Those bloodstained DVDs

You can fight terrorists too—by refusing to buy pirated discs.

“If you buy pirated DVDs,” says RAND Corporation’s Greg Treverton, “there is a good chance that at least part of the money will go to organized crime and those proceeds fund more-dangerous criminal activities, possibly terrorism” (linkthanks Yossarin). Quite obviously, The Acorn agrees. The RAND study sheds more light on the links between content piracy and terrorism across the world. This link is specially relevant in our part of the world which has a major film and music industry, weakly enforced anti-piracy laws, expanding terrorist networks and nonchalant public mores when it comes to respect for intellectual property rights.

See this archived post how Indians unwittingly give money to the terrorists who kill their fellows when they purchase pirated DVDs.

Many a time in recent years, and especially after the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, ordinary citizens asked what they could do—as individuals—to fight the terrorists. Well, here’s something that could be pretty effective: stop buying pirated DVDs. Now can someone turn this into a popular campaign?

Indian submarine says an unfriendly hello to Chinese destroyers

So an Indian submarine was caught snooping around the two ships that China sent on an anti-piracy mission to the Gulf of Aden. The South China Morning Post (subscription only | available here) reports that the two ships and the Indian submarine were "locked in a tense standoff for at least half and hour" on January 15th. (linkthanks V Anantha Nageswaran)

According to the report—the Indian submarine tried to jam the warships’ sonar systems, and tried to evade them by diving deeper. But it was "eventually" cornered and force to surface. In the meantime, the Chinese ships activated their anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters and prepared their torpedoes for action.

That’s how the movie ended. But what the Chinese naval strategists will be worrying about is "just when did this movie start"? They will also be worrying about whether the ending was somehow or the other scripted by the Indians.

In any case, as the SCMP points out, while "provocative and unfriendly" such an incident is hardly unusual. China knows this all too well, given that its submarines buzzed a US naval carrier group and its ‘fishing boats’ travel on two thousand mile fishing expeditions.

Given how rare it is to see a Chinese destroyer in the Arabian Sea, it is understandable that the Indian navy wanted to have a closer look. And even if the SCMP might not have all the details right, the message from this incident cannot be lost on the international community. Not least in Beijing.

Related Link: Pragmatic Euphony on the China and the military equation

The curious incident of the US Navy in Somalia

Tackling piracy off Somalia might not be in US interests

One of the points that came up in recent off-blog discussions with a fellow INI blogger was the rather curious surge in piracy off Somalia’s coast during a period when the US Navy had a significant deployment in the region. Yesterday’s post suggested that “the US navy’s reluctance to take a more forceful stand against Somali pirates is intriguing.”

Some cynics responded by saying that this is so that American private military companies can benefit by providing security services to the world’s shipping companies. Beyond that ready explanation—it is traditionally used to explain most US foreign policy decisions—the question is whether there are deeper strategic reasons motivating the US Navy’s posture in this theatre.

Galrahn at Information Dissemination (one of the best blogs on naval affairs) offers a realist explanation. He argues that “Somali piracy is not counter to US interests in Somalia.”

The United States is essentially allowing Somalia to remain an ungoverned country because the status quo gives us more freedom of action in fighting al Qaeda and other extremist terrorism allies in Somalia. Piracy is a side effect, and not necessarily a terrible side effect, of that strategy…The pirates are not only commercial in nature, but they are enemies of the Islamic extremists that represent the enemy of the United States. It sounds crazy to say, but the pirates are essentially the secular, liberal capitalists of Somalia, and the United States would prefer to deal WITH not AGAINST those types of people.[Information Dissemination]

On the face of it, this is a reasonable conclusion. It explains why the Pentagon spokesman held forth about a holistic approach, when a case can easily be made that piracy can be contained by purely military means. But it is unclear why the United States is so sure that piracy will remain the domain of liberal, secular capitalist Somalis. As a tactic, piracy can help the Islamist militias to secure funds and weapons. As a strategy, it could help open a new front in al-Qaeda’s war against the West. Unless the US Navy can be selective and calibrate its go-easy policy on pirates, there could be unpleasant, unintended consequences for its own interests.

But Galrahn’s other point—that the go-easy policy makes other countries realise the need to update international law to tackle the such threats in the twenty-first century is more valid. But it is hard to accept that American attitudes are driven by grand strategy. For any sufficiently advanced grand strategic explanation is indistinguishable from post-fact rationalisation.

Questioning the holistic approach

The problem of piracy off Somalia can be contained by purely military means

The US defence department spokesman has contended that “you could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it’s not going to ever solve this problem…It requires a holistic approach from the international community at sea, ashore, with governance, with economic development.”

That’s a fashionable thing to say these days. And it’s true in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where the US armed forces are fighting a counter-insurgency war.

The situation off the Somalian coast is different. A long-running civil war in that country has resulted in anarchy, which in turn has allowed the unchecked growth of sea-borne piracy in the waters off its coast. Piracy can be contained without necessarily having to stabilise Somalia.

It is possible to tackle piracy by purely military means. If the world’s navies devote an adequate amount of assets to the problem, and equip their commanders with the adequate rules of engagement, piracy can be stamped out. For if budding pirates notice that nine out of ten pirates don’t make it back from their first voyage, they might turn to other vocations—perhaps even warlordism and armed robbery on land. While Somalia’s problems won’t go away, they won’t directly threaten the world’s seaborne trade.

Solving Somalia’s problems does need a holistic approach. Solving the piracy problem, however, does not. But the US navy’s reluctance to take a more forceful stand against Somali pirates is intriguing.

INS Tabar sinks pirate ship

More naval action off Somalia

The Puntland pirates are getting bolder. This week, they seized a large Saudi oil tanker and a Hong Kong owned ship carrying foodgrains to Iran. (linkthanks ST and Harsh Gupta)

That should explain the reason why they are picking the wrong fights. When challenged by the INS Tabar, pirates retorted that they would blow up the Indian ship. In the ensuing firefight, the Tabar sank the pirates’ mother ship, but some got away in the accompanying speedboats.

Now, taking out a mother ship is a very good thing. But the marine theatre is also getting more dangerous.

Update: For those of you who want something more than the terse official account of what happened, Gautam John suggests the masala version on Digg .

“Steady, number two. Retarget the #2 gun for that field artillery piece, air burst. Concentrate everything else on that hole.” The guns continue to fire. The artillery piece on the Somali freighter fires again, missing by 20 feet, then falls silent as the unshielded crew become victims of precision anti-personnel airburst munitions.

“Bring us about to one eight zero and slow to 10 knots. I’d rather not get any closer for now in case their muni-” The captain’s words are cut off by a bright flash as the ammo stores ignite and detonate on the other ship. A ring of distortion races outwards from the stricken vessel at the speed of sound. As it hits the Indian vessel, everything aboard rattles and the crew winces at the sharp report of exploding armaments. The Somali ship, now almost completely lifeless, breaks in half and begins to sink as secondary explosions erupt. [Chairboy/Digg]

Naval intervention foiled two hijack attempts

Double Hurray!

Yesterday’s operation by the Indian Navy in the Gulf of Aden saved two ships: the Saudi Arabia-registered MV NCC Tihama, in addition to MV Jag Arnav. According to TOI’s Rajat Pandit:

INS Tabar, a Talwar-class guided-missile stealth frigate, was cruising in the Gulf of Aden at about 10 am when it got a frantic distress call from Saudi Arabian chemical and oil carrier NCC Tihama.

Tihamas call said two to three high-speed boats, with several armed men, were trying to hijack the ship which was headed westwards. An armed Chetak helicopter, with four marine commandos, was immediately launched from INS Tabar, said a senior Navy officer.

Even as the Chetak hovered over Tihama, the marine commandos opened fire with their automatic weapons at the pirates trying to board the Saudi tankship after surrounding it. Deterred by the fire, the pirates promptly turned tail and fled in their speedboats into Somali waters.

It was around this time10.30 am or sowhen the Chetak was still in the air, that INS Tabar received another SOS call. This time, the message was that Indian merchant vessel Jag Arnav—which is owned by the Mumbai-based Great Eastern Company and was eastward bound after transiting through the Suez Canal a few days earlier—was being ambushed by another band of pirates in two boats about 60 nautical miles east of Aden.

The Chetak was then diverted towards Jag Arnavs position, about 25 nautical miles away from INS Tabars location, with instructions to Tihama to follow the Indian frigate for safety.

There was no need to fire even warning shots this time. Seeing the helicopter approach Jag Arnav, which had a 25-member crew, the pirates promptly jettisoned their hijack plans and sped away, said the officer. [TOI]

As long as the anti-piracy forces are better-armed and equipped than the pirates, such operations will increasingly deter pirates from attacking their targets with impunity. A key task for international forces engaged in Somalia, as well as the flotilla that has assembled off its coast, is to prevent the pirates from acquiring more sophisticated weapons. Since the Puntland coast is awash with piracy-generated income, weapons transfers to the region must be watched very closely.

Naval intervention foils pirate attack on an Indian ship

The Indian Navy has been quick off the mark off Somalia

The MV Jag Arnav, a bulk carrier owned by India’s Great Eastern Shipping Company, was in the Gulf of Aden when it came under attack by Somali pirates. The Indian Navy’s patrol ship picked up the alarm signal at 10.30am today, and dispatched an armed helicopter and a contingent of marine commandos, who prevented the pirates from boarding and hijacking the Jag Arnav.

Hurray!

My op-ed in Mail Today: Send the Navy to tackle Somali pirates

India must act to protect its interests off Somalia

In today’s op-ed in Mail Today, I argue that India must be the ultimate protector of its citizens, wherever they might be on the planet.

ACCORDING to the International Maritime Bureau, pirates have attacked 69 ships off the coast of Somalia since January this year. They hijacked 27 and are currently holding 11 of them for ransom. Along with the ships and their cargo, they are holding more than 200 sailors hostage, of whom at least 18, including Captain P K Goyal of MT Stolt Valor, are Indian nationals. At least two Indian owned ships have been lost off these waters since 2006. A piracy-powered economy has developed in the Puntland region of Somalia, astride a corridor that carries a significant part of the worlds—and India’s—seaborne trade.
Continue reading “My op-ed in Mail Today: Send the Navy to tackle Somali pirates”

Pirates of Puntland

India must secure its maritime interests off the Horn of Africa

Among the tasks assigned to the Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150)—an international naval task force comprising, among others, of US, British, French, Pakistani and Bahraini ships—are maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. While its purpose is to deny the use of the seas to smugglers and terrorists the main problem in the area under its watch is piracy.

CTF-150 doesn’t have enough ships to secure one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. So it advises large, slower vessels to travel in convoys so that it can better watch over them. But since this is not always possible, around one in 500 ships fall victim to pirates. Since the monthly traffic is around 1500, pirates succeed in raiding three or four ships each month.

The proceeds from these raids have sparked off a boom in Puntland, on the Horn of Africa.

Whenever word comes out that pirates have taken yet another ship in the Somali region of Puntland, extraordinary things start to happen.

There is a great rush to the port of Eyl, where most of the hijacked vessels are kept by the well-armed pirate gangs.

People put on ties and smart clothes. They arrive in land cruisers with their laptops, one saying he is the pirates’ accountant, another that he is their chief negotiator. [‘BBC’]

Indian ships, cargoes and sailors have been affected by piracy off Somalia in recent years. Even without considering the linkages to international terrorism, there is a case for the Indian navy to help secure shipping lanes and Indian interests in that region. The Indian government must quickly approve the Navy’s proposals (via interim thoughts)to begin patrolling waters off Africa’s eastern coast.