NATO today announced that it has extended its counter piracy maritime operations in the seas off the Horn of Africa (HoA). The majority of the alliance flotilla that has been on station for the last few months - Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) - exited the region heading north through the Red Sea, where they passed on operational responsibilities to a new group of warships comprising SNMG2.
As the NATO press release states, "The exchange of responsibilities was conducted in the Red Sea to ensure a seamless transition, maintaining the pressure on the pirates. By rotating the Standing Maritime Groups through the region, a powerful NATO presence can be maintained in the Gulf of Aden and around the Horn of Africa indefinitely, demonstrating the organisation’s resolve to tackle the problem."
According to The Associated Press, SNMG2 is comprised of five warships, one each from the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.
The new commander of SNMG2, British Commodore Steve Chick, is quoted in the NATO press release as saying that, "The successes achieved against the pirates over the last few months off the Horn of Africa by SNMG1 have really demonstrated the effectiveness of NATO's standing maritime forces. Along with that of the other maritime forces in the region, the combat power brought to bear by the Group has had a telling effect on pirate activity, and the flexibility with which SNMG1 has taken to the task is a testament to the continued relevance of maritime forces in the modern world."
Commodore Chick's comments put a brave face on what has, really, not been nearly as effective an international anti-piracy operation as it might have been. Though the largest armada of warships from well over a dozen countries were to be found off the HoA in the first half of this year, they were unable to stem the number of pirate attacks in the region. In fact, pirate incidents increased in comparison to previous years.
Of course, without the presence of so many warships the last year, the number of pirate attacks would have likely been even higher, and the continued show of force by SNMG2, and other naval elements, will provide a continuing degree of security assistance to mariners in the region.
But are we - the international community - effectively utilizing our resources to combat the problem at sea? It doesn't on paper seem so: SNMG1, SNMG2, CTF150, CTF 151, EU NAVFOR, the Russians, Chinese, Indians, Iranians and now, probably, other Arab nations...everyone wants to send their ships to the area to get in on the action.
Seems to me that the time has come to establish a truly concerted, focused and organized international naval operational structure to better make use of all these assets. And, yes, talks are going on behind the scenes to try to make this happen. Could we be seeing a UN-led operation in the near future? Possibly, though that comes with a certain degree of historical baggage. But things must change.
In the meantime, there remains a naval presence in the seas off the HoA over the summer months, which is thankful.