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April 7, 2009

Attacks prompt new piracy advisory

Following a series of attacks off the eastern coast of Somalia, Combined Maritime Forces issued an updated special maritime advisory message.

The message highlights several recent attacks that occurred hundreds of miles off the Somali coast and states that merchant mariners should be increasingly vigilant when operating in those waters.

"We continue to highlight the importance of preparation by the merchant mariners and the maritime industry in this message," said Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander, Combined Maritime Forces. "We synchronize the efforts of the naval forces deployed to the region. However as we have often stated, international naval forces alone will not be able to solve the problem of piracy at sea.

"Piracy is a problem that starts ashore."

While the majority of attacks during 2008 and early 2009 took place in the Gulf of Aden, these recent attacks off the eastern coast of Somalia are not unprecedented. An attack on the large crude tanker Sirius Star in November 2008 occurred more than 450 nautical miles off the southeast coast of Somalia.

The notice also reiterates the fact that despite an increased naval presence in the region, ships and aircraft are unlikely to be close enough to provide support to vessels under attack. The scope and magnitude of problem can not be understated.

The area involved off the coast of Somalia and Kenya as well as the Gulf of Aden equals more than 1.1 million square miles (2.5 million square kilometers), roughly four times the size of Texas or the size of the Mediterranean and Red Seas combined. The length of the Somali coastline is roughly the same length as the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

Ships and aircraft of Combined Task Force 151, the European Union, NATO and a number of international navies continue to patrol the region, but the closest military ship could be days away from a merchant vessel sailing hundreds of miles off the coast. While maritime patrol aircraft from a number of nations fly counterpiracy missions, the same aircraft are also providing critical support to coalition forces operating throughout the region.

Despite the recent successful attacks, merchant mariners have proven successes as first-line defenders against pirates. A number of merchant vessels have employed evasive maneuvering and other defensive measures to protect their ships and their cargoes.

Recent examples of proactive measures include the crew of Panamanian-flagged MV Protector evasively out-maneuvering pirates and repelling their would-be attackers with fire hoses; the crew of MV Sea Green firing several warning flares at suspected pirates as they approached, successfully warding off an attack; and the merchant mariners aboard MV Africa Star rigging barbed wire along the sides of the ship to prevent pirates from boarding.

In all three examples, merchant mariners were able to prevent the theft of their vessels via methods they undertook to secure their ships and protect their crews.


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