Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Russia, the International Community and Piracy

Problems with Russia's Participation in the Pirate Hunt

About the author: Mikhail Dmitrievich Vojtenko - Chief of the Information and Analysis Department, OAO "Sovfrakht", editor of the journal "Sovfrakht Maritime Bulletin".

Attempted Translation:

03 Oct 2008

Reports have circulated in the press in the last week about how the Russian Navy is supporting the international fight against piracy at sea, including off the coast of Somalia. This has been talked about in both official announcements and in Navy Public Affairs. This is in connection with an incorrect interpretation of remarks made by Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy; that supposedly our fleet would take care of the piracy problem by itself.

“The Russian Navy is supporting the international effort against piracy at sea, including off the coast of Somalia. And when Russian citizens find themselves threatened, the Navy reserves the right of unilateral action”, the Navy PAO Igor’ Dygalo noted. He emphasized that in other circumstances (for instance, during international operations against piracy) the issue of Russian naval participation will conform to Russia’s foreign policy line.

Four Forces

Judging by the first reports in the press, first a Navy ship will be sent to the Gulf of Aden; moreover it is planning on operating independently. And the statement by the CinC Vladimir Vysotskiy has been corrected to reflect that Russian participation in the international fight against piracy at sea will conform to Russia’s foreign policy line. But it is entirely unclear what conditions have to present themselves for Russian participation.

Right now the naval forces in the Gulf of Aden can be divided into four types:

1. Coalition forces. Coalition Task Force 150. The main mission of these forces is to combat terrorism, which is not really understandable, or more likely, to force the blockade of the Straits of Hormuz in the event that the Iranians close it. The closure of the Straits of Hormuz would be more terrible for the world economy than the closure of the Suez Canal. Around 40 percent of world oil exports go through the Straits of Hormuz while the Suez Canal is the main route for the gigantic flow of finished goods that are manufactured cheaply by China and India from Asia to Europe and the United States. The coalition forces look at the piracy fight as an annoyance and not worth the trouble, and to re-orient their mission would be very complicated, even if it were possible.

2. Random ships from random countries, dispatched for a limited amount of time to guard ships with humanitarian aid to Somalia. This is in accordance with the UN program for humanitarian assistance and as far as the author knows isn’t related to the fight against piracy.

3. Unilateral national forces. Right now we have the first “swallow” in Malaysian form, which has sent three Navy ships to the region with the exclusive goal of supporting the safe passage of Malaysian ships. The Malaysian company MISC, which has two tankers held in Somalia as well as a container ship with thousands of containers on board which was attacked with cargo worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is one of the biggest ship operators in the world. The company has a large significance for economies throughout the world. The defense of MISC ships is the defense of its national interest by Malaysia.

4. Last week the European Union decided to a) create a Somali Piracy Command Center in Brussels, and b) possibly send some sort of multilateral task force to the Gulf of Aden to fight piracy threatening the EU economy. If container ships, tankers and dry cargo vessels have to avoid the Suez Canal, it will strike a heavy blow against Old World economies and the pocketbooks of European citizens, including Russia. Asian goods will increase in price since everywhere you look, all you see are goods labeled “Made in China” and the value of the Suez Canal will be quickly understood even in the Russian sticks.

Together With Whom and How?

Meanwhile, I am urgently interested in the following question: what will Russian Navy ships be able to achieve in the Gulf of Aden?

1. It is useless (unfortunately) to talk about combining with Coalition Task Force 150 since, I repeat, this formation isn’t fighting piracy.

2. Guarding humanitarian cargos headed for Somalia only has a tangential relationship with fighting piracy.

3. Unilaterally? There aren’t any ships there that demand national defense. Either you guard everyone who needs guarding or you guard no one. The transit of the Gulf of Aden by a fully Russian ship (Russian flagged, Russian owner and a Russian crew) is too much of a rarity to maintain a squadron of ships in the region on a constant basis (even if there is only one military ship, she needs escort). There are always Russian sailors crossing the Gulf of Aden but, as a rule, as part of a multinational crew under different flags on ships owned by different owners. If the goal is to exclusively defend Russian interests, then it becomes necessary to ask each ship that is attacked if there are Russian citizens on board and if there is cargo bound for Russia or not. That is absurd. So even if unilateral action is taken, in order to operate effectively, water space and technical details would have to be worked out, first of all, with coalition forces, second, with Malaysian ships and, third, with EU forces if and when they show up.

4. Working together with EU forces – this is obviously the most logical, preferable and effective scenario.

5. There is a fifth, extremely undesirable variant: ships sent independently and operating independently. Imagine the situation – there is a family in which a couple of members have been kidnapped for ransom. And help comes from the organized crime unit, from the Ministry of the Interior, from the FSB, traffic cops, private security guards and sundry other “powers”. And all of them work independently, for themselves. They rip the phone receiver from each others hands when the kidnappers call, each on suggests their own solution, each one screams that he has a bigger and more deadly gun. The same would happen in the Gulf of Aden if everyone sent independent actors. I repeat that no one country has enough shipping in the region to send forces that would guard only their own flagged ships. But at the same time, the shipping in the area has importance for many countries, for all of Europe. Quite simply, modern maritime commerce is more globalized and international than any other economic activity and either everybody or nobody defends it. If Russian ships are sent there independently, that means piracy isn’t the issue, it’s ambition.

A further question – what kind of forces should be sent? It should be a ship with a helicopter since the lack of a helo on board during piracy patrols, as experience has shown, would reduce patrol effectiveness by 50 percent or more. The ship should also have a SPETSNAZ detachment on board (or whatever they are called). It doesn’t seem like it to me that I have to explain why.

Not a Solution, but a Phantom

But this is the main point. Somali piracy has uncovered a mass of problems and defects in international relations. For example, what should be done with captured pirates? On whose shores should they be deposited and why? What is to be done when aid is rendered to attacked ships – can pirates finally be sunk or not? Can they be fired upon? Yes or no, and if not yet, then when?

Incidentally, I’d like to clear up one point that is unjustifiably treated as nothing important,. but turns out to be very nearly the most important issue. It is the sensational decision by the UN Security Council to allow free passage by foreign naval forces into Somali territorial waters to fight piracy.

This means that each country should receive permission from the temporary government of Somalia. Meanwhile the discussion continues about formalities anyway. But the main issue has been resolved.

Technically, there isn’t anybody to give permission to follow pirates into Somali territorial waters, that’s a phantom. Only the truly crazy go into Somali waters now anyway; and besides, without exception, all the attacks have taken place outside of these waters and in the territorial waters of, for example, Yemen. As soon as pirates board a ship and the immediate option of freeing it by force is excluded, since that would lead to the death of part or all of the crew. Hijacked ships are already being brought into Somali waters and nothing can be done about it.

Also, patrolling can’t be done near Somalia, but only in international waters. Pirates have long used mother ships far offshore as their jumping off point for hijackings instead of from small harbors along the coast. These mother ships must be hunted. Where is the outcry about this sorry solution? The author doesn’t know. Supposedly this solution has some realistic chance of being possible. There is nothing to it and as matters stand, I repeat, it is a phantom.


Anonymous said...

And last, but not least, have any of all these ships and countries done a single thing yet? Otherwise it all means nothing.

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