Somali pirates are venturing out again as monsoon winds abate and are being met by an increased naval presence that has been able to intercept them before they carry out attacks.
Somali pirates are venturing out again as monsoon winds abate and are being met by an increased naval presence that has been able to intercept them before they carry out attacks, say commanders of a U.S.-led force. The southwestern monsoon kicked up high waves in the Indian Ocean over the past few months, reducing activity by pirates who typically use light skiffs for their assaults.
?The weather is now relatively calm and pleasant, and every few days we intercept a skiff carrying pirate paraphernalia,? U.S. Rear Admiral Scott Sanders, commander of Task Force 151, said in a telephone interview from the USS Anzio off the Somali coast. ?Because of our close cooperation with the EU and NATO, we"ve been able to intercept the skiffs before they attack.?
The six warships of Task Force 151 are joined by vessels from Pakistan, Australia, Turkey and Korea. It operates alongside Atalanta, a European Union fleet, and a North Atlantic Treaty Organization fleet. Countries such as India, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have sent ships on their own to protect their country"s shipping.
Altogether, there are about 30 warships in the area, compared with fewer than 20 in May when attacks peaked, the U.S. Navy says.
Pirates have attacked vessels off the coast of Somalia about 140 times so far this year, with a surge in April and May, the U.S. Navy said. A total of 28 ships have been seized this year, and pirates are still holding four vessels for ransom.
Since the start of July, when the monsoon hit full force, there have been 13 attacks and only one boat seized. There has been one attempted pirate attack so far this month.
International cooperation is helping intercept the pirates, Sanders said.
?In late August a Japanese patrol aircraft detected a skiff in the Gulf of Aden,? said Sanders, who took over command of 151 from a Turkish admiral last month. ?The Dutch flagship of Atalanta sent a helicopter to intercept, as did a Korean ship. Then a Norwegian fast boat sent a boarding party. That"s the sort of cooperation we see every day.?
The Norwegians found six Somalis with weapons, ladders and extra fuel. There wasn"t any fishing equipment. The Norwegian sailors destroyed the paraphernalia and let the men return to shore because they weren"t caught doing anything illegal.
The German Navy says it killed a suspected pirate Sept. 7 when it fired on a skiff that refused warnings to stop. His body was turned over to Somali authorities a week later.
So far this year, naval forces have encountered 542 suspected pirates and released 315 and turned 212 over for prosecution. Eleven presumed pirates have been killed in the encounters. Four are still being held while their status is investigated.
Early in the year, most pirate attacks were in the Gulf of Aden, a choke point for the Suez Canal that"s used by 33,000 ships a year. With naval forces patrolling a security corridor through the Gulf, pirates in March shifted their attacks farther out into the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Somalia.
?We have a lot of assets in the area now, and they will go where they need to go,? said British Captain Keith Blount, chief of staff of Task Force 151. ?We"ve got them spread out along the transit corridor in the Gulf of Aden, but we have enough to move in and out of the Somali Basin when needed.?
The coast of Somalia is about as long as the east coast of the U.S.