Harsh conditions at sea have led to a drop in the frequency of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia. According to one senior Commander with the EUNAVFOR "The Monsoon winds is the first counter-piracy asset we have at our disposal".
Somali piracy lull linked to harsh sea winds
Mombasa, Kenya - Somali pirates have been unable to step into the sea to prey on merchant shipping lines in the Gulf of Aden due to the harsh conditions at sea, leading to a drop in the frequency of attacks, naval sources have revealed.
In readiness for an upsurge in the number of attacks, the European Union (EU) Naval Taskforce (EUNAVFOR) deployed in the region at the peak of the pirate attacks, is planning to double the number of warships by May to deal with the extra-threat.
"The Monsoon winds is the first counter-piracy asset we have at our disposal," a senior Commander with the EUNAVFOR, who wished to remain unnamed, said. "In April, when there is no Monsoon, the sea would be like a swimming pool," he added.
The swimming pool-like conditions at sea enable the pirates to flock back to sea, relying on an array of tools, including high capacity motors to power their small boats and automatic weapon firepower, to prey on merchant vessels.
"We have a distribution of ships along the coast to keep the pirates in the seaside," said Rear Admiral Jorge Manso, the EUNAVFOR Force Commander. "We ensure the piracy action groups do not go to sea, but they always come to sea."
Although the military operation is leading to a reduction in the pace of piracy attacks, the lack of courts in Somalia to lock up the suspects is a drawback to the operation.
"They are always kept for a period of time to recover their operations at sea. This is part of the deterents," Rear Admiral Manso said when asked about the system of arresting and freeing pirates when no governments would take them for prosecution.
"We have taken pirates in some ships," said Lieutenant Alvaro Huelin of the EUNAVFOR, talking about 11 pirates the force seized after the German warship, Berlin, foiled an attack off the coast of Somalia.
Lt. Huelin said during regular anti-piracy patrols, the marines particularly watched out for weapons, big motors, usually one or two powerful motors on a single small boat.
"This is the evidence we require to guarantee a prosecution," Lt. Huelin, whose naval vessel, SPS PATINO, recently seized 15 Somali pirates after a gun battle off the coast Mogadishu, after
escorting a shipment of supplies meant for African forces.
"We are going to have more warship join the operation by mid-April.
There would be four planes in Djibouti and a permanent Spanish detachment, two warships from Luxemburg and one frigate from France," Lt. Huelin told journalists on the ship.
The EUNAVFOR, which has been battling piracy since its creation in 2008, recently had its term extended to 2014 to continue its battle against the pirates.
European navies, each appointed to lead the big battle off the Somali coastline for a specified period of at least six months at their taxpayers' expense, currently have five warships, including the Spanish vessel, SPS PATINO, a logistical vessel.
During its 130-day operation at sea off the Somali coastline, the Spanish naval vessel has supplied 2.7 million litres of fuel to the five warships involved in the multi-million battle against the Somali pirates.
Fighting the Somali pirates over the short period of SPS Patino's deployment has so far cost the Spanish taxpayer US$100 million, said its ambassador to Kenya, Javier Herrera, who spoke on board the ship before it set sail from Mombasa on Friday.
A French frigate is expected to replace SPS Patino in April. The 70-room Spanish vessel, with 125 staff on board from eight countries, has so far arrested six pirates, which it handed over to Spanish marines to face trial for an attempted hijacking.
Pirates who mistook the warship for a civilian vessel were arrested after the ship deployed its helicopters to fight off the attack in Mogadishu.
It is an indication of the emboldened nature of the piracy grandmasters.
Loedwijk Briet, Head of EU Delegation to Kenya, said the support for the taskforce work was part of efforts to deal with the piracy crisis off the Gulf of Eden.
"The root of the problem is on land. There are a few states willing to prosecute suspected pirates," Briet said.
Responding to criticism that the EU was spending millions of dollars in support for a military operation instead of freeing those resources to train a Somali coast-guard, Briet said the fight was being undertaken from various sectors.
"There is sharing of information on piracy issues. We are training the Somali coastguard on boarding, searching and protecting merchant ship.
We have to eradicate the problem from the root," Briet said.
Source: Maritime Security Review