Piracy-Prone African Seas See Influx of Foreign Navies

November 21, 2008 - 7:09 AM
Because of escalating piracy, Africa's high seas are fast becoming dominated by foreign navies, raising questions about African countries' ability to secure their own waters.

The Saudi supertanker Sirius Star remains under the control of Somali pirates while its owners work to ensure the release of the crew, the vessel and its $100 million cargo of crude oil. (AP Photo)

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) – Because of escalating piracy, Africa’s high seas are fast becoming dominated by foreign navies, raising questions about African countries’ ability to secure their own waters.
 
Some military analysts say the situation presents an opportunity for African nations to strengthen their own naval power and form regional alliances to police the high seas.
 
Others predict that Africans will leave the policing to Western navies, because even African countries with effective navies have their own unique problems to deal with.
 
Warships from the United States, other NATO members and Russia and India are attempting to secure the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, as well as parts of the Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Angola.
 
Private military contractors also are finding new sources of revenue in the African waters. One of them, Blackwater, announced in October that its 183-foot ship, the McArthur, would be deployed in the Gulf of Aden.
 
Lt. Col Jaw Kitiku (ret.) of the Nairobi-based Security Research Information Center said it was troubling for African countries to keep depending on Western navies for maritime security.
 
“It is like throwing the problem to other people,” he said. “This region needs to combine its naval forces and increase patrols in the international waters. [African] countries should invest in more coast guard and naval ships.”
 
The countries prone to piracy are Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, as well as Yemen on the other side of the Gulf of Aden. Landlocked African countries also are affected, since supplies are taking longer to arrive because of route diversion.
 
Higher insurance premiums are passed on to consumers, who pay more for goods.
 
On Thursday, another mayor shipping firm, A.P. Moller-Maersk, announced that it would re-route some of its vessels, mostly oil tankers, around the southern tip of Africa rather than use the Gulf of Aden and Suez canal. Earlier, another company said it would use the southern route, and warned that this would mean delays and extra costs for customers.
 
Henri Boshoff, a military analyst with the South Africa-based Institute of Security Studies think tank, said the length of Somalia’s coastline – about 1,700 miles – makes it difficult to police.
 
Naval ships are currently escorting commercial vessels but they cannot do so in every case.
 
Boshoff said it was difficult for unescorted ships to resist hijackers because the pirates are often armed with rocket propelled grenades, and pose real threats to the safety of ships and their crews.
 
Like many other analysts, he said the solution to problem lies in restoring governance to Somalia.
 
The South African Navy, regarded as Africa’s best, will not likely deploy ships to Somalia, Boshoff said, because South Africa itself has a long coastline to patrol.
 
“I think we will leave it to NATO and the Americans.”
 
Analysts said there was a need to equip African navies to quell piracy, and additional training like a recent U.S. military initiative to help Africa maritime security personnel.
 
Under a program called the African Partnership Station (APS), the amphibious ship USS Fort McHenry was deployed for six months to train navies in West Africa in handling maritime threats.
 
Visiting 10 countries between Oct. 2007 and Apr. 2008, the ship provided training drills and onboard classes, while also delivering humanitarian aid.
 
Effective on October 1, all U.S. military relationships, programs and activities in Africa came under the command of the newly stood-up U.S. Africa Command (AfriCom), currently based in Germany.
 
Meanwhile some successes have been reported in the fight against piracy.
 
The Indian Navy said a warship destroyed a suspected Somali pirate vessel after it came under attack in the Gulf of Aden.
 
The INS Tabar sunk the pirate “mother ship” after it failed to stop for investigation and opened fire instead, the Indian Navy said in a statement.
 
Britain’s Royal Navy captured eight suspected Somali pirates and on Tuesday handed them over to the Kenyan authorities.
 
British Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth told a press conference in Nairobi that eight were detained last week after trying to hijack a Danish vessel in the Gulf of Aden. Crews from a Royal Navy warship had also shot dead two Somali pirates.