New Piracy resource coming online

For those monitoring piracy, a new resource is coming online: Global Marine Piracy Magazine. Their mission is to…

provide the world’s best and most comprehensiveinformation on marine piracy … clearly, the most significant threat
to the world economy today. While "briefcase" nuclear devices are often
in the news … the international media seldom reports piracy unless
it’s a major event. The typical pirate is an armed robber, but the ease
with which armed bandits can commandeer large merchant vessels is
well-know to terrorist organizations which thrive on chaos. A single
terrorist incident involving a bulk carrier in a major port can exceed
the damages caused to the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks.   

If you’re like me and see brown and blue water issues becoming more important (with or without media attention), this may become a useful resource. National navies are growing…

  • South Africa is taking delivery of sub made in Germany
  • Israel is posturing to include "overseas targets"
  • China is a concern in the QDR (and here)
  • Indonesia is considering buying subs
  • plus others…

The two resources on piracy are the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre’s Weekly Piracy Report and the daily The Cargo Letter. Piracy happens in more places than off the Horn of Africa, the media just  doesn’t pick up those stories. 

Side note: Interested in more from the naval side? Read this War Room post on Naval Supremacy between India and China and read Dr Barnett’s message to the Indian Navy (published in 2000 however) linked there.

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A Primer on Pirates

There are an increasing number of questions about what is piracy. This is a brief primer to get the reader started on the road of what piracy may be. As you read, consider the US capture of a Somali pirate in January and how strategy, tactics, and global affairs fit into the game of Risk.

A starter read is the United Nation’s Atlas of the Oceans portal is Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea.

A better, up to date read is from Tech Central Station – Un-Jolly Rogers (16 Nov 05), with highlights below, emphasis added.

War on Terror features counter-pirate operations. Singapore’s Internal
Security Department told me in 2002 that the difference between
battling pirates and stopping terrorists is often slight. The Straits
of Malacca, located between Singapore and Indonesia, is a prime terror
target. The strait is jammed with container ships and oil tankers.

fall 2001, a CENTCOM officer and I explored several "ship assault"
scenarios in the straits. One scenario had the plotscape of a novel,
with Indonesian or Malaysian pirates helping al-Qaida operatives hijack
a tanker. Spilling a million barrels of crude creates an eco-disaster.
Sinking the tanker drives maritime insurance rates sky-high.

June 2005, I received two briefings from CENTCOM naval officers on
coalition naval operations off Africa’s Somali coast and in the Red
Sea. Chasing pirates is a key mission. Stopping piracy protects African
and Arab fishermen and shippers, so it’s good politics. There’s also
little doubt that al-Qaida has paid local pirates to smuggle personnel
and weapons.

patrols off Somalia, however, didn’t deter last week’s audacious — and
unsuccessful — pirate assault on the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit.
Somali pirates, riding in small boats, attacked with rocket-propelled
grenades and automatic weapons. The liner’s captain and crew maneuvered
their ship, using it as a weapon — it’s big, and it generates a
massive wake. The liner also employed a directional "parabolic audio
boom-box." The non-lethal "sonic weapon" emitted an eardrum-shattering
sound. The frustrated pirates retreated.

Somali attack generated international headlines. Though international
monitors recorded 259 "piratical incidents" in the first nine months of
this year, piracy receives very little media coverage.

The spike in media interest may give Jack Gottschalk and Brian Flanagan a belated bestseller. Their "Jolly Roger With an Uzi: The Rise and Threat of Modern Piracy,"
published by the Naval Institute Press in 2000, documented the rise of
"new piracy," to include smuggling and maritime scams, as well as
terrorists operating at sea.
and Flanagan identify three "requirements" for piracy, which apply to
Viking pirate raiders as well as contemporary Somali sea thieves:

Pirates prowl waterways where the targets are lucrative.

2) "The
geographic area where pirates prey must be one in which the risk level
of detection is acceptable."

3) If possible, pirates have "safe havens"
where they can "hide, seek repairs and obtain supplies."

piracy takes good intelligence. The authors also offer this warning:
Piracy "has never been reduced through any process of negotiation."
Historically, only armed force suppresses pirates.

With the impact on commerce and security clear, it would be interesting to investigate why piracy has not achieved greater prominance in the news. It seems to have all the necessary attributes, except, perhaps, a perceived unitary backer. While "Islamic Terrorism" is perceived to be part of the Us vs Them scenario described by so many, mostly notably and unfortunately the President, there is no single Chief Pirate, Chief Propagandist Pirate, or ideological thread to build a fascinating singular story around. Is it possible the cruise ship attack was a lure to allow the TopCat mission? Or was it an chance opportunity?


Maritime Terrorism Threat

News background from 12 December 2005 and a PINR questioning the threat from Maritime terrorism:

In October 2000, al-Qaeda carried out an attack on the U.S. Navy destroyer the USS Cole while it was anchored in Aden Harbor in Yemen. Shortly before noon, two suicide bombers approached the USS Cole in an explosive-laden speed boat and detonated it along the port side of the vessel. The blast tore open the Cole’s steel hull and killed 17 members of the crew.

Two years later, the MV Limburg was the target. The super-tanker was attacked in the Gulf of Aden as it approached Yemen’s Ash Shihr oil terminal. Again, a small boat was used which exploded as it approached the vessel. Despite causing substantial damage to the side of the Limburg, only one crew member was killed in the attack.


In June 2002, Moroccan authorities foiled a number of attempts to attack commercial and naval vessels transiting the Straits of Gibraltar. Following the arrests of several Jemaah Islamiyah (J.I.) operatives in Singapore in 2001, it was revealed that the group has planned to attack visiting U.S. naval warships in the region.

In February 2003, after the arrest and interrogation of al-Qaeda’s Abdelrahim al-Nashiri, it emerged that the group had intended to attack ships in the Straits of Hormuz. The planned operation would use a number of small craft, which would be packed with explosives and discharged from a "mother ship" once in position near passing U.S. warships.

By far the most lethal maritime terrorist incident this millennium was the attack on the M/V Superferry 14 in Manila by the Abu Sayyaf Group in February 2004. Just after midnight local time, a bomb exploded onboard the passenger ferry, which had left Manila Bay two hours earlier. The resulting fire caused the ship to capsize, and more than 100 people were killed in the attack.