By Cdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense Pirates Columnist
With all that's been happening in Haiti over the last week, I'd like to start by sending a shout out to my first Fleet squadron, the VRC-40 Rawhides. The Rawhides have several C-2A Greyhound aircraft participating in Operation Unified Response, shuttling food and water to from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Haiti throughout the night. In fact, I heard from one of the Rawhides at 4:30am Tuesday morning before he and his crew made a final run to Haiti with six pallets of MREs before getting some rest. Because the airfield at Port-au-Prince can only handle 1 wide-body jet at a time, medium lift aircraft like the C-2A can help keep supplies moving by landing, unloading quickly on a small taxiway, and departing. Obviously, the C-2A carries a lot less than a C-17, but the C-2A's ability to get in and out of an airport expeditiously with a light footprint gives it a niche for the movement of high priority cargo into Haiti which can then be distributed by other means. Bravo Zulu to VRC-40 and Bravo Zulu to everyone lending a hand in Haiti.
Last week, I highlighted Africa Partnership Station (APS). It shouldn't be a surprise that operations in Haiti have had an impact on the APS schedule. USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) had originally prepared to deploy to APS, but she was diverted to respond to Operation Unified Response in Haiti, recently arriving there. It's because she was deploying to APS that she was ready to respond to Haiti, and her availability is a good example of how readiness leads to the operational flexibility to respond to an emerging crisis.
One of the emails I received since my last post argued that the cause of piracy on the East Coast of Africa is illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Somali waters. I disagree with this idea and believe that systemic conditions on the ground are causal to lawlessness at sea. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Somali waters, like piracy, is only a symptom of Somalia's lack of capacity to guard its coastline and its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Whether or not IUU fishing led to hijackings of merchant vessels is immaterial. Both are the result of a lack of governmental capacity on land and on the sea. In fact, one could argue that the lack of governance has allowed two parallel manifestations of piracy to emerge at sea.
If illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing was truly the cause of piracy, then wouldn't a dramatic decrease in such fishing lead to a decrease in piracy? Perhaps, but that is certainly not what we're seeing today. The fishing industry off of Somalia appears to be thriving again. IUU fishing has dramatically declined in recent months, and there appears to be "more fish than people can actually use." Meanwhile, pirate attacks have increased 38% over a year before, and with ransoms now surpassing $5.5M, there's no reason for pirates to begin fishing again. Piracy and illegal fishing are merely symptoms of a larger problem. Even if illegal fishing was a spark, millions of dollars in ransom money only serves to fuel piracy in the region.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.