Former Commander of the international naval task force CTF 151 Aage Buur Jensen discusses the issue of piracy off the coast of east Africa and his expectations for the future.
Defence IQ interviewed the Royal Danish Navy’s Commodore Aage Buur Jensen, Former Commander of the international naval task force CTF 151, to understand how the international community is dealing with piracy and what can be done to improve counter-piracy operations in the future.
Defence IQ: Commodore Jensen, thank you for joining us. Could you please introduce yourself, with particular reference to your post as Commander of CTF 151?
Commodore Jensen: During my command of CTF 151 from mid-January to late March 2012 I had the pleasure of leading a coalition staff from an American destroyer, the USS HALSEY. The coalition staff comprised staff officers from 7 nations including officers from Thailand, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Netherlands, Italy, USA and Denmark. Apart from leading CTF 151 my main responsibility was to coordinate operational and deconflict issues with the Independent Deployers and other task forces, primarily the EU and NATO. Throughout my command period CTF 151 was ‘Somali Basin Coordinator’ and the EU had the responsibility to coordinate the Golf of Aden. The force flow was critically low, not only in CTF 151 but between the three forces of CMF (Combined Maritime Forces), EU and NATO, with 8 to 10 surface units available for tasking. Therefore coordination and deconfliction was paramount to avoid duplication of effort across the other task forces. Apart from the direct approach to countering piracy, CTF 151 had an indirect approach in support of CMF’s mission and objectives. This included regional engagement with the Yemeni Coast Guard and Navy and other regional players. In my opinion, regional engagement should be paramount and in the coming years should be prioritized even more than it is today.
DFIQ: Following its establishment, what has been the CTF 151’s main contribution to counter-piracy operations? What’s been its greatest success?
CJ: Splitting up CTF 150, which until the end of 2008 had covered both Counter Terrorism (CT) and Counter Piracy (CP), into two task forces – CTF 150 (CT) and CTF 151 (CP) – was essentially a necessity as some nations would not allow units to participate in both tasks. However, that said the implication is probably more important politically, strategically and tactically because CMF along with the establishment of CTF151 provides a platform where everyone has the possibility to participate in a coordinated way in the fight against piracy. Without CTF 151 the fight would most probably be seen as a European and North American operation with a number of Independent Deployers. The establishment of the SHADE (Shared Awareness and Deconfliction) community too adds to the overall picture of bringing the different actors – military as well as civilian operators – together in a common effort. Hence the greatest success is to bring nations from all over the world together and provide a platform where to coordinate the effort.
DFIQ: How important is this sort of interagency and cross-border collaboration as seen with CTF 151 when dealing with piracy? What benefits does it have over each nation having an isolated counter-piracy taskforce?
CJ: Interagency and cross-border collaboration is extremely important. The success of CP operations in this vast AOR (area of responsibility) depends on timely coordination of the scarce assets available. CP operations conducted by NATO, EUMARFOR and CMF have the same aim and objectives: To deter and disrupt acts of piracy. Each agency has its individual focus area, for example EUMARFOR puts great priority on the escorts of WFP and AMISON shipping.
The key to success is the monthly, weekly and daily coordination of the effort both in the Gulf of Aden and in the greater Somali Basin. Likewise the coordination between the task force(s) and courtiers in the region is of great importance. Pirates operate both inside a nation’s territorial waters and on the open seas, sharing not only strategic information but also time-critical information with nations in the region is a necessity and requires well established communication links. The availability of Liaison Officers in CMF headquarters from different regional countries greatly facilitates these communications links.
DFIQ: Which areas are best prepared for dealing with the piracy problem and why? Which are least prepared?
CJ: The coordinated military effort and the BMP measures taken by the merchant fleet are really well established these days. I think that is the main reason why I would argue we are successful in dealing with the piracy problem today.
The least prepared area I would think is the handling of suspected pirates. The International legal framework -UNCLOS – is in place, however nations have little or no appetite to deal with the consequences of establishing national legislation in support of UNCLOS. Is it a major issue? If we look at the overall effect of the combined effort dealing with piracy I would say: not really! We have made it an issue as we think criminals must be prosecuted ,which they of cause should, but short of a legal solution I would argue that the combined effort by the military and the industry over the last 12 months has been successful and personally I do not think the prosecution and conviction of more pirates will reduce the number of active pirates at sea.
DFIQ: What more can be done to counter the piracy threat? Are there any technologies or innovations from industry which are helping this effort?
CJ: The military effort is dealing with the symptoms – we are not curing the patient. I would think we have the technology to deal with this relatively low level technology threat. The issue is more to do with availability and volume. To overcome the problem – curing the patient – we need to remove the incitement to become a pirate. This would include stopping the money flow from piracy and support the development of good governance in the region. The navies could and should have a share in the latter in the development of navies and coast guard that eventually would be able to handle the “policing” in their own territorial waters plus eventually on their EEZ.
DFIQ: Why do you think the issue of piracy has become so prevalent over the last 5-10 years? What do you think will happen over the next 10 years – will the problem get better or worse?
CJ: It’s a ‘failed state’ problem. The internal instability in Somalia over many years, the lack of good governance, as well as the drought and famine is a dangerous cocktail. If we can keep the piracy problem at the present low level, I think we have a golden opportunity to increase the effort dealing with the root of the problem, but it will take time. I would hope in 10 years time we would see regional navies like the Kenyan Navy and the Coast Guards of several nations on the Arabian Peninsula take greater responsibility working with the international community to patrol the open seas. Personally I am confident the situation will improve – it is in our common interest to have stability in the region and in today’s world of globalisation, containment of a problem is not the solution.