Best Defense
Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Pirate Watch: Garacad, the nastiest place you’ve never heard of — but will

Multi-mission naval aviator Herb Carmen returns safely to base with yet another interesting report. Here ‘tis. By Cdr. Herb Carmen Best Defense piracy columnist History shows that stopping piracy almost always requires actions ashore. In the case of piracy near Somalia, very little has yet been done to put pressure on the shore establishment that ...

By , a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images

Multi-mission naval aviator Herb Carmen returns safely to base with yet another interesting report. Here ‘tis.

Multi-mission naval aviator Herb Carmen returns safely to base with yet another interesting report. Here ‘tis.

By Cdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense
piracy columnist

History shows that stopping piracy almost always requires actions ashore. In the case of piracy near Somalia, very little has yet been done to put pressure on the shore establishment that supports the booming business and burgeoning industry of piracy in the region. By steering clear of the Somali coast and focusing on sea lane protection and escort, navies may make hijacking merchant vessels more difficult for pirates but can only address the symptoms of piracy without confronting the source and the motivations behind it. 

With some 2 million square miles of ocean to patrol, it requires considerable effort to do counter-piracy well. While escort operations have been largely successful in recent months, the annual number of pirate attacks has increased. The rate of pirate hijackings actually decreased by 28% in 2009, but the number of hijackings remains almost steady between 2008 and 2009. What the steady number of hijackings might suggest is that pirates have a finite capacity ashore to berth and retain seized vessels; and, within that finite capacity, pirates have been able to sustain a certain level of success in the region despite the success in the sea lanes. 

Even as navies make it more difficult for pirates at sea, the problem isn’t going away without addressing piracy closer to shore and denying pirates the use of port facilities. Recent hijackings have been largely against merchant vessels that have strayed from transit corridors and ignored best practices. The most recent example of such a hijacking is the capture of the Saudi tanker Al Nisr Al Saudi which was hijacked Monday and had not registered its voyage with MSCHOA. The vessel was taken to Garacad, a well-known pirate stronghold. Garacad isn’t new to the Navy, as seen in this video.

Last week brought promising news of a first step in denying pirates the use of ports such as Garacad, along the middle of the Somali coastline. The ministers of the defense of the European Union announced an expansion of the mission of EU’s Operation Atalanta to "include control of the Somali ports where pirates are based as well as ‘neutralizing’ mother ships that allow the pirates to operate over 1,000 kilometers from the coast." Until now, EU NAVFOR has focused its maritime assets on protection of vessels of the World Food Program (WFP) delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia and the protection of vulnerable vessels sailing in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast. While they’ve been largely successful in protecting WFP aid, it appears that EU NAVFOR is expressing a willingness and commitment to confront piracy more directly. If the EU takes this mission on wisely and with drive and energy, it could reduce Somali piracy significantly.

Beyond the issue of piracy, what happens to WFP aid once it is delivered to Somalia has become the challenge ashore. The WFP partially suspended operations in Somalia in January in the face of threats and attacks from armed groups. In a statement Sunday, Al Shabaab "banned" WFP operations in Somalia. Just this week, there are reports that WFP trucks and truck drivers have been hijacked ashore. WFP has hopes to restart work in the area in March or April and aims to provide food assistance to 3.5 million people.

Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1

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