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August 25, 2008

Coalition steps up anti-piracy efforts

Coalition naval activities have thus far dome little to deter Somali pirates.

Last week, however, U.S. Naval Central Command has directed the establishment of a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) in the Gulf of Aden. A force of Coalition Navy warships will patrol the area, and aircraft will fly in the airspace above.

Commodore Bob Davidson (Canadian Navy), commander Combined Task Force 150, will command naval forces in the patrol area.

Central Command says the MSPA is being established in support of the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) ongoing efforts. It says coalition actions will "give the IMO time to work international preventative efforts that will ultimately lead to a long-term solution."

"Coalition ships are in the area as part of our continual presence in this region. While they have conducted routine operations in the area in the past, the establishment of the MSPA will focus the efforts to counter destabilizing activities in the region and improve security while long-term initiatives mature," says Central Command

Meantime, a bleak picture is painted by a Marad advisory that warns all operators of U.S. Flag, Effective U.S. Controlled vessels, and other maritime interests alerts mariners to be vigilant in the Gulf of Aden, where four vessels were hijacked and two attacked August 19-21.

It says that ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) advises mariners to be on high alert when transiting this area, particularly through to the end of November, when mild weather is conducive to small boat operation.

The Marad advisory also says that a U.K. Maritime Trades Office alert advises that vessels transit the region maintaining 35-40 nm off the Yemen coast and keep clear of the area bounded by 12:40N-046:40E south of the Somali coast and from 14:30N-53:00E south to Socotra (remaining at the very least 50 nm from the island). It adds that the most recent hijacking has taken place north of the northern attack line.

The Marad advisory quotes from an International Maritime Bureau warning in which IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan says:

"the situation in this region is grave. We are seeing at least one attack every couple of weeks. These pirates are not afraid to use significant firepower in attempts to bring vessels under their control. Unless further action is taken, seafarers remain in serious danger whilst navigating the Gulf of Aden. In all reported instances, vessels have been approached by speedboats containing men armed with machine guns and RPG launchers. In their attempts to slowdown and board the vessels, the pirates have opened fire against the unarmed merchant ships."

It also quotes Mr. Mukundan as saying that "whilst the intervention of coalition navies has helped in isolated cases, it is by no means a long-term solution. It is clear that the threat or presence of coalition navies has done little to stem the tide of attacks in this region."


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