USS SAN ANTONIO, At sea (NNS) -- Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 is working closely with international navies in the Gulf of Aden to conduct counterpiracy operations and ensure a lawful maritime order in the region.
"We're out here as a force, with the coalition nations, to ensure commerce flows freely throughout the world," explained Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, commander, CTF 151. "We are working to achieve an objective of preventing piracy at sea. Over the past few years, we've learned from many combined operations that working with the coalition is key to our success throughout the world."
The mission of CTF 151 is to prevent and deter piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. The task force, which has assembled on board the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17), has many capabilities which are enhanced by the ship's crew. The personnel currently embarked aboard San Antonio in support of CTF 151 counterpiracy operations include a helicopter squadron, fleet surgical team, boarding teams and several elements from the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard.
"This mission is very important for the maritime strategy of our nation and also to work with our coalition nations," said McKnight. "We are out here to demonstrate that the United States Navy will not allow criminal acts on the high seas and that we want, as best we can, to improve the open trade agreements throughout the world."
Piracy acts spiked in the region in mid-August due to a very aggressive increase in activity by a clan on the north coast of Somalia. In response to the activity, Vice Adm. William Gortney, commander, Combined Maritime Forces, directed the establishment of the maritime security patrol area (MSPA), an area coalition ships and aircraft patrol to prevent destabilizing activity.
"Because of the complexity of the operations, I determined it was necessary to establish CTF 151 to create a task force with a mission and a mandate from the United Nations to conduct counterpiracy operations throughout the area of responsibility," said Gortney during a press briefing at the Pentagon Jan. 15.
Although the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) do not have a mandate to conduct counterpiracy operations, combined task forces each have a particular mandate under which they operate. Any nation that does not yet have the authority to conduct counterpiracy operations will continue to work in Combined Task Force 150, while those that seek the authority to operate with CTF 151 will bring their collective capabilities together to deter, disrupt and eventually bring to justice the maritime criminals involved in the piracy events.
"It's really a fascinating story to watch unfold as, at this point, 14 nations have sent their navies to work against the destabilizing activity," added Gortney.
CTF 151, with the International Maritime Organization, created the maritime security patrol area as a place to channel the shipping so that they could concentrate naval activity. The task force includes three phases, which outline critical mission goals.
The first phase is focused on bringing more international navies into the efforts to help solve this international problem. The second phase involves working with the shipping industry to develop and share practices that prevent pirates from successfully boarding their vessels. The third phase, once authorized, will allow the task force to deliver suspected pirates to court, where they will be held accountable for their actions.
"We've had great effects on the first two," explained Gortney. "Fourteen nations are down there. The shipping industry is having the greatest impact. They're doing a terrific job of sharing best practices, speed, maneuver and non-kinetic defensive measures that will prevent pirates from getting aboard the vessel. We have had a great effect on that. In the last six weeks, there have only been four successful piracy attacks."
CTF 151 is working very closely with the U.S. State Department to finalize an agreement with one of the nations in the area that will allow CTF 151 and coalition forces to disrupt, deter, capture and hold suspected pirates accountable for their actions. The task force expects that authority to be granted within the next week.
"We are going to aggressively go after the pirates that are conducting pirate activity," said Gortney. "We have to make it unpleasant to be a pirate."
CTF 151 is a multinational task force conducting counterpiracy operations to detect and deter piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea. It was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.
For more news from Combined Task Force 151, visit www.navy.mil/local/CTF-151/.