Thursday, January 8, 2009

Anti-Piracy Task Force Created

The EU's Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa) today reports the formation of a new anti-piracy task force specifically intended for the Horn of Africa. Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) has been established by the Combined Maritime Forces headquarters, managed by the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet based in Manama, Bahrain. CTF-151 will take over the policing the waters off East Africa and the southern Arabian Penninsula from another task force, CTF-150, in a couple of weeks. CTF-150 was established as part of the global war on terror and tasked with maritime interdiction and surveillance of vessels potentially being used by terrorists, though it has recently found itself engaged in anti-piracy operations by virtue of the waters it patrols.

The creation of this new task force both allows CTF-150 to better focus on its initial mission as well as allow for a more streamlined coordination between the naval elements of various countries currently working to combat pirate attacks in that region. It will initially be led by American Rear Admiral Terence McKnight and draw upon the warships of any nation willing to participate.

Clearly the idea here is to manage the naval assets on station in the region and find a means to bring greater effectiveness to bear against the pirates. Motivated by the ever-increasing attacks committed in the region in the last six months - such as the hijacking of the supertanker Sirius Star - the formation of CTF-151 is also a unique attempt to coordinate among the personnel from a dozen different nations who now sail the waters there. It builds logically on the infrastructure that was created to manage CTF-150 and this new task force actually coalesced in a realtively short time. A year or even six months ago there wasn't as much attention focused on the topic as there is today, owing to the upsurge in pirate attacks. Putting in place in such a short time an international anti-piracy operation like CTF-151 is envisioned to be speaks well to those who organized it.

But the big question here is what will Russia and China do? With naval vessels of their own currently in the region, will they be willing to operate within the parameters of the combined task force, ostensibly under U.S. control? Or will they continue to operate independently of CTF-151? I'd say they'll each go for the latter option, albeit while maintaining strong links with the new task force.

Regardless, this is a strong, positive step to dealing one aspect of piracy off East Africa. The next phase is a more robust attempt to address the situation ashore in Somalia and reduce the lawlessness that engenders this plague upon the seas.

By the way, I've one small criticism of the way certain military sites release information such as this. I saw word about CTF-151 on the EU NAVFOR website today, but they did not actually offer a press release of their own, merely links to several media sites that reported the announcement, such as the BBC, CNN and Fairplay. They didn't even link to the Fifth Fleet's public announcement, readable here, which is a bit odd. I later found that my colleague EagleSpeak posted word about this new anti-piracy venture on his site, via info from a reader, and it was much easier to immediately comprehend. Sites like the EU NAVFOR's and even the Fifth Fleet's need to become more immediate and open for those looking for information about piracy. Use the KISS approach, because confusion breeds disinterest. And having spent enough time at sea, I know mariners are not going to use whatever time they get to go online to click through a myriad of links and outside sites to get the information they need when it comes to this topic.

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