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thedrifter
01-16-09, 10:19 AM
Navy awaiting OK to capture pirates
By Kevin Baron, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, January 17, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. naval commander in charge of fighting piracy off Somalia said he expects "within the week" to receive authorization to begin capturing pirates, then delivering them to an unnamed country in the region for detention and trial.

"Once we get that authority, we’re going to change my orders," said Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, which until now have been, "disrupt, deter, but do not capture."

"We have to make it unpleasant to be a pirate," he said.

Until now, navies in the Gulf of Aden region have been escorting and aiding commercial ships, but not going after pirates, who typically disguise themselves as fishing vessels when navies are present. U.S. vessels always have had the authority to chase and even kill pirates, Gortney said, but they have not done so because of the lack of instruction on what to do with detainees.

The new policy will allow a coalition of foreign navies, led by the United States, to begin taking the pirates into custody. Gortney said the U.S. knows they are from a tribe along the northern coast of Somalia.

Gortney would not name the tribe for fear of sparking them to organize with other groups’ resistance, but said that the U.S. does not expect the pirates are connected to terrorists in the region.

The admiral said that in August the U.S. began devising a plan of action to bring in other countries’ navies and then train the shipping industry to better prevent being boarded. The final step, he said, was to get the authority and logistics in place for the U.S. to begin capturing and detaining pirates.

Those details, being negotiated by the State Department, he said, include "where do we take them, where to hold them, what court system tries them and holds them if their found guilty."

The Navy announced the creation of an anti-piracy task force last week known as Combined Task Force 151, which was spun off from Combined Task Force 150, a 20-plus nation group of navies patrolling the region since 2001. Some of the original group of nations did not have authority to fight pirates.

To date, 14 nations have sent their navies either unilaterally, such as Russia and China, or in a coalition to counter piracy in the region. The U.S. has been communicating with China through unclassified e-mails and with Russian ships via direct bridge-to-bridge radio, Gortney said.

In the last six weeks, there were only four successful pirate attacks in the region, he said. The past few months have seen an average of 12 to 14 unsuccessful attacks each. Pirates currently hold 11 vessels with 210 hostages aboard.

Ellie