TF 151 currently consists of three ships, the USS San Antonio, the USS Mahan, and the HMS Portland. It is protecting a safe transit corridor in the Gulf of Aden that civilian vessels are strongly urged to use as an effort to limit access by the pirates to shipping. The AOR is about 1.1 million square miles of sea.
This task force has several helicopters, the boats carried by the San Antonio, a Marine contingent, Coast Guard as well as other personnel trained in boarding and search duties. A Fleet Surgical Team is also embarked.
In total, at this time, there are 20 ships from 14 nations engaged in anti-piracy missions in the region. Admiral McKnight has met with the EU task force commander and communicated with the Chinese PLAN commander in the area. The EU task force plans to be in the area until at least December 2009.
The Admiral talked about the “golden thirty minutes”. If the allies can get a ship or an aircraft to a threatened vessel within thirty minutes of notice the pirates can usually be deterred and the attack averted.
TF 151 has not had any pirate contacts yet. Other nations have. McKnight told us that most of the other nations are involved with escort duties. TF 151 is involved with detection, dispatch of assistance and intelligence gathering. It is keeping station in ways that maintain the safe transit corridor.
TF 151 is treating this as law enforcement. Kenya has agreed to take captured pirates. In an agreement signed January 16, 2009, the Kenyans have agreed to hold and try any pirates captured by TF 151.
The pirates are Somali in origin. They operate using 30-40 foot small craft, and often use a mothership which tows several small craft. Yemeni waters are used for shelter sometimes and the Yemeni Coast Guard has little capacity to affect that situation.
Despite some obvious desire on our part for surface action, the Admiral is clear that the ROE is self defense only. He stated that piracy has dropped off greatly in the last months, due to weather and due to the increased presence of naval vessels in the Gulf.
Admiral McKnight believes that he cannot eliminate piracy in the region, only deter it.