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United States Optimistic on Teaming with China to Deter Pirate Attacks
Collaboration among countries can put a powerful check on criminal activity. <br /> <br />In attempting to stop piracy, such as recent efforts to stop a spate of attacks off the coast of East Africa, there is an important precedent to guide the
Collaboration among countries can put a powerful check on criminal activity. In attempting to stop piracy, such as recent efforts to stop a spate of attacks off the coast of East Africa, there is an important precedent to guide the international community. In the Straits of Malacca several years ago, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand banded together to tackle piracy. At the time, the number of annual pirate attacks on commercial ships numbered as high as 48. There were fewer than 10 attacks in the past year. Admiral Timothy Keating, who leads the U.S. Pacific Command, said these countries achieved results because they shared information and trained extensively together, "not just with the United States, but on a bilateral-multilateral basis." He told reporters at the Foreign Press Center in Washington December 18 that some of the lessons learned by these Asian nations are transferable to East Africa, where another set of nations, including the United States, is focused on countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Sixteen nations have been working on the problem off the coast of Somalia, and now China has decided to deploy navy ships to the region after several of its commercial ships were attacked. Keating's area of responsibility does not extend to the Horn of Africa, but his sister command -- the U.S. Central Command -- is operating there. He said the U.S. Navy will work closely with the Chinese when they arrive. Keating said discussions are under way among the two commands and other government agencies, as well as the European Union and NATO, to ensure that the Chinese have the information needed to join the international effort to restore freedom of navigation. He expressed optimism that Chinese participation in naval patrols in the gulf "could be a springboard for [a] resumption of dialogue" between U.S. and Chinese military forces. China severed U.S. military contacts after Washington announced a $6.5 million arms sale to Taiwan in October. The prospect of Chinese naval patrols off Africa in the Maritime Security Patrol Area that the U.S. Fifth Fleet established in the Gulf of Aden in 2008 eases the way for re-establishing bilateral military-to-military contacts. Keating said it "augurs well" for future cooperation. There are differences in the political climate in the two geographic regions that will make it difficult to replicate the Asian success easily. In Asia, Keating said, pirates have had a tough time operating because the governments there -- the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia -- strictly adhere to rule of law. But in East Africa, there has been lawlessness that has given pirates a sort of haven onshore. Kenya's foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, said pirates off the coast of East Africa have collected ransoms estimated at $150 million. The McClatchy Newspapers group reports the pirates have gone ashore in Somalia to spend the cash collected during more than 40 attacks in 2008. There must be political determination to deny pirates safe haven, Keating said. Commercial ships that have been attacked off Africa have tried to repel the pirates in a variety of ways. Some ships have evaded pirate attacks by traveling exclusively at night. Captains have been advised by maritime security experts not to slow down when pirates try to board. U.N. official Antonio Maria Costa told Der Spiegel magazine recently that regional cooperation, as carried out successfully in the Straits of Malacca, should be replicated in the Africa region. Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria, suggested countries like Tanzania, Djibouti and Kenya band together and sign agreements to arrest pirates and take them to their courts for prosecution. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said not all the African regional states have the requisite judicial and law enforcement capabilities to prosecute pirates successfully. She has said that the United Nations and other nations can help rectify this. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said members of the international community must work aggressively, under a United Nations Security Council resolution that passed in December, to deter piracy. Security Council Resolution 1851 authorizes all necessary means to thwart pirates, including the possibility of entering Somali territory or airspace. Gates suggested looking at lessons learned through combined coalition operations organized to counter terrorism, drug trafficking and smuggling. In these cases, the operations benefited from shared intelligence and the development of standard maritime procedures. During a December 13 speech in Bahrain, as part of the annual Manama Dialogue, Gates encouraged ship captains to sail only in recommended areas because prescribed sea lanes are more likely to have a nearby naval presence and there is greater safety in numbers. He also said shipping companies should consider employing security personnel to use nonlethal defensive measures against the pirates. In earlier incidents, some commercial crew members took to pelting marauders with tomatoes, but that has not proven a successful defense.