From Ben Bekkering, Allied Command Operations: A few days ago I visited Admiral Yang [Junfei], the Commander of the Chinese Task Force 113. He was rightly proud. Since the end of 2008, Chinese task forces have escorted over 4500 ships in some 450 convoys with a 100% track record. His convoys, like those of Russia, Japan, India and Korea, continue, and not without a reason.
Along the coast of Somalia, seven ships with over 200 people are still held against their will. Most of them have been there for months, some even well over a year. Most of them are held in their own ship, others are held ashore, but always under horrible, often inhumane conditions.
Pirates are still active, holding people, negotiating for ransom, preparing for new attacks, sometimes fighting amongst themselves, adversely affecting local communities in their attempts to develop a normal livelihood, destabilising the region in the process.
This happens in a country that is struggling to get on its feet. With some hope coming out of the current UN-supported political process that should lead to a draft constitution and election of a parliament, a speaker and a president. A process that is difficult in itself, further complicated by the presence of terrorists, fundamentalist and organized crime. Where various organizations work on improvement of security, mostly in the south, but less so in the north, where most if not all of the pirates have settled.
That is why the task forces of NATO, EU and CMF continue to patrol the waters around the Horn of Africa, in open sea, but also along the coast. Observing the coast should provide early warning for pirates getting ready to go to sea. And consequently stop them before they can get anywhere close to becoming dangerous to shipping.
This is much more than fighting symptoms. Operating as we do enables us to stop the pirates early. If their business model starts to crumble pirates are caught, prosecuted, convicted and jailed, visible for the local population, the image of "high benefit and low risk” or even "Robin Hoods” is destroyed, deterring anyone who may entertain ideas to go into the piracy business.
Commodre Ben Bekkering, of the Royal Netherlands Navy, is commander of NATO’s Task Force 508 in Operation Ocean Shield. (photo: NATO Counter-Piracy Mission/Operation Ocean Shield)