A new international antipiracy task force led by the U.S. is set to be operational in the Gulf of Aden by mid-January. The Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy, based in Bahrain, said it will be called Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) and will include a U.S. command ship, two more American warships, and air support.
More than 20 countries are expected to contribute to CTF-151. The BBC:
A spokeswoman for the force, Commander Jane Campbell, told the BBC that France, the Netherlands, the UK, Pakistan, Canada, and Denmark were among the countries participating in CTF-151.
The area the pirates operate in is larger than the Mediterranean Sea and the shipping lane the force will patrol is 480 miles (780km) long, she said. About 60 warships would be required to effectively patrol this sea lane, she said, while about one-third of that number had been committed to the new force.
At first glance, this seems to be welcome news; the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recently reported that increased patrols did help reduce the number of hijacking incidents last month. The WSJ:
Pirate attacks increased significantly in the region last year, culminating in the dramatic seizures of a cargo ship full of military hardware in September and a fully loaded Saudi Arabian oil tanker in November. Pirates typically hold crew members and vessel hostage, demanding big ransoms.
The U.S. move comes amid early signs that, while piracy attacks continue, the growing naval firepower in the area may be starting to have an effect. At the same time, owners and captains of merchant ships appear to be improving their own self-defense measures, Navy officials say.
On Jan. 1, pirates successfully attacked a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, taking hostage 28 crewmembers, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau. But four other attacks in the seven-day period ending Jan. 5 were thwarted by international warships or military aircraft in the area. In two other incidents, the crew of targeted ships took evasive action and prevented hijackings.
U.S. Navy officials say some 315 crewmembers remain hostage to pirates, including the crew of the Syrius Star, the Saudi oil tanker, and the Faina, the military-cargo ship.
According to the NYT, Italy, Greece, Denmark, France, and the UK all have warships in the Gulf of Aden. So do the following non-EU countries: Turkey, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. The WSJ adds that China has plans to deploy ships there also, while British and Australian ships work closely with the U.S. in the nearby Persian Gulf.
A question that comes to mind, then, is how will these ships be organized? In December, the EU’s Operation Atalanta was launched as NATO’s Operation Allied Provider concluded its mission. Atalanta, under UK leadership, has the green light to sink to pirate vessels and already exceeds Allied Provider’s four warships. But should the U.S. ask the UK or France to participate in the new task force, will these countries contribute new ships or use the ones presently with Atalanta for both missions?
The U.S. still has not identified the navies that it is seeking to join CTF-151. It would of course be beneficial for the EU and U.S. task forces to work together. However, I’m not eager to see Atalanta and CTF-151 become the latest venue for the ESDP-NATO debate to play out. A truly international force that includes non-NATO countries would help avoid this, but it’s not certain Russia or China would be comfortable under U.S. command either.
Peter Cassata is associate editor of the Atlantic Council.