Tuesday, 20 January 2009

US to lead new anti-piracy force

even as Somalia slips into greater chaos

Mumbai, January 8 Amidst reports of greater instability in Somalia and decreased ship hijackings last month, the US navy has announced that a new international task force to combat piracy will begin operations later in January. This new group will be headed by US Navy Rear Admiral Terence McKnight and called Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), according to a release by the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. The new task force will operate in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

A representative for the force, Commander Jane Campbell, said that France, the Netherlands, the UK, Pakistan, Canada and Denmark would be amongst a group of 20 countries that would participate in this new initiative. She said that a flotilla of about sixty warships would be required to patrol the area effectively; the task force has a much smaller number at its disposal at present.

The move comes soon after the European Union began operations with its own task force in the pirate infested zone in December, in an area that is larger than the Mediterranean. Analysts say that the CTF151 will not have any wider mandate to hit pirates at sea or on land than what already exists, questioning the new force’s effectiveness. Commander Campbell admitted as much, saying, “This task force does not does have any greater rules of engagement. It does, however, bring a greater focus to counter piracy operations under one command." She said that the task force would be better equipped to gain information on pirate operations and attack them at sea.

More than a dozen ships with around 200 crewmembers are hostage in Somalia, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Amongst the ships are the Saudi fully laden VLCC “Sirius Star” and the “Faina”, a Ukrainian ship carrying heavy weapons and tanks. There have been only two successful hijackings in December, even though many ships continue to be attacked. The presence of warships and crews that are more vigilant are two reasons said to have contributed to the recent successes against hijackings.

There are more than a dozen warships guarding Somalia's waters. Countries including the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and India have naval forces off the Somali coast or on patrol in the ‘maritime safety corridor” established in the Gulf of Aden to protect one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Reports from Somali, meanwhile, speak of a country that is now increasingly unstable. President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned recently, admitting he had failed to live up to his promises when he took office. This has thrown the country into greater chaos, with US backed Ethiopian troops fighting hardline Islamist elements in large parts of the country. There is alTop of Form
so infighting between moderate and hardline Islamic groups as they jockey for power. One of these groups, Al Shabaab, is linked by the US to Al Qaeda. Soldiers loyal to Yusuf are deserting the army. Parts of Mogadishu have been attacked by rebel forces, and people are fleeing the city.

Somalia may well be heading for a period of greater anarchy, according to many analysts. The fear is that the power vacuum in the country may yet embolden the pirates in the northern Puntland region even further.


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