’s use of “operational” that prompted Mr. Crocker’s statement that is featured above. Since 9/11, the methods that terrorist organizations employ to raise funds for future activities have been closely monitored. To enhance this process efforts have been made by Argentina, Paraguay, and the United States to improve the regional intelligence center established in Foz do Iguacu, which is an extension of the 3+1 Group. Former coordinator for counterterrorism, Henry Crumpton, has suggested that cooperation is “uneven” between each of these nations, but that signs of progress are taking shape.2
Lebanese national Moussa Ali Hamdan is escorted to trial in Paraguay
Signs that multilateral efforts are paying off are evident in the arrest of Moussa Ali Hamdan a well-known financier of Hezbollah. Agents of the Paraguayan affiliate of Interpol apprehended Hamdan in downtown Ciudad del Este following a request from the United States government. The United States’ desire to have Hamdan extradited from Paraguay stems from a 2008 indictment of twenty-six suspected Hezbollah operatives. In that case charges were framed around Hamdan’s support of Hezbollah, which included a provision of 1,500 cell phones and a bevy of computer electronics.3
The presence of Hezbollah in the TBA is increasingly troublesome for United States officials on many fronts:
- As the relationship between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez develops, so do fears of their allegiance to an “Axis of Unity” against the United States.
- The use of proxies by Iran (Hezbollah) and Venezuela (the FARC) creates more tension in the region, while speculation over whether or not these groups are collaborating still fills the air.4
- Chávez has expressed his full endorsement of Iran’s decision to pursue nuclear technology, and now seeks to construct a nuclear complex of his own.
As long as the TBA continues to provide the largest source of financial support for Hezbollah outside of the Middle East (est. $20 million annually) it will represent a potential challenge to the national security interests of the United States.5 Now, with the emergence of the Chávez-Ahmadinejad regime it is important that the Latin American community monitor the relationship between Hezbollah and the FARC.
Updated by Joshua T. Hoffman
- U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “Assessing the Strength of Hezbollah.” Subcommittee Hearing, June 8, 2010. 39:19-39:45. http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=de51c6a4-5056-a032-52bc-dcf1f13de7ae.
- Crumpton, Henry A. Reviewing the State Department’s Annual Report on Terrorism. Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation. May 11, 2006. 72. http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/intlrel/hfa27478.000/hfa27478_0f.htm.
- United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania . United States of America v. Moussa Ali Hamdan. November 24, 2009. 14. http://www.justice.gov/usao/pae/News/Pr/2009/nov/hodrojetalind.pdf.
- “Clinton takes questions on Hezbollah-FARC ‘nexus.'” Palestine Note, June 12, 2010. http://palestinenote.com/cs/blogs/news/archive/2010/06/12/clinton-takes-questions-on-hezbollah-farc-nexus.aspx.
- Treverton, Gregory F. and Carl Matthies. Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism. RAND Safety and Justice Program and the Global Risk and Security Center, 2009. xi. http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG742.pdf.
Author: Sean Hannan
According to Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), piracy: consists of any of the following acts:
- any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
- on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
- against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
- any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
- any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b). Continue reading