WASHINGTON: Military force is only part of the solution to the recent wave of piracy in the waters off Somalia, the Pentagon’s top military and civilian officials said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said fighting piracy will require an international effort that includes a whole-of-government approach in addition to military force.
“It’s not just a military solution here,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said in a National Public Radio interview today.
Pirates have attacked at least three ships recently in the waters off Somalia and Yemen, and Dutch marines rescued 20 Yemeni fishermen after their boat was hijacked and used as a mother ship for Somalis operating against an oil tanker.
More than 80 attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Aden and waters adjoining Somalia have taken place this year. Though war ships from 16 nations are in the region, Mullen said, it is impossible to have ships everywhere in a 1.1 million-square-mile-area.
“There are an awful lot of ships, and the number of Navy ships we have out there cannot cover the water,” Mullen said. “Nor would increasing that number dramatically cover the water.”
At the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., yesterday, Gates said shipping companies have a responsibility in helping to combat piracy off Somalia, noting that some companies are prepared to pay ransoms to pirates as part of the cost of doing business.
“Clearly, if they didn’t pay the ransoms, we would be in a stronger position,” the secretary said.
Somali pirates currently hold 15 ships and about 280 hostages. Piracy has become a business for Somalis, who live in a failed state.
“The impact of the dollars that these pirates get in their villages and for the individuals involved is staggering, because their home villages are unspeakably poor,” Gates said in Newport. “And the infusion of millions of dollars into them, and the corruption and everything else makes it a very attractive career field for a lot of poor young men who have no prospects.” And desperation on the ground will continue to make piracy attractive, Gates added.
“It’s a complex problem, and I think it involves both a maritime aspect that involves enforcement and a kinetic aspect,” he said. “But I think until we can do something to provide some kind of stability on land and some prospects for these people, it’s going to be a tough problem.”
On NPR today, Mullen said more needs to be done to punish piracy. “In the end, this is a crime, and it needs to be prosecuted in a court,” he said. “The only country the United States has an agreement with is Kenya, where we have transferred pirates that we’ve captured. That part of the system has to be more robust than it is right now.”