Category Archives: Current Operations

On-going Naval Ops or Maritime Current Events

An Unlikely Alliance: Ukraine and NATO in the Battle Against Maritime Piracy

The Atlantic Council of Canada’s Aaron Willschick examines the unlikely partnership between Ukraine and NATO on maritime piracy, but warns that the former Soviet state has a long way to go if it wishes to be accepted into the West.

When it comes to maritime security, piracy has become one of the most prevalent issues for NATO to deal with. In considering which nations are most involved in combating maritime piracy, Ukraine is probably not the first name that comes to mind. As it turns out, this non-NATO, non-EU Eastern European nation is heavily involved in the fight against piracy at sea. Ukraine has even become a valuable ally to NATO in anti-piracy campaigns, something not exactly expected from a nation so closely aligned with Russia on the geopolitical map.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen signs an exchange of letters with Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen signs an exchange of letters with Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev

Impact of Piracy on Ukraine

At the end of last month, NATO announced that Ukraine would actively take part in NATO’s anti-piracy operation in the Indian Ocean. Kiev has agreed to offer a frigate and a helicopter in the second half of 2013 for Operation Ocean Shield, the mission designed to deter and disrupt pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa. While it is not readily apparent, the impact of piracy on Ukraine is very real and a significant security concern for the former Soviet nation. From 2008 to mid-2012, over 140 Ukrainian sailors were victims of piracy, many of whom suffered brutal torture and abuse at the hands of their captors. Of today’s global security challenges, piracy may have the most disproportionately large impact on Ukraine. Even though Ukraine’s merchant fleet is relatively small at 1.8% of the world total, the country has somewhere between 80, 000 and 100, 000 merchant sailors at sea, or 8-10% of the world’s total. It also supports over twenty higher education establishments that train seafarers, and Ukraine is the third largest contributor of commercial crews in the world, second to Russia and the Philippines.

When taking into account demographics, Ukraine arguably has the world’s greatest concentration of merchant sailors in its workforce and thus, the greatest exposure as a country to the human cost of piracy. In addition, the Ukrainian economy also bears substantial costs. With 2, 782 km of coastline, one of the world’s best navigable river systems and considerable maritime trade, Ukraine’s economy is very dependent on its waterways. Piracy directly affects a large amount of the country’s maritime exports, which transit through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. With such a large share of its goods exposed to piracy, Ukraine bears a disproportionate share of the estimated $7-12 billion annual cost of piracy to the world economy. With such high risks, insurance costs and protective measures add over $300, 000 to the cost of each trip. For ships that reroute around Africa, the cost is $1-$10 million per trip, not to mention additional travel time. These costs are made up for with increased transportation fees that cuts into profits for Ukraine exporters, shippers and producers and raises prices for purchasers, ultimately lowering the demand for Ukrainian products.

Counteracting the Costs of Piracy

Because of its lack of international presence, the only way that Ukraine can effectively combat the costs of piracy on its citizens and economy is through multinational cooperation. This is why Ukraine has become increasingly involved in a partnership with NATO. The first cooperation on maritime piracy occurred in October 2005 when Ukraine called to requests NATO’s assistance in responding to the capture by Somali pirates of the Ukrainian-owned vessel MV Panagia. Since then, the partnership has grown to the point that Ukraine’s Navy has deployed ships for extended operations with NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean on five separate occasions. Last summer Kiev and Brussels announced that Ukraine would join Operation Ocean Shield with the direct contribution of a ship-based helicopter and a group of naval Special Forces.

Further illustrating its commitment to counter-piracy, Ukraine co-hosted Sea Breeze 2011, the Black Sea’s largest annual multinational naval exercise, with the United States in Odessa. In response to common threats facing the world today, the exercise was dedicated to counter-piracy training operations, evacuation procedures and search and seizure training. Sea Breeze 2011 was also designed to improve regional stability in the Black Sea and strengthen maritime partnerships. Exercises such as these have helped to heighten Ukraine’s international profile and increase its credibility with western nations.

A Step to the West?

Some have interpreted Ukraine’s efforts against maritime piracy as an indication that the former Soviet state is serious about joining the West’s security framework. Not only has it become a close maritime partner of NATO, but Ukraine has also been active in the European Union’s anti-piracy campaign, Operation Atalanta. Ukraine’s work against maritime piracy is admirable and should be applauded. It also could act as a good starting point for the country to join NATO in the future and ultimately distancing itself from Russia. However, it is important to keep in mind that Ukraine is a nation that still faces many obstacles in its quest to join Western institutions. While recently praising the country for its work against piracy, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Ukraine that it must further commit to respecting democracy and the rule of law. Counteracting piracy is one thing; building and respecting democracy is another. Despite some progress, Ukraine still has a long way to go beyond maritime operations if it wishes to be taken more seriously by the West and gain acceptance into Western institutions.

Aaron Willschick is a Maritime Security Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada and a recent graduate from the MA program in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. His research interests include the European Union, European security and defense policy, NATO enlargement to Eastern Europe and democratization

Economics and Somali Piracy

Somali Pirates
                                                                             Pirates a lá Somali


While the consensus seems to be that Somali piracy is in a terminal decline, over the weekend the Washington Post’s Wonkblog highlighted an interesting academic study from last year that attempted to determine the costs of Somali piracy since 2008.  The bottom line, from economists Timothy Besley, Thiemo Fetzer and Hannes Mueller, was that piracy increased the cost for shipping bulk cargo through the region 8%, with a 14% seasonal discount between December-February and June-September when the monsoon causes sea states to be less hospitable to pirates.

Of particular interest is the economist’s attempt to measure how efficient piracy has been as a method of transferring wealth from the rest of the world to Somalia.  According to their analysis, pirates generating a total in $120M in annual ransoms would possibly drive industry to spend up to ten times that amount on insurance and onboard security.  Theoretically, Somalia could get the same amount of money from an .8% tax on charters than the 8% increased costs faced by shippers.

Piracy has driven some economic growth in Somalia, with one study arguing that ransoms received in 2009 were five times greater than the budget of Puntland.  Such development has been uneven however and did not benefit all Somalis. Intriguingly, economic growth and development measured in terms such as construction, urbanization, and light emissions measured through overhead imagery showed significant growth in major Puntland cities like Bossasso, rather than main Puntland pirate bases like Eyl and Hobyo.

Although ransoms as a wealth transfer are a “thought experiment” which the authors don’t necessarily advocate as policy, there is a clear subtext that aid for effective security forces would be a cheaper method to achieve the security needed to eliminate piracy than paying ransoms or funding afloat counter-piracy task forces.  They cite Stig Hansen’s compelling argument that the triggering event for the explosion of piracy in recent years was the Puntland economic crisis in 2008, during which the government of the semi-autonomous region suspended pay to the police and militia responsible for border security.

Of course while a tax on trade to fund a wealth transfer to Somalia may have been a much more efficient way of combating piracy than the current combined approach of naval forces afloat, industry best practices, a Kenyan invasion of Somalia, and the funding of AMISOM troops (in a previous article in Proceedings I vainly attempted to compare the relative costs and benefits of counter-piracy task forces afloat and security forces in Somalia), it does not square with any accepted notion of freedom of navigation in international waters.  While an effective Somali government would certainly have the right to regulate economic activity in its Exclusive Economic Zone (commonly listed narratives for the start of piracy in the region include grassroots local efforts to regulate illegal fishing and toxic waste disposal by foreigners in Somali waters), impeding or taxing commercial shipping traversing international waters adjacent to Somalia would be unacceptable to the international community.

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 US Government.

Borneo Violence Escalates

Malaysian police search suspects leaving the security cordon in Sabah.
Malaysian police search suspects leaving the security cordon in Sabah.

In the aftermath of Malaysia’s “Operation Sovereign,” I’ve got another update over at USNI News about the stand-off in Sabah between Malaysia’s armed forces and the followers of the self-styled Sultan of Sulu, including new naval developments. More news has come out since, with Reuters reporting Malaysian officials have found 13 bodies and detained several more followers during their post-op security sweep, although it’s unclear if the deaths occurred during our prior to the assault. As I sum up in the USNI Post:

Amid reports that more fighters had arrived despite the naval patrols, a fragile peace process in the Philippines, and an unsettled Filipino population in Sabah, the fears are not just that the violence will continue, but that the violence may spread.           

At The Diplomat you can read some of the strange conspiracy hypotheses swirling around in the background of the stand-off. 

End to the Sabah Stand-off?


The bodies of Malaysian police commandos killed in the firefight on Friday are loaded into a truck.
The bodies of Malaysian police commandos killed in the firefight on Friday are loaded into a truck.

I’ve got an update on the Situation in Borneo up over at USNI News. The stand-off has claimed its first lives, with approx. 14 dead, and latest reports say the remaining members of the so-called Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu have either surrendered or taken to the sea. Check out the full story here.

A dramatic three-week standoff on the island of Borneo claimed its first lives Friday, as Malaysian security forces exchanged gunfire—and possibly mortars—with the so-called Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu. Early reports indicate that 10 to 12 sultanate forces, two Malaysian police commandos, and the owner of a house taken by the sultan’s followers were killed in the battle, with further injuries on both sides. Meanwhile, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said that 10 of the sultan’s followers were in Malaysian custody but had no word on casualties. Both sides blamed the other for firing first—as the Filipinos of the sultanate sought food to replenish their dwindling stores, Malaysian security forces tightened their security cordon—or both.


It is unclear whether the standoff has ended. Reports do not account for another 100 or more followers, believed to comprise the group holed up in Lahad Datu, Sabah Province, but the Philippines government received word that some of the Sultan’s men may have escaped toward the sea. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak ordered his commanders to “take necessary action” to force the sultan’s followers out of the northeast corner of Borneo.