Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Colombia’s Riverine Force

The Patrullera de Apoyo Fluvial Pesada (PAF-P, commonly referred to as the Nodriza-class
The Patrullera de Apoyo Fluvial Pesada (PAF-P, commonly referred to as the Nodriza-class)

By Mark Munson

Thanks to the @Cimsec Twitter feed, earlier this week I was alerted to an announcement that Colombia was creating a new “Naval Force of the East,” a new addition to its geographically-oriented naval commands in the Caribbean, Pacific, and South of the country.

The actual press release on the Colombian Navy’s (Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia) website stated that this new command would be responsible for security of the various rivers of the Orinoco basin along Colombia’s border with Venezuela.  Commanded by a naval officer, the new command will incorporate several Colombian Marine Corps units (COLMAR, Infantería de Marina Colombiana).  This development shines a light on the Colombian Marine Corps and one the world’s most robust riverine capabilities.

According to the 2013 edition of Jane’s World Navies, types of Colombian riverine units include River Infantry Brigades (Brigada Fluvial de Infantería de Marina, BRIFLIM), River Battalions (Batallón Fluvial de Infantería de Marina, BAFLIM) and River Assault Marine Battalions (Batallón de Asalto Fluvial de Infantería de Marina, BASFLIM).  Forces from the 1st River Marine Infantry Brigade (BRIFLIM1) are located near Colombia’s Caribbean coast.  The 2nd River Marine Brigade (BRIFILIM2) is located on the Pacific coast with its headquarters in Buenaventura.  The 3rd River Marine Brigade (BRIFLIM3) is headquartered in Puerto Leguizamo and is responsible for forces operating along the borders with Ecuador and Peru.  Forces from the 4th River Marine Brigade (BRIFLIM4) operate in regions near Colombia’s Pacific coast and border with Ecuador.  The Marine force assigned to the new Naval Force East is a regular Marine Infantry Brigade (BRIM5).

PAF-L
PAF-L

 

Colombia’s state-run shipbuilder COTECMAR has built a variety of modern command platforms and assault craft for use by COLMAR’s riverine forces.  COLMAR now has ten ships of the Patrullera de Apoyo Fluvial Pesada class (Riverine Support Patrol Craft or PAF, more commonly referred to as the Nodriza, the Spanish term for “wet nurse” or “nursemaid”).  These ships are jet-propelled, heavily armored, and can embark a helicopter and 72 Marines.  A newer mother-ship concept is the PAF-L (Riverine Support Patrol Craft-Light), about half the size of the Nodrizas and capable of operating in extremely low draft environments.  The motherships are supported by smaller LPR-class ships (Lanchas Patrulleras Rapidas or Fast Patrol Boats).

The precise reason for this announcement and the expansion of riverine combat power along Colombia’s border with Venezuela is unclear.  According to the Colombian Navy’s press release (translation courtesy of Google), “with this new National Navy the Navy affirms its commitment to the security of the country and will continue in a decisive offensive operations ahead in order to neutralize the illegal structures that offend in eastern Colombia.”  It is unclear whether this move represents signalling of Colombian strength to Venezuela’s post-Hugo Chavez leadership, although it should be noted that, according to Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, published in May 2013, BRIM5 was already in place in Puerto Carreno, along Colombia’s southeast border with Venezuela, well before this announcement.  The Presidents of Colombia and Venezuela met in nearby Puerto Ayacucho, across the river in Venezuela, on 22 July.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff.  He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.  You can follow him on Twitter @markbmunson.

A Future for Canadian Submarines? Costs, Capabilities, and Interests

By Andrew Chisholm

Canada’s submarine fleet often sparks debate, over its high maintenance costs and over whether Canada needs submarines at all. Going forward, that debate must center on how costs, capabilities, and Canadian interests align with one another.

Canada’s Victoria-class submarine fleet has been controversial since its inception. Most recently, a report by Michael Byers and Stewart Webb argues that the time has come to either phase out the program or commit to a robust discussion of how to replace the fleet. Critics cite a disappointing history of expensive repairs, time lost, and a tragic fire. Supporters insist that the boats provide important capabilities, and Navy planners have sought to get the ball rolling on acquiring new subs sometime after 2020. Going forward, debate over the current fleet and its potential replacement should include all of those elements, but focus on how they align with one another: whether submarines provide the right capabilities at the right price to serve Canada’s national interests.

Costs

The subs were launched in the late 1980s and early 1990s, laid aside by the UK in 1994, purchased by Canada in 1998, and delivered between 2000 and 2004. Canada undertook their first real refit after years sitting in saltwater, ending in significant cost overruns. Tragically, during its cross-Atlantic voyage a fire broke out on HMCS Chicoutimi resulting in the death of a Sailor and deferral of Chicoutimi’s repairs to 2010.

Since 2003, the boats have spent a combined total of 1131 days at sea (less than 33% of the time). HMCS Corner Brook remains in maintenance (to be completed in 2016) begun after she ran aground during exercises in 2011, and despite a recent $209-million refit HMCS Windsor is restricted to operations in Canadian waters until one engine is removed and replaced late this summer.

The HMCS Corner Brook at sea, sort of
The HMCS Corner Brook at sea, sort of

Nevertheless, the fleet is scheduled to reach “steady state,” (two subs at high readiness, one at standard readiness, and one in refit) with the completion of Chicoutimi’s repairs at the end of 2013. As one retired Admiral says, the fleet may be turning a corner and Canada now able to reap some benefits.

With regard to replacing the fleet, Byers and Webb note the three main options, ranging in cost (depending on capabilities) from $365 million to $950 million per ship. They also note that replacement subs would be new, off-the-shelf (but built in Canada) and unlikely to have similar maintenance problems and costs.

Interests and Capabilities

The Canadian interests for which submarines could be relevant can be divided into three categories: the defense of Canada and North America, support of Canadian expeditionary deployments, and support of Canada’s interest in global maritime stability.

First, regarding the defense of Canada and North America, proponents argue that submarines provide the ability to covertly carry out coastal sovereignty and surveillance patrols, including in the Arctic. But as Byers and Webb point out, in Canadian waters at least, these functions can be performed better (and cheaper) by aircraft and drones, combined with surface-craft for enforcement. Also, the Victoria Class has no under-ice capability, although new subs likely would.

Second, submarines could support certain expeditionary deployments. The current fleet can provide security for other naval platforms, their covert surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities would be valuable, and they can enhance the activities of special operations forces. New subs could have the capability to hit land targets with guided missiles launched from offshore, as American and British boats did in support of NATO’s Libyan operation in 2011.

Supporting global maritime stability is a key interest for Canada as it relies heavily on sea-borne trade, even with the United States. More broadly, Canada has long worked to entrench and expand global trade, which is heavily sea-reliant. As its government seeks to expand trade relations with Europe, Asia, and Latin America the importance of commercial sea routes, and therefore of global maritime stability, will only increase for Canada.

This is particularly the case in the quintessentially maritime Asia Pacific region where China in particular is driving growth in economic and military power. Byers and Stewart argue that because of its global trading links, including with Canada, China is unlikely to engage in conflict, so investing in submarines based on the slim probability of Canadian engagement in such a conflict may be unwise. But according to Elinor Sloan, “Horizon 2050: A strategic concept for Canada’s navy,” the document presumed to be guiding future naval platform acquisitions, views maritime inter-state competition in the region with concern.

As I outlined in a previous article, territorial disputes, great power strategy, and nationalist emotions in Asia Pacific create a volatile mix. In this environment conventional deterrence and power projection will play an important role, either in maintaining stability or in actual conflict. The potential for a Canadian submarine presence in such Asia Pacific roles was forecast by HMCS Victoria’s participation in the US-led Rim of the Pacific, 2012 exercise.

In this vein, as Commander Craven notes, submarines provide access to areas denied to other forces and serve as a credible deterrent against almost all forces, including other states’ sea-borne power projection platforms. They can also serve in a power projection role, especially around shipping “choke points” and littoral areas. To be sure, surface ships can perform these roles (and others that submarines cannot), but they lack the tactical and psychological advantages of stealthy subs.

Conclusion

Debate concerning Canada’s submarine fleet and its possible renewal will consider many factors, from costs to capabilities and interests. The final decision must be made based on how those factors align with each other. Submarines provide many capabilities, but they are not necessarily the only platforms that do, and may or may not be the most efficient platforms in the doing. I am not qualified to judge whether submarines are the ideal platform for Canada to secure its interests as efficiently as possible, but that discussion of balance must be the center of debate going forward.

Andrew Chisholm is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. He recently graduated from the University of King’s College with a B.A., Combined Honours, in Political Science and History, and studied Conflict Resolution at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Andrew focuses his writing on contemporary Canadian foreign, defence, and security policy. His wider interests include sovereignty and governance, international diplomacy, and emerging security threats. Contact: andrewmchisholm@gmail.com

Anecdotal Economics from the Long War

Our nation is closing its chapter on the Long Wars as 2014 approaches. While there will be no single demarcation of when we become a “nation at peace”, we will settle into the same minimal focus and consciousness (if we are not there already) regarding Afghanistan as we did in Iraq when a no-fly zone was enforced for more than a decade following the Gulf War. I do not yet wish to comment on the national reflection that needs to take place, but in terms of military science I believe our introspection is flawed. Many studies and after action reviews have been undertaken examining generic trends or qualitative assessments, but very few have examined the input/output efficiencies that were or were not achieved by units, systems, and methods. It’s reasonable that such studies cannot be expected to be coldly objective in their analysis while active combat operations are ongoing. Never the less, there will be no “Victory over the Long War Day” which clearly marks the end of war and the start of peace, so a more robust critical analysis can not wait till there is no more emotion associated with our recent wars. Below are the least efficient input/output trends that I observed from my brief service in our Long War. These are my own, and derived only by my own anecdotal experience.

At what cost this noble mission?
                                                A noble mission – but at what cost?

 

1.Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices (IED): By this I mean the big government counter-IED response, of which the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is the prime example. This is an emotional topic for many, including myself, as friends of mine were killed by such devices – devices that are not new technologies that emerged in Iraq and Afghanistan, as many have portrayed them. The big government/higher headquarters response to Counter-IED might represent one of the worst returns on investment in annals of American war. When organizations such as JIEDDO consume vast swathes of money, the outlay is assumed to have achieved the effect of decreasing casualty incidents from such devices. However, such spending has actually had negligible results decreasing the harm caused to our forces. The past few years have seen millions more  spent on high-tech counters to IEDs while the devices themselves are becoming cheaper and wounding or killing more of our forces. Anecdotally, for all the amazing technology I witnessed and/or used while in Afghanistan, solutions that were top-down or directed from high-level headquarters generally had much less impact on preventing casualties than those that were bottom-up. Fantastic technology had the same results as very basic know-how applied by 19-year-olds facing death, and contained decreased opportunity costs from draining huge coffers of money to address simple tactical problems. The data sets surrounding the issue are very difficult to comprehensively discern, as we are measuring the safety of our troops, and the spillover effects of some of the work taken by organizations like JIEDDO is likely large. But in aggregate it is hard to argue that we have not spun ourselves in circles looking for a technological answer to an eternal human problem of warfare.

IEDs are, and will remain, a weapon that leverages a stronger force’s weaknesses against it. Planning to counter them in way that seems more in line with nuclear deterrence or research into ballistic missile defense seems to be a misplaced strategy. Historically there have been many examples of emerging technologies or tactics used by foes to exploit a gap in our own equipment or tactics, but we have traditionally let forces and commanders find the best way to meet those advances. Outsourcing much of the solution to large, bureaucratic organizations is not an “Occam’s Razor” solution. Money spent creating force fields more akin to Flash Gordon than Sgt Rock would have been better utilized providing realistic training for units, enabling commanders to address problems in their areas of operations according to their judgment, or, sadly the most radical suggestion for the DOD, saved for the rainy fiscal day that is upon us.

2. Growth in Networks: Inefficiency has also formed due to the gap between the vast growths in network capability of the U.S. military compared with its human processing ability. IT and communications technology allowed the U.S. military to enter into the Long War with an unparalleled ability to sense, collect, and distribute data. The largest problem is that our human processing ability – the capability to process such data into tangible and useful results – has not caught up. I was amazed as to what an infantry battalion in Afghanistan had at its disposal in terms of networks and databases, but disheartened when I tried to pull meaning out of those same networks and databases. Simply put, there has been a glut in the supply of information provided by networks and our cognitive demand has not caught up.

Commanders are shown amazing examples and case studies of networks helping find a bad guys, save a patrol, or magically reveal what an insurgent will do. In all these examples it seems as if Apple designed our systems, and upon a few clicks of the mouse the answer will appear. Generally such outcomes occurred when there was a merging of the right person/people, events, knowledge, and required training. Such a confluence was a rare occurrence, and to raise expectations that they were common is irresponsible and shows expectation bias by allowing the cherry picking of results to justify larger, more complex systems. The most critical ingredients to cook up the perfect network-enabled operation – training and judgment – are the most difficult to inculcate in the 18-22-year-olds using the systems. It is true we need graduate-level thinking in our warriors to conduct counter-insurgency (COIN), but saying we need it and providing the time necessary to obtain it are two very different things.

"Let me just make sure I've tagged everyone in this photo...."
“Let me just make sure I’ve tagged everyone in this photo….”

We can continue to build more intricate networks which add raw capability but little meaning to our command and control capabilities. I would argue the best network is not the most complex, but rather the simplest one that works the most consistently – a model our enemies seem adept at constructing. Increasing the training, judgment, and processing capacity of our forces will yield better results than expanding our digital tendrils past the point of diminishing returns of our collective nervous system. Revising our acquisitions process would help, often it seemed that new systems were shot out at the rate of how long it took a defense contractor to impress a flag officer instead an actual need occurring on the battlefield. A vetting system that involves more widespread testing at the lower ranks, and contracts which are easier to get out of if the product does not live up to expectations, could prevent debacles from seemingly simple requests that get turned into unstoppable hydras.

3. The Deification of COIN: I will preface this comment by saying that I am not a COIN naysayer who thinks that the U.S. military should only be prepared for larger force-on-force engagements a la Leyte Gulf or Kursk. I believe that the kit bag of any global power should be contain the forces necessary to interdict conflict at the low- and medium-ends of the spectrum, or before it begins. History proves that most of America’s wars have been low-intensity conflicts.

That being said there has been a fetishization with COIN, and it more proportionally affects junior leaders like myself. COIN takes much skill, has a limited bandwidth of applicability, and will always be best when its strategy comes from those closest to its application. But such characteristics are not likely to apply if high-intensity conflicts occur.

Our current rebalance to the Pacific is based on the likelihood for fast, large-scale, and highly violent conflict. Such a conflict will weigh heavily on junior leaders, but not in the way they are used to. They will have to rely on senior leadership to coordinate and enable their actions, because without strong, decisive higher headquarters guidance a danger of the second coming of Task Force Smith exists. While deployed in the hinterlands of Helmand, many lieutenants had to craft their own guidance and operate with the slimmest of intent. The vast majority did so well; they also came away from the experience rightly confident in their abilities and skeptical of the perspective higher headquarters had. In a vast ocean and littoral battlefield, those same independent operators will have to accept the fact they will not see the whole picture. Our forces have done extremely well fighting over long tours interspersed with moments of violence, but have had more limited exposure to highly kinetic battles that take place over months and require management of rates of fire, triage, and difficult decisions about weaponeering. Most of the choices were easy in a COIN fight, as the majority of the time the decision was always not how to use the most force but how to use the least. While the strong experiences that have been formed over the past ten years of small unit actions are priceless, it must not be treated as sacrosanct in all circumstances. Future junior leaders may not be in command of the lone patrol base for miles, or if they are, they might only be effective if they are aware of the fight going on at higher levels. We have rarely been able to choose our wars, and even when we do the enemy casts votes that are rarely predicted. Raising an officer corps to worship at the altar of COIN is no healthier than those who refused to accept COIN’s viability in the early stages of Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are enormous amounts of knowledge to be extracted from the previous decade of war, and efforts to refine that knowledge into a powerful, efficient fuel that can power our military to train for future conflicts needs to occur as a logical study of our efficiencies. We have had many qualitative accounts of battles and campaigns that have aptly described what was or was not done. There have not been as many quantitative studies of what provided the most for the least cost. Such an examination will be boring, and necessarily ignorant of the emotional side of our conflicts, but is required as it will be best way to extract meaning that will be useful in future wars.

About the Author: Chris Barber is a Captain in the United States Marine Corps. The views presented here are his own and not official policy of the USMC, DOD, or United States Government. They also are insanely clever for a gentlemen educated in public school that might not be able to spell COIN if not for spell check.

Crafting a Counter-Piracy Regime in the Gulf of Guinea

The winds of global piracy have shifted, as attacks by West African pirates now exceed those of their Somali counterparts. The Nigeria-based pirates may not yet inspire Hollywood films, but they have prompted regional governments to take collective action. A June 24-25 summit in Yaounde, Cameroon brought representatives from the Economic Community of West African States, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission together to draft a Code of Conduct concerning the prevention of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illicit maritime activity; now signed by 22 states.

The Gulf of Guinea’s problem is not a dramatic rise in the number of attacks, but the expansion of a criminal enterprise once restricted to Nigerian waters into those of neighboring states. While support vessels operating near Nigeria’s oil fields have been pirate targets for decades, the hijacking and full-scale pilfering of oil tankers is a recent development. This modus operandi first appeared off Benin in December 2010 and has spread to the waters of Togo and Côte d’Ivoire in subsequent years. According to Risk Intelligence data, there were at least 93 tanker attacks in the Gulf of Guinea between December 2010 and May 2013, resulting in some 30 hijackings.

2013 Pirate Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea (IMB)
2013 Pirate Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea (IMB)

Tanker traffic is particularly dense in the Gulf of Guinea because Nigeria, the region’s largest oil producer, lacks the capacity to refine its own product. Crude oil is thus transported out of Nigeria, refined elsewhere, and then imported back into the country where it is sold at below market rates thanks to a government fuel subsidy. Nigerian criminal syndicates, backed by high-level political and economic patrons, are exploiting this situation by targeting specific tankers for hijacking, offloading their cargo to secondary vessels and then selling the product on the lucrative black market.

A conference of regional experts, held in preparation for the Cameroon summit, estimates that maritime crime is now bleeding the Gulf of Guinea’s states some $2-billion a year in lost port revenue, insurance premiums and security costs. West Africa has now reached a tipping point, like East Africa and South East Asia before it, where the geographic expansion of pirate activity demands a coordinated response. An examination of previous regional efforts to combat piracy thus serves as both a guide and warning for the Gulf of Guinea’s new endeavor.

Regional Counter-Piracy in Context

As a response to increased pirate attacks in the wake of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, 16 states drafted the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) in 2004, which came into effect 2006. The organization is credited with reversing the spike in piracy that coincided with the 2009 global economic downturn, as attacks against ships in the region have steadily fallen from 2010 to 2013. Notable in this success was the establishment in Singapore of an Information Sharing Center (ISC) that facilitates the collection, analysis and dissemination of piracy information among member states.

ReCAAP obligates its members to take legal measures against vessels and individuals who commit acts or robbery or piracy; to extradite such individuals at the request of another state; and to render mutual legal assistance in such cases. Donations from member states fund ReCAAP’s central budget – Singapore and Japan being the largest donors – with additional support coming from out-of-area signatories such as Norway and the Netherlands.

Concerns over state sovereignty have prevented closer cooperation with ReCAAP, as equipment procurement and counter-piracy patrols remain the responsibility of individual states, and national security forces are unable to pursue suspected pirates across maritime boundaries. ReCAAP is also hampered by the unwillingness of Malaysia and Indonesia—the two most pirate-prone states in the region—to ratify the agreement.

As Somali piracy rapidly expanded in the late 2000s, the international community hoped to replicate the success of ReCAAP through a counter-piracy agreement encompassing Eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Steered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) was adopted by nine states in January 2009 and has since expanded to 20 signatories spanning from Jordan to South Africa.

An independent study notes that the DCoC has made significant progress in information sharing, legal reform, and the training of coastguards. At least twelve member states have introduced legal changes to cover the crime of piracy. These developments have been credited for the higher percentage of arrested pirates now being tried and prosecuted in regional courts. The DCoC’s projects are largely financed by an IMO-managed trust fund of some $14-million, funded by maritime states such as Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and South Korea.

Heading Back West

Influenced by these previous agreements, the Gulf of Guinea’s new Code of Conduct calls on signatories to: share and report relevant information; interdict vessels suspected of engaging in illegal activities; ensure those committing such acts are apprehended and prosecuted; and facilitate the care and repatriation of seafarers subject to illegal activity.

As was done in Singapore, the West and Central African leaders aim to build a regional maritime security center, based in Cameroon, which will facilitate information sharing among governments. The center, it is hoped, will address the massive underreporting of pirate attacks that occurs in the Gulf of Guinea and improve regional maritime domain awareness. However, the examination of previous efforts reveals that regional competition and suspicion are likely to hamper this process. Malaysia refused to join ReCAAP because it viewed the ISC in Singapore as a duplicative competitor to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center based in Kuala Lumpur. Similarly, disagreements within the DCoC resulted in the establishment of three separate information sharing centers in Yemen, Kenya and Tanzania.

PMSCs have helped curb piracy off Somalia, but they are not allowed in the Gulf of Guinea
PMSCs have helped curb piracy off Somalia, but they are not allowed in the Gulf of Guinea

Absent from West Africa’s new agreement was any mention of the counter-piracy role that Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) might play in the Gulf of Guinea. Foreign armed guards are not allowed in the territorial waters of local nations, forcing transiting vessels to hire military personnel from regional states and embark and disembark them along route. Several PMSCs were confident that the new agreement would allow them to operate inside the territorial waters of West African states, but concerns over state sovereignty and vested interests in the current system likely prevented such an arrangement from materializing.

Nor are international naval operations likely to be the panacea to West African piracy. At the summit, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara called on the international community “to show the same firmness in the Gulf of Guinea as displayed in the Gulf of Aden, where the presence of international naval forces has helped to drastically reduce acts of piracy.” However, NATO and the EU have already begun to drawdown assets from their Horn of Africa operations, set to terminate at the end of 2014, and there does not appear to be the political will for cross-continental redeployment. Furthermore, while almost all Somali pirate attacks occur on the high seas, the vast majority of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea take place in territorial waters, primarily those of Nigeria. This serves to render foreign naval vessels both unwelcome, due to local concerns for state sovereignty, and ineffective, as they are unable to operate so close to the shore.

Live Together, Die Alone

The absence of PMSCs and international naval operations means that a counter-piracy regime for the Gulf of Guinea will have to be local and regionally owned. This is a desirable and more sustainable course of action, but it means that the new Code of Conduct must contend with the low level of maritime security capacity that permeates across the region. Nigeria is the only state in the region that possesses a frigate, corvette, or aerial surveillance capacity. However, only an estimated 28% of Abuja’s navy is operational at any given time, meaning that maritime operations usually amount to intermittent sweeps, rather than a continuous patrol presence. The other littoral nations’ “navies” are more accurately described as coastguards. Taken together, West and Central African states are estimated to have fewer than 25 large security vessels available for interdiction efforts. In terms of force multiplying, Nigeria has engaged in joint patrols with Benin since 2011, but there was little indication in the new agreement that other states will join these operations.

Togo's tiny navy is now on the front line in fight against piracy
Togo’s tiny navy is now on the front line in fight against piracy

As was the case with the DCoC, the IMO has established a trust fund for the Gulf of Guinea that will allow donor states to offset capacity building costs, and it is advisable that the U.S, EU, Japan and others use this as a common channel to coordinate their existing security efforts in the region. Not limiting itself to carrots, the U.S is also trying to exert pressure on Nigeria by issuing a 90-day ultimatum (set to expire at the end of August) to improve port security or face the diversion of U.S-flagged shipping.

While piracy is now a regional issue for the Gulf of Guinea, this ultimatum highlights the fact that the drivers of the crime and its ultimate solution both lay in Nigeria. The country’s fuel subsidies and the lack of local refining capacity are at the root of West Africa’s petroleum black market, and endemic corruption has protected the economic and political elites suspected of profiting from it. Inequality and local grievances in the Niger Delta have been only superficially addressed by payments from a government amnesty program, leaving a massive pool of unemployed young men who see piracy and oil theft as their ticket out of poverty.

Off the coast of Somalia, international naval operations, regional agreements and private armed guards have helped to suppress and contain piracy. In the Gulf of Guinea, enhanced regional cooperation – through information sharing, capacity building, and joint patrols – should serve to roll back the geographical expansion of Nigeria’s pirate gangs. In both cases however, a permanent solution rests within the state that gave rise to regional piracy. Closer maritime coordination in the Gulf of Guinea is a welcome development, but the road to secure marine environment will ultimately have to run through Nigeria.

James Bridger is a maritime security consultant and piracy specialist at Delex Systems Inc. He can be reached at jbridger@delex.com