According to a senior United States official, Somali pirates have recently expanded their sphere of operation to include the west coast of India. Piracy remains an issue at the forefront of the diplomatic relations between world powers and nations in the Indian Ocean region.
There is now a seemingly permanent detachment of naval vessels from a wide array of countries operating in the Indian Ocean engaging in counter-piracy missions on a daily basis. The international naval force has played a vital role in deterring pirate attacks, stopping attacks in progress, and conducting counter-offensives aimed at breaking up pirate strongholds.
Thanks to this effort, shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean are far safer than they were in 2009, when pirate attacks reached a concerning level of frequency and violence.
Andrew Shapiro, an Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, addressed an audience on “Turning the Tide on Somali Piracy” at the Atlantic Council in the US last week.
“We have worked together to create safer shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden for commercial shipping vessels by establishing the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor,” he said.
“The transit corridor is heavily patrolled by naval forces and has helped reduce the number of attacks within the Gulf of Aden.”
He added that because of this success here, the pirates have adapted to changing circumstances.
“The expanded use of mother-ships has enabled pirates to expand their area of operations all the way to the west coast of India. This makes it difficult for naval or law enforcement ships to reach the scene of a pirate attack quickly enough.”
One of the major challenges facing any enforcement effort is that the area of water now open to piracy is enormous– larger than the size of continental Europe. Shapiro admitted that while naval patrols are a necessary component of a counter-piracy effort, it is also up to the shipping industry to learn to protect itself from attacks.
The recent increase in armed guards aboard merchant vessels is seen as an equal part in the success in combatting piracy. To date, no ship employing armed guards has successfully been hijacked by pirates.