Boarding merchant vessels, sailing them to the coast and holding them and their crews ransom, Somali pirates have redrawn shipping lanes across the Indian Ocean. But the rise in piracy has prompted a surge of high-tech naval forces to the region.
On any given day, the United States estimates that some 30 to 40 warships are involved in counterpiracy efforts from the EU, NATO and the United States as well as emerging Indian Ocean players China, Russia, India, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
There is no overall commander — the navies meet once a month in Bahrain and coordinate through an Internet chat room.
At the British base northwest of London that houses the headquarters of both the EU and NATO forces, two merchant navy liaison officers communicate with ships by e-mail and phone, pointing them toward convoys and the safest routes.
EU Naval Force Somalia commander Rear Admiral Peter Hudson says the six-ship EU force and other Western-led forces have disrupted 59 pirate groups — usually one “mothership” that can be as small as 16 feet long with several smaller attack skiffs — in April and May alone.
Those “disruptions” can range from storming a hijacked vessel, arresting the pirates for trial, destroying their boats or simply prompting them to throw their ladders and other incriminating evidence overboard.