Is it coming down to ‘Crunch Time’?

Gordon Lubold of the Christian Science Monitor ( quotes Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Commander U.S. Naval Forces Africa, in a report on 19 April as saying the problems of piracy off the coast of Somalia are growing and that the USN cannot continue these costly operations indefinitely: “I don’t think we can sustain the level of operation we’ve got down there forever.”

Pirates have begun to escalate the use of force when they are confronted by warships.  Last week, USS Ashland (LSD-48), a Whidbey Island-class amphibious ship, was fired upon when the ship moved to intercept a pirate skiff.  Ashland returned fire and the pirates were apprehended.

A clear dichotomy has developed between ship owners and operators, who feel that armed security is not their responsibility, and naval authorities, who feel that more needs to be done to deter pirates before naval forces become involved.  Admiral Fitzgerald, whose position on the cost of naval anti-piracy operations is clear, stated: “The maritime industry has got to make a decision about how seriously they want to take this on.”

Although the free use of the seas is often cited as a vital interest of the modern, globalized economies of the world, it appears that there are limits to how far the states providing forces will go to provide security for stateless corporations.  Multinational shipping corporations, and even some state-owned ones, seem to be intent on offloading their security costs, either directly onto security providers or indirectly onto insurance companies.