Washington: Somali pirates now have expanded their operations to the west coast of India, a senior US official has said, adding, the issue of piracy has become a regular part of America`s diplomatic engagements with countries around the world.
On any given day up to 30 vessels from as many as 22 nations are engaged in counter-piracy operations in the region.
"International naval forces have thwarted pirate attacks in progress, engaged pirate skiffs, and successfully taken back hijacked ships during opposed boardings," said Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Andrew Shapiro, in his remarks on "Turning the Tide on Somali Piracy" last week at the Atlantic Council of the United States.
"We have worked together to create safer shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden for commercial shipping vessels by establishing the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor.”
"The transit corridor is heavily patrolled by naval forces and has helped reduce the number of attacks within the Gulf of Aden," he said, but quickly added that pirates have adapted to these efforts.
"The expanded use of mother ships has enabled pirates to expand their area of operations all the way to the west coast of India. This makes it difficult for naval or law enforcement ships to reach the scene of a pirate attack quickly enough," he said.
"There is just too much water to patrol. High seas naval patrols are an essential component of an effective counter- piracy strategy. But military power, while necessary, is not sufficient on its own. Given the demands on US forces, we also needed to look to other tools to combat piracy," Shapiro said.
Shapiro said the US government is working to empower the maritime industry so that they can better protect themselves from attack. Observing that ultimate security measure a commercial ship can adopt is the use of privately contracted armed security teams, the US official said these teams are often made up of former members of various armed forces, who embark on merchant ships and guard them during transits through high risk waters.
"The use of armed security teams has been a potential game changer in the effort to combat piracy. To date, not a single ship with armed security personnel aboard has been successfully pirated," he said.
"For our part, the US government led by example, as early on in the crisis we permitted armed personnel aboard US-flagged merchant vessels.”
"We also mandated that US vessels transiting high risk areas conduct a risk assessment with specific consideration given to supplementing onboard security with armed guards," he said.
"When privately contracted armed security emerged on the scene a few years back, there were widespread reservations. Many feared that armed guards would escalate the level of violence during pirate encounters, further endangering merchant mariners. In fact, it appears that the opposite has happened," Shapiro said.
"From the evidence that we have seen, in most engagements, attempted attacks are usually halted by the pirates as soon as they realise an armed security team is aboard.”
“Pirates often break off their attempt to board and turn their skiffs around to wait for another less protected ship. These teams therefore have served as an effective deterrent," he added.
Noting that the US government has made a concerted diplomatic effort to encourage maritime countries to permit the transit of armed security teams, he said the US diplomatic efforts have been critical to the expanded use of armed personnel.
"American Ambassadors, embassy officials, and members of our counter-piracy office at the State Department pressed countries on this issue. I myself, in meetings with senior officials from maritime countries, have made the case that permitting armed personnel aboard ships is essential," he said.