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Expanded role ahead for Canadian troops off Somalia

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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday after announcing Canada will extend its contribution to a multinational maritime security force in the Middle East and off the coast of Eastern Africa until the end of April 2021. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Presss)

By Marc-André Cossette,

Canada is extending its commitment to an international maritime security mission in the waters off the Middle East for another four years, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced today.

“It is a clear display of our solidarity with partners and allies in the global fight against terrorism,” Sajjan said of Operation Artemis, Canada’s contribution to a multinational maritime security force in the region.

The federal government has approved up to $131.4 million to support the extension, which will see the deployment of up to 375 military personnel.
The Canadian Forces will also send a CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft as part of the mission, and plan to deploy a Halifax-class frigate every other year starting in 2018.

Combined Task Force 150

Combined Task Force 150 is a U.S.-led multinational mission bringing together 31 countries in the waters around the Middle East and East Africa.

The multinational force deploys ships and surveillance operations to deter and intercept illegal shipments of weapons and narcotics used to fund terrorist groups.

“By denying terrorists a method of conducting operations and moving personnel, weapons and narcotics, Canada makes a direct contribution to increased maritime security and international counterterrorism efforts,” Sajjan said.

Covering more than five million square kilometres, the task force’s purview spans the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Western Indian Ocean. The maritime region is strategically important not only in terms of its place in the global fight against terrorism, but also as a vital trade route between the Far East, Europe and North America.

The planned deployment of a Halifax-class frigate to the Middle East next year is in contrast to when Canada last led the multinational force.

While Canadian warships were deployed as part of Operation Artemis between 2012 and 2014, Canada was unable to send a frigate for its command in December 2016, the third time Canada had led CTF 150 since its launch in 2001.

Canada has since handed command of the operation to France. Sajjan said Canada could seek to lead the multinational force every other year.

Liberals playing a shell game: Conservative

Conservative defence critic James Bezan welcomed the extension of Operation Artemis, but said it comes at the expense of other Canadian commitments in the fight against Daesh.

“It’s a bit of a shell game coming from the government as to what’s really happening in the fight,” said Bezan. “They’re doing less, not more.”

Bezan condemned the government’s December 2015 decision to withdraw Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets from the Middle East, as well as its more recent decision to bring home one of two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes.

“If you want to be back on the world stage, you have to do everything,” Bezan said, accusing the government of offloading Canada’s responsibilities onto its NATO allies. “You have to stand shoulder to shoulder and sometimes that means doing the heavy lifting — and Liberals under Justin Trudeau continue to step back.”

‘Eyes and ears on the ground’

The decision to extend Operation Artemis is hardly surprising, said Thomas Juneau, a former strategic analyst for the Department of National Defence who now teaches Middle East security at the University of Ottawa.

“What matters mostly from our perspective is that we’re there,” Juneau said.

Considering Canada’s already “limited” participation in the international task force, Juneau said a decision to withdraw would have been poorly received by Canada’s allies — perhaps none more than the United States, given Donald Trump’s continued calls on NATO allies to up their defence spending.

“From a Canadian perspective, our interest is in being there, in being part of the coalition, in being able to tell the U.S. that we are contributing,” Juneau said. “It’s one of those many small things that — in the bigger picture — allows Canada to go to the table to the U.S. and say, ‘We are carrying our responsibilities.'”

Canada will also benefit from having “eyes and ears on the ground,” Juneau said, especially with the deployment of an aircraft or frigate.

“For our presence in the Middle East as a whole, for our role in counterterrorism missions, that’s useful,” Juneau said. “They develop links with allies: the U.S and others. They develop links with partners on the ground: Bahrain and other regional countries. They can send useful information back to the country.”

4 years allow flexibility: Sajjan

Sajjan said the four-year extension will allow the military greater flexibility in planning its operations, with this mission connected to Canada’s broader efforts to counter terrorism worldwide.

The deployment of a CP-140 Aurora as part of Operation Artemis is “not related at all whatsoever” to the government’s decision earlier this month to pull a similar aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, Sajjan told reporters.

The defence minister also did not provide further details on the government’s expected commitment to international peacekeeping operations.

“When it comes to peace support operations, we want to make sure we take the time to get this right, because it’s not done in isolation” Sajjan said.

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Piracy

What is happening to Africa’s pirates?

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MODERN African pirates prefer machetes, machineguns and ransoms to cutlasses and parrots. They can make millions of dollars from one captured ship.

Ten years ago Somalia’s coast was the centre of the maritime-hijacking world. The country lacked a coastguard or functioning state machinery, which allowed heavily armed pirates to sail up to huge cargo vessels in speedboats before boarding and taking crew and ship hostage. But 2017 was not a good year for buccaneers.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which monitors crime at sea, global piracy and robbery at sea dipped to their lowest points in over two decades. So what is happening to Africa’s pirates?

The peak years of the Somali piracy crisis were 2007 to 2012. Attacks across the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea took place nearly daily. In 2011 there were 237 attacks in the region, reportedly costing businesses and insurers $8.3bn (£5.1bn). Recently, however, Somali piracy has plummeted.
According to the IMB, just nine vessels were hijacked off the Somali coast last year. This is in part because regional security has improved dramatically. The Gulf of Aden leads to the Suez canal, through which roughly 10% of global trade flows. After scores of kidnaps and hijackings, the world launched a huge naval anti-piracy effort in 2008.

For the first time since the second world war, all five permanent members of the UN Security Council deployed forces together, with the aim of countering the threat and patrolling the Somali coastline. Along with the introduction of armed guards, barbed wire and evasive-manoeuvre training on merchant ships, this campaign has slashed the number of successful boarding incidents off Somalia, according to Henry MacHale at Aspen Insurance.

Somali pirates may have hung up their Kalashnikovs for now, but on the other side of Africa, piracy off the Nigerian coast is increasing. In 2017, 33 incidents of piracy and robbery at sea, successful or otherwise, were reported within 12 nautical miles of the coastline.

In 2011 there were ten. Ultra-violent Nigerian pirates armed with heavy machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades are often behind the attacks. Somali pirates usually board vessels, then drop anchor and hold them until they get ransom money.

Nigerian pirates are different. They move fast, take part in ferocious gun-battles and snatch victims off ships before retreating into the Niger Delta’s maze of rivers, where it is very difficult for security forces to find them.

The number of kidnappings is also sky-high. According to the IMB, 65 of the 75 crew members kidnapped in 2017 were taken in or around Nigerian waters.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches from Gabon to Liberia, has not reached the levels it did off Somalia. But Cyrus Mody from the IMB suggests that the figures underplay the danger.

The IMB’s data do not include attacks on fishing craft or ferries, which are certainly being terrorised by the pirates. Additionally, it seems likely that operators are not reporting some incidents.

“Over the years [the Nigerian pirates] haven’t been arrested or prosecuted it seems,” says Mr Mody. “Ship owners have lost trust in the system.” By reporting an incident they risk suffering violent attacks on their ships in future. So they stay quiet.

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Briefing Room

Piracy, armed robbery against ships falls to two-decade low: report

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NAIROBI – A total of 180 incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery were reported in 2017, the lowest annual number of incidents since 1995 when 188 reports were received, a global maritime body said on Wednesday.

The latest report released in London by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reveals that pirates boarded 136 vessels in 2017, while there were 22 attempted attacks, 16 vessels fired upon and six vessels hijacked.
Despite the fall, the global maritime body cautioned foreign vessels/masters not to be complacent as they transit the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

“Although the number of attacks is down this year in comparison with last year, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters around Nigeria remain a threat to seafarers. The Nigerian authorities have intervened in a number of incidents helping to prevent incidents from escalating,” said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB.

According to IMB, in 15 separate incidents, 91 crew members were taken hostage and 75 were kidnapped from their vessels in 13 other incidents. Three crew members were killed in 2017 and six injured.
In 2016, a total of 191 incidents were reported, with 150 vessels boarded and 151 crew members taken hostage.
The report also called on shipmasters to follow the industry’s Best Management Practices and continue to remain vigilant as they sail through waters off Somalia.

The report said nine incidents were recorded off Somalia in 2017, up from two in 2016. In November, a container ship was attacked by armed pirates approximately 280 nautical miles east of Somali capital Mogadishu.
The pirates, unable to board the vessel due to the ship’s evasive maneuvering fired two RPG rockets, both of which missed, before retreating.

The IMB said six Somali pirates were subsequently detained by European Union Naval Force, transferred to the Seychelles and charged with “committing an act of piracy” where they face up to 30 years’ imprisonment, if convicted.
“This dramatic incident, alongside our 2017 figures, demonstrates that Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to launch attacks against merchant vessels hundreds of miles from their coastline,” Mukundan said.
According to IMB, there were 36 reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea last year with no vessels hijacked in this area and 10 incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crew members in or around Nigerian waters. Globally 16 vessels reported being fired upon — including seven in the Gulf of Guinea.

The drop in piracy incidents is however a relief to shipping companies using the Indian Ocean that had in previous years been the target of pirates, often paying heavy ransom to secure release of their vehicles and the crew.
The African maritime industry, along the Indian Ocean had until 2013 been greatly affected by piracy that raised the costs of shipping as insurance companies and private ship security companies increased their premiums to mitigate the risks.

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Piracy

Certain powers funding Somalia pirates to undermine Iran economy

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MEHR NEWS — Iran’s Navy Commander Khanzadi deemed Somalia piracy as a kind of terrorism formed in 2007 by proxy in a bid to undermine the Islamic Republic’s economy.

Navy Commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi made the remark on Sunday in a welcoming ceremony for the return of the 49th fleet after 67 days of voyage on open seas, adding “there was a tremendous attempt at depicting the presence of piracy off the coast of Somalia as something natural, but the acts of piracy reveal certain coordinators and perpetrators behind this new phenomenon in the 21st century.”

Khanzadi went on to add that certain powers are supplying Somalia pirates with intelligence and equipment, and funding them in a bid to undermine the economy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008 to safeguard the vessels involved in maritime trade, especially the ships and oil tankers owned or leased by Iran.

Elsewhere, Khanzadi referred to the ‘Indian Ocean Naval Symposium’ (IONS) that was formed in 2010 with efforts by regional countries, including Iran, and noted that Iran’s Navy had proposed a plan for formation of a martial naval fleet at the IONS, which was approved by 36 countries in the region and it was decided that Iran present the complementary plan in the future.

He went on to add that the final decision on the proposal at the 2016 IONS in Bangladesh did not reach the point of implementation, but it managed to lead to the staging of relief and rescue exercises by Indian Ocean Naval Forces.

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