Maersk Texas Attacked

The Maersk Texas repelled a pirate attack on Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman around noon local time, before continuing on its voyage to the U.S.:

Maersk Line, Limited confirms its U.S. flag vessel, Maersk Texas, thwarted an attack by multiple pirate skiffs at noon local while transiting the Gulf of Oman, northeast of Fujairah.  All hands onboard are safe and unharmed, and the vessel is proceeding on its voyage. Numerous skiffs with armed men in each boat quickly closed on Maersk Texas. Maersk Texas activated defensive measures per the U.S. Coast Guard-approved Vessel Security Plan. Despite clear warning signals, the skiffs continued their direct line toward Maersk Texas and the embarked security team fired warning shots. The pirates then fired upon Maersk Texas, and the security team returned fire per established U.S. Coast Guard rules of engagement.

Of particular note:

Many small craft and fishing boats were in the area and were not involved in the incident.

According to gCaptain the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence issued a warning for the area following the attack, and while it doesn’t specifically mention the Maersk Texas, seemed to indicate that pirates may be using “white” merchant traffic to blend in and disguise their presence:

Merchant vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Somali Basin are advised to maintain vigilance against and report abnormal or atypical small boat behavior, to include potential surveillance. This includes merchant vessels at anchorage either in or near territorial waters. Merchant vessels are encouraged to differentiate between fishing vessels from potential bad actors intertwining themselves within legitimate fishing activity. If fishing gear or actual fishing activity is not observed, take all appropriate counter-piracy and force protection measures to prevent piracy, illegal boardings, and/or waterborne attacks. In accordance with Best Management Practices (BMP), please maintain communications with UKMTO and report any abnormal incidents.

The incident is also notable due to early rumors surrounding the attack, including on one hand that up to 20 skiffs took part in the engagement, and on the other, according to EU NAVFOR, that there were no pirates.

The response to the incident is also a sign of the strength of the spirit of international maritime cooperation in the region. While HMAS Melbourne launched a helicopter to aid the Maersk Texas, it was beat out by the Iranian navy, which was the first to respond to the ship’s distress call. ThinkProgress states that the Iranians “offered guidance to the crew of the ship by radio,” (but was never physically on scene).

Although the value or necessity of this guidance is debatable given the Maersk Texas’ on-board security team and U.S. Coast Guard transit preparations, the symbolism of the assistance comes at an opportune time for Iran, in the midst of another round of nuclear talks. Like the U.S. Navy’s earlier rescue of Iranian fishermen this year, this episode demonstrates that the shared value of aid to mariners in distress at sea can help humanize some of the most wary of adversaries.

A final interesting tidbit from gCaptain:

Maersk Line, Limited reportedly employs Trident Group security teams onboard their vessels, the same group shown in a viral video shooting “warning shots” at approaching pirate skiffs.  If it was a Trident team on the vessel, we know there is some video of the attack that will likely be reviewed, and up to Maersk on whether or not it will be released.

An Influence Squadron in the Making?

Commander Henry Hendrix’s Proceedings article “Buy Fords, Not Ferraris” has entered the canon of innovative naval concepts and has received extensive attention at Information Dissemination and elsewhere. One idea from his article: influence squadrons, or a group of ships centered around an amphibious flagship and emphasizing smaller, networked platforms to conduct presence operations, theater security cooperation, and irregular warfare.

Over at ID, Commander Chris Rawley just wrote about testing distributed maritime operations using UAVs which will become unemployed as operations in Afghanistan wind down. Though he focuses on the aviation side of the house, he does mention surface vessels:

Some of the goals of these [distributed operations] battle exercises would be to…

 

  • Develop ways to employ smaller ships as forward arming, refueling, and communications relays for these aircraft.
  • Employ the above concepts with various deployed nodes of special operations forces, Marine, and NECC elements, in an effort to understand the capabilities and limitations each of these units brings to the distributed littoral fight.

Undersecretary Bob Work spoke at a CATO Institute event yesterday (h/t CDR Salamander) regarding the future of the Navy’s surface fleet. While LCS dominated the discourse as usual, I found two of his slides very interesting and no one seems to be talking about them:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To me, this looks like an “influence squadron” in the making. Take an LPD-17, a Burke-class DDG, two LCSs, and embark 4 Mk VI PBs in the well deck, combined with manned and unmanned aircraft from all ships and you’ll get a credible influence squadron. I could see a group of such ships and aircraft operating in the waters near Indonesia, other Pacific Islands, or the Straits of Malacca. This would be ideal for presence operations, HA/DR, capacity building for low-capability partners, theater security cooperation or – with the support of additional combatants – enforcing a blockade.  And to CDR Rawley’s point, can these vessels support a small UAV? Now seems the time to put such a group together and see what it can do – and it seems like the Navy’s senior leaders are thinking the same.

I had never heard of the Mark VI program until watching Secretary Work’s presentation, but I am very interested to know more. I’ve seen amphibs embark Riverine Command Boats and am curious how this program is related, if at all. Google results were nil after a few searches – can anyone with the gouge on this craft post to comments?

Finally, what is remarkable about this is that in only three years after CDR Hedrix’s article went to press, the Navy seems like it is seriously considering the implications of this radically different kind of deployment scheme. Though it may not seem fast to some, I think that compared to other historical shifts, the exploration of influence squadrons has occurred rather quickly.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any other agency.

A Meet-Up

Friends,
If you happen to be in the DC area this Thursday (May 24th) we’ll be hosting an informal happy hour at the Old Dominion Brewhouse at 6pm. This will be a good way to put some faces to names and exchange ideas about our new endeavor or just chat over a beer and cheap sushi (always the best kind, right?).
Here’s the address:
1219 9th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Metro stop: Mt. Vernon Sq/Convention Center)
And website:
Hope to see you there!
Sincerely,
Scott

Scarborough Fair

Keeping tabs on the neighbors.

While no longer making regular headlines, the stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal/Panatag Shoal/Huangyan Island continues. Since April 10th both China and the Philippines have maintained a presence in the area, but one limited to civilian agencies – the Philippines Coast Guard on one side, and the Chinese Maritime Surveillance agency on the other.

Rather than trading literal broadsides, China and the Philippines have fought this dispute mostly through the figurative variety in the diplomatic and economic spheres. Philippines President Benigno Aquino suggested exploring joint ventures in the area and sent envoys to Beijing to attempt to resolve the crisis. China meanwhile issued travel advisories for the Philippines, halted tours, scaled back commercial flights, and quarantined incoming Philippine bananas on pest-control grounds.

Both nations have issued fishing bans on the Shoal area in the past week. The Chinese most likely issued the ban because their own fishermen will stay away until monsoon rains abate in the fall, and the stay-behind surveillance ship snow have a pretext in the ban for enforcement. The Philippines, meanwhile, supposedly issued their own ban in order to protect depleted fishing stocks, but this adversely affects the economies of local fishing communities that depend on fishing the Shoal grounds year-round to make their livelihoods.

Making their case.

With personal financial stability and pride at stake, it’s no surprise that civilians at times seem readier to push the situation towards a conflict than the two nations’ governments. In addition to the wide-spread nationalism (and minor protest rallies) whipped up on both sides and given voice in online forums, some 20 protestors and camera crew planned to make the case for the Philippines by setting up a protest on the shoal itself. They were persuaded by President Aquino to allow the government negotiators in Beijing a chance to achieve a constructive outcome.

Despite what my colleague believes about the benefits of the U.S. sitting on the sidelines of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Scarborough Shoal stand-off is an apt example of how not having ratified the treaty can hamstring the U.S.’ ability to bring pressure to bear on another country (China) for failing to live up to its treaty obligations in pursuance of a peaceful and diplomatic resolution. For while the Philippines is building a case for the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), one of the UNCLOS conflict-resolution mechanisms, China, another signatory, refuses to abide by any rulings of the tribunal.

With the stand-off as a backdrop, both sides are expanding their naval forces. The Philippine navy is set to take possession of another U.S. Coast Guard vessel Tuesday, the ex-USCGC Dallas, of the same type as its current flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. The Chinese Maritime Surveillance administration is also rapidly expanding in numbers (h/t Chuck Hill – CGBlog.org). This is the agency that intervened at the Shoal and prevented the Philippine navy from arresting the Chinese fisherman whose discovery began the current stand-off. While a nation with an expansive coastline and far-flung fishing interests has legitimate needs for a competent coast guard, the continuing Scarborough Shoal stand-off is just one more illustration that ships of this agency are enforcers of state policy, and Chinese maritime state policy has been rather uncompromising of late.

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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