MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) participated in an international counterpiracy conference held recently Beijing. Piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to be a major concern for international shipping operating within 1,000 miles of the coast.
Deputy Commander, Combined Maritime Forces, Commodore Tim Lowe, Royal Navy, represented CMF, a coalition of 24 nations that operates in the Middle East. CMF includes a maritime task force dedicated to counterpiracy operations called Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, which operates around the Horn of Africa in both the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin.
"This area is of major strategic importance, the volume of shipping passing through the region is significant, up to 33,000 vessels a year," said Lowe. "It's an enormous task that no single nation or organisation can cover alone. That's why these international meetings are so important, and we've made real progress here in Beijing."
The majority of the shipping in the region passes through the Gulf of Aden using the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). This is a sea lane approximately 470 miles long, that ships are encouraged to travel along as they transit through the most vulnerable area. It is not compulsory to join this route, but by doing so CTF 151 and the other maritime forces patrolling the area are able to coordinate their activities and provide more effective security for commercial shipping.
A monthly Shared Awareness and DEconfliction (SHADE) meeting is held in Bahrain and co-chaired by the CMF and European Union. The meetings, established less than a year ago in December 2008, have become an important venue where the 15 different nations who have warships at sea, regional nations affected by piracy, and the merchant community, can discuss and formulate the "best practice" to deal with pirates.
China, already an attendee of the meetings, is expected to be more active in this group following the Beijing conference and may take the role of coordinator in the future.
Attacks in the Gulf of Aden peaked during the middle of 2008 with a total of 18 successful hijackings in the months of August, September and October; during the same period in 2009, the Gulf had no successful attacks. However, attacks in the Somali basin have risen recently as the weather has improved and the seas in the area have reduced; six ships were hijacked in October, an increase on last year when there were none in that month.
Rear Adm. Scott E. Sanders, commanding CTF 151 from his flagship USS Chosin (CG 65), which constantly patrols the waters off Somalia, recently visited Chinese Rear Adm. Wang Zhiguo, the commander of TF-529, aboard Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Ship Zhou Shan. The occurrence of such a visit in the middle of the Gulf of Aden is a clear sign that coordination is working.
"It doesn't matter what country you are from, or what political system you have, piracy is not in the interest of any country," said Sanders.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusnc/.