Tuesday, December 15, 2009

EU Looking The Wrong Direction

Someone tell this guy he is looking the wrong direction.

The European Union’s anti-piracy operation may expand the area it patrols because Somali pirates have begun to threaten ships as much as 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) from shore, according to the mission’s commander.

“We’re looking at extending the area of our mandate,” Rear Admiral Peter Hudson said in an interview in Northwood, the fleet’s command center north of London. “We’re looking at whether we have the assets to do it, whether it would provide more security.”
I thought we developed the corridor in the Gulf of Aden to reduce the amount of area at sea needed to cover. Shouldn't the EU be looking towards the coast, instead of away from it?

The Bloomberg news article is excellent. This is the key part for me.
The Atalanta mission costs about 500 million euros ($736 million) a year, Didier Lenoir, head of military operations at the EU, said at a conference Dec. 7 in Paris. Each nation pays costs for the ships it contributes.

In total, there are about 25 warships off Somali waters. While the EU and NATO fleets carry out patrols and hunt for pirates, gunboats sent by Russia, China, Japan and Saudi Arabia mostly organize and protect convoys of their nations’ merchant ships.
That is a lot of money. The EU mission spends $736 million to maintain 6 frigates year-around, plus aircraft? Now add NATO, China, Russia, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the US and who wants to guess the total costs?

The world is now spending well north of $2 billion in terms of supporting Somali anti-piracy naval and aircraft patrols. The extra insurance costs for 30,000 ships annually is no small number either. Even if the average ransom of every ship hijacked was $2 million, at 44 ships hijacked in 2009 we are only talking about $88 million - less than %5 of the costs being spent to protect shipping.

We are not getting enough bang for the buck spent in prevention, and I don't believe closer cooperation between all nations would significantly improve the mismatch in costs nor significantly reduce the number of attacks/hijackings. There remains no solution in sight for piracy at sea, and the EU Naval authorities appear to be looking for solutions in the wrong direction (at sea, vs on land).

Until the coalition takes meaningful steps to reduce the areas pirates can safely operate from ashore, the situation is not likely to improve at sea regardless of how many extra vessels the European Union commits to the problem. I still think Dr. Peter Pham has a good suggestion.

This is where to start, and would be where to go next. In other words, the State Department must come through with political changes on land, or it will remain global government policy to sail in circles at sea. If the State Department does nothing, and the military policy for piracy remains prevention, this problem will not be contained, and become something much worse.

For me, observing the Somali piracy issue is like watching Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 90s, where policy was to make minimal military efforts with precision while watching the problem grow quietly. In a few years it will be plainly obvious how signs were ignored. The good news? It is more likely to explode in the face of Europe or China than in the face of the US, at least when I step through the highly improbably possibilities, that is what I see unfolding.

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