Coast Guard Contributes to Counter-piracy Mission

WASHINGTON – The Coast Guard is actively engaged in implementing the president’s counter-piracy action plan, senior Coast Guard officials said.

Capt. Charles Michel, chief of the Office of Maritime and International Law, and Capt. Michael Giglio, chief of law enforcement, discussed the Coast Guard’s international counter-piracy efforts yesterday with bloggers and online journalists.

“Piracy goes back many, many years — many thousands of years, actually — about the time that man started first taking onto the water in ships,” Michel said. “Piracy is essentially an act of violence or depredation conducted on the high seas from one vessel to another vessel for private ends. … That’s the definition of piracy that’s captured in both the 1958 Convention on the High Seas, of which the United States is a party, as well as the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.”

Recent incidents of piracy off the coast of Africa have raised the awareness of the issue on a global level. However, Michel described the Coast Guard’s longstanding efforts to combat acts of piracy internationally. “Modern piracy really, at least in my world of work, has been focused primarily in Southeast Asia, in the South China Sea and in the Straits of Malacca.”

The Coast Guard is an active member of the multinational Combined Task Force 151 conducting counter-piracy missions around the Gulf of Aden, Giglio said.

“From my vantage point, my particular interest is ensuring the proper application of Coast Guard authority, competency and capability in support of the combatant commanders’ requirements,” he said.

CTF 151 apprehended seven suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Feb. 11, and nine additional suspected pirates were apprehended Feb. 12.

“This is just one small example of the ways in which the Coast Guard and the United States Navy can partner to deliver a very broad mix of skills to address what is a pretty broad spectrum of threats in the maritime environment today,” Giglio said.

The counter-piracy plan focuses on three lines of action, Michel said: prevention of attacks, responding to attacks and prosecution of pirates. Through the combined task force, he added, the Coast Guard is working to execute all three lines of action.

The first line of action to combat attacks is prevention. The primary means of prevention include the hardening of targets, the establishment of a maritime security patrol area and international diplomacy, Michel said.

One of the primary roles of the Coast Guard personnel assigned to the combined task force, Giglio said, is to provide training in evidence-collection practices and procedures to ensure a complete case package, which facilitates prosecution.

From a legal perspective, the issue of prosecuting pirates in international courts is complex, Michel explained. “The challenges are pretty daunting, because you may actually have, for example … Coast Guard and Navy personnel involved with [Somali] pirates who may have attacked a Panamanian vessel with a Filipino crew being tried in a Kenyan court.”

However, processes now are being put in place to effectively deal with the prosecution of pirates.

“We are in the best shape we’ve ever been for Horn of Africa pirates with the establishment of a [memorandum of understanding] with one of the regional partners that will allow us to bring those pirates ashore and, if the evidence can be tied up correctly, prosecute it in a Kenyan court,” Michel said.

Michel emphasized the importance of dealing with the piracy issue. Even though “your chances of getting taken by pirates in that area are actually pretty small, should we tolerate that type of lawlessness and criminal activity and the nefarious results that can happen by the introduction of money and people being held at gunpoint?”

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