Peter Zimmerman has a must read Op-Ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, in it Zimmerman argues convincingly that convoys are an answer to the threat posed by Somali pirates:
To be sure, in different circumstances naval patrols have worked. Towards the end of the 20th century, pirates in the Strait of Malacca, which links the Indian and Pacific Oceans, not only captured ships, but crews that resisted were often murdered and their ships renamed and reflagged. Gradually, naval patrols by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore made life more dangerous for the pirates and safer for mariners. In 2007, the Strait was declared “piracy free.” But those patrols were feasible because the Strait is a long, narrow passage never more than 150 miles wide.
Down by the Horn of Africa, however, patrolling one million square miles of ocean with the 60 vessels on station is an impossibility. A radar mounted on the top mast of a destroyer is unlikely to “see” a small rubber boat 25 miles away and can search only about 2,000 square miles — about one-fifth of 1% — of the sea in which pirates prowl. The rescue of Captain Richard Phillips by naval Special Forces operating from the USS Bainbridge, and the recent rescue by French commandos of a captured yacht, demonstrate that aggressive maritime policing can thwart pirate goals. But it is far better to prevent attacks in the first place.
Pirates, like the Nazi submarines of World War II, do not hunt for their targets; they lie across the sea lanes where ships are likely to travel and simply wait for a victim to come over the horizon. And the same tactic which defeated the U-boats can put an end to the majority of pirate attacks. Merchant ships can be ordered to form convoys for their own protection.
Thirty thousand ships a year, roughly 100 a day, 50 in each direction, transit the waters off the coast of Somalia. One convoy in each direction, each day, alternating between fast ships and slower ones, and each accompanied by four or five escort vessels, would do the job. There would then be only two targets a day in each area of coast for the pirates to find, instead of 100. When marauders approach a convoy, they could be warned off by the escorts or destroyed if they attack.
- Snipers Kill Pirates, Save Captain – Wall Street Journal
- U.S. Military Considers Attacks on Somali Pirates’ Land Bases – Bloomberg.com
- Somali pirates seize two more ships – Reuters