Maritime Security: Fighting Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Beyond
The Heritage Foundation's Maritime Security Working
Group--composed of representatives from academia, the private
sector, research institutions, and government--produces
cutting-edge policy recommendations for making the seas safer for
the United States, its friends and allies, and global commerce. The
fourth occasional report by the group addressing the most pressing
issues confronting maritime security examines the issue of piracy
in the Gulf of Aden and the appropriate U.S. response.
- Describes the threat of piracy to global commerce and
the safety and security of ships transiting the Gulf of Aden;
- Addresses domestic and international legal aspects of
responding to piracy and other criminal acts at sea;
- Proposes the appropriate mix of private-sector and U.S.
military responses to piracy, including long-term investments in
constabulary maritime assets;
- Recommends solutions for improving the capacity of
regional powers to protect freedom of the seas; and
- Outlines a strategy for dealing with the "root" of the
problem: lack of governance in Somalia.
Though the report's proposals are focused on the Gulf of Aden,
they have implications for combating piracy worldwide. Since 2003,
piracy has been reported off the coasts of Bangladesh, Nigeria,
Brazil, and Peru. Raising levels of piracy off the coast of East
Africa, however, could be a precursor to a new global trend. The
recent successes of the Somali pirates may empower and inspire
other groups. The frequency and level of violence from piracy acts
could increase. Within the last month, there were two attacks in
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and a coastal tanker was hijacked off the
coast of Colombia. While the appropriate response for each threat
must be tempered by local conditions, the solutions and instruments
for responsible action in the Gulf of Aden will hold lessons for
meeting the challenge of piracy in other parts of the world.
The key findings and recommendations of this report include:
- Although piracy does not currently directly threaten U.S. vital
national interests, transnational criminal activities at sea
adversely affect American interests in the region and are
detrimental to freedom of the seas and the exercise of global
commerce (80 percent of which takes place by sea) upon which U.S.
security and prosperity depends.
- Responding to the recent surge of piracy in the Gulf of Aden
does not require new laws. The international community, however,
needs to refine common understandings of legal issues surrounding
high-seas piracy and the use of naval patrols and related military
activities. Legal agreements, including the January 2009
U.S.-Kenyan Memorandum of Understanding, offer the international
community a viable method to deter and punish acts of piracy.
- Flag-carrier nations working with the International Maritime
Organization should ensure fuller compliance with International
Shipping and Port Security codes and ensure that commercial
carriers adopt best practices for operating in waters that are at
high risk of piracy.
- The U.S. should employ Africa Command (AFRICOM) as a principal
agent for building regional capacity and cooperation in combating
- The United States should expand its assistance to the Saudi
navy, which has initiated a major modernization program. The sale
to Saudi Arabia of some number of Littoral Combat Ships, advanced
unmanned aerial vehicles, and intelligence fusion systems should be
- Ultimately, defeating piracy requires rebuilding governance in
Somalia. The U.S. government should recognize and bolster points of
stability in the country, working with local authorities toward the
long-term goal of expanding capable governance in Somalia.
- Over the long term, to combat piracy and other maritime
threats, the U.S. requires a more integrated and robust
ship-building program for both Navy and Coast Guard surface and
aviation assets. The U.S. military contribution should shift from
the Navy to the Coast Guard, and the capacity of the Coast Guard to
conduct global constabulary maritime operations must be
Read the entire report (PDF)