Thursday, October 2, 2014

Drones Add Another Protective Layer for Container and Bulk Shipping Against Pirates

Attacks May be Down but There is Still a Place for the Combined Naval Task Forces
Shipping News Feature

GULF OF ADEN – SOMALIA – It seems like only yesterday that almost every other story in the Handy Shipping Guide referred to yet another atrocity or failed attack by pirates off the Somali coastline. As the years passed so the intensity of hijacks increased with container ships and bulk carriers constantly harassed by skiffs manned by crews armed with rocket propelled grenades and boarding ladders.

Now the tactics of the ocean carriers are honed to what can now be considered close to perfection the number of attacks has fallen drastically and a successful hijack is very much the exception not the rule. The combination of Best Management Practices, reporting of locations to the authorities, the use of water hoses and citadels by vigilant crews and latterly the use of private security teams have all contributed to winning the battle against the criminals.

The one great fear however for those who fully understand the battle against piracy is that, with the number of attacks down, the governments who have invested heavily in providing the combined forces which have swept the seas for the past few years, would slowly withdraw support potentially making the region a more amenable environment for the criminal gangs who themselves have refined tactics as time has passed.

One of the key groups charged with protecting merchant shipping has been the EU Naval Force (Eunavfor) and, despite the drop in attacks the operation has refined tactics to ensure its presence in the region has evolved to meet the new situation and justify its remaining on station. Much of the work carried out no by the multinational force involves winning the propaganda battle, engaging with locals, talking to the crews aboard local dhows and other seafarers or meeting the teams from other forces in the area like last month’s rendezvous with the Chinese Naval Escort Task Group 989 aboard CNS Changbaishan, in the Gulf of Aden.

There are however still more direct activities to be undertaken, on September 19, the EU Naval Force frigate, ESPS Navarra, had to come to the assistance of a stricken yacht in the Gulf of Aden. Despite the well-publicised dangers the yachts master had strayed into pirate patrolled waters and run down supplies of water and fuel to dangerous levels. After providing the much needed essentials the Spanish crew persuaded the master of the yacht to re-consider his route so that he would avoid sailing into waters where the piracy threat is still considered to be present.

Our photograph shows another aspect of the work being undertaken in the waters off the Somali coastline. The 32nd wing of the Italian Air Force operates the remote controlled Predator drone which has now completed the unit’s first deployment in the region. Based in Djibouti the initial 11 hour test flight was a proving ground, illustrating the effectiveness of these craft in carrying out long-range surveillance and reconnaissance patrols.

In the coming months the remote controlled aircraft will be used to monitor the seas off the coast of Somalia where pirates have been known to operate and give an early warning of a possible attack.As is the case with EU Naval Force warships and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft, the remote controlled aircraft can also be used to monitor the safety of World Food Programme vessels as they transit the Indian Ocean.