Fact Sheet
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
September 1, 2009


Date: 04/17/2009 Description: A visit, board, search, and seizure team from the guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg patrols the Gulf of Aden near a suspected pirate vessel on April 17, 2009. Photo courtesy of Brian K. Fromal, U.S. Navy

The United States Government, in concert with the American maritime industry and other concerned nations and international organizations, continues to work to prevent pirates operating in the waters off of the Horn of Africa from interfering with maritime commerce, endangering mariners, hindering the provision of humanitarian aid to East Africa, and further destabilizing this troubled region.

Each year, approximately 33,000 commercial ships traverse the Gulf of Aden, making it among the world’s busiest shipping corridors. Since 2009, there were 138 pirate attacks on commercial vessels, of which 33 were successful. In 2008, there were 122 pirate attacks with 42 successes. In 2007, there were 19 pirate attacks with 12 successes.

A Coordinated Federal Response: The National Security Council issued the Partnership and Action Plan for Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa in December 2008 as an adjunct to the National Strategy for Maritime Security. Implementation of the Action Plan is overseen by the Counter-Piracy Steering Group, an interagency forum co-led by the Departments of State and Defense and consisting of representatives from the Departments of Justice, Treasury, Transportation (U.S. Maritime Administration), Homeland Security, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Department of State orchestrates United States participation in the international Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, which was created following the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1851 in order to better coordinate international counter-piracy efforts. Over 75 bureaus, offices, and U.S. embassies are involved in this complex cross-cutting issue that has significant national security implications.

Working With Industry: The United States believes that a critical element to successfully deterring pirate attacks is for the commercial shipping industry to continue to provide input to, and follow, best practices. Accordingly, the U.S. Coast Guard revised its applicable Maritime Security Directive to require U.S.-flagged vessels to implement more effective measures to protect against pirates, particularly those vessels in the high-risk waters off of Somalia. The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) issues specific operational advice to U.S.-flagged ship owners and operators for the Horn of Africa. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, operated by MARAD, conducts counter-piracy training for midshipmen entering the Merchant Marine that includes identifying high-risk areas, evasive maneuvering, and repelling boarders. Finally, the United States has reiterated its firm, long-standing policy of not making concessions or paying any ransoms for the return of American hostages.

Actions By Naval Forces: The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard have contributed ships and aircraft to NATO’s counter piracy operations and Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), a multinational coalition whose mission is to protect against piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. The command of CTF 151 rotates among partner navies regularly. The U.S. Navy and CTF-151 actively coordinate with and support the anti-piracy operations of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield naval forces in the region, as well as those of the European Union’s naval Operation Atalanta. Despite the fact that over one million square miles of ocean are vulnerable to Somali piracy, the United States and other navies have succeeded so far in seizing or destroying 40 pirate vessels since August 2008, rendering 235 suspected pirates for prosecution in various countries, and confiscating numerous small arms and light weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades.

Harmonizing International Action: Following the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1851, the United States helped to create the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to coordinate an effective international response to piracy in that region. The Contact Group participants coordinate their naval activities, judicial initiatives, commercial maritime interests, and public information sharing, and are also considering various efforts to map the financial infrastructure of pirates. To date, over 30 countries and international organizations participate in the Contact Group’s Working Group and plenary sessions. The United States chairs its Working Group on Strengthening Shipping Self-Awareness and Other Capabilities.

Capacity Building: The United States is developing a Maritime Security Sector Reform framework that delineates essential components of national maritime security and can serve as a tool for donor coordination. Working closely with United Nations organizations such as the International Maritime Organization and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, other Contact Group participants, and several countries in the region, the United States is supporting the capacity development of regional judicial, legislative, regulatory, and coastal forces in order to better protect against and respond to pirate attacks.

Legal Consequences: The United States believes that the first option for prosecution of a piracy incident should be by the affected state(s) -- the flag state or the state of nationality of the vessel’s owner or crew. The U.S. Department of Justice has already brought one alleged Somali pirate to the United States to stand trial in a case where it was the affected state (see http://newyork.fbi.gov/dojpressrel/pressrel09/nyfo042109.htm). The United States continues to urge states to ensure that they have the proper domestic legal framework to prosecute suspected pirates in their national courts. If an affected state is unable to prosecute suspected offenders captured by the United States, the United States has a Memorandum of Understanding with Kenya to facilitate the transfer of the suspected pirates to Kenya for prosecution in their courts. The United States is exploring similar arrangements with other states to handle cases when affected states are unable to prosecute pirates.
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