Even with the right ships and equipment available, anti-piracy work is a dangerous job. The pirates are launching more sophisticated and troubling attacks on the enforcers. In October 2012, for example, pirates off Somalia took the fight to NATO, attacking the organization's counter-piracy flagship with sustained volleys from sea and shore.
The Dutch warship HNMLS Rotterdam was attacked while conducting routine surveillance. “The pirates openly choose confrontation,” says Commo. Ben Bekkering of the Dutch navy, commander of the NATO task force. “This does not happen often, and it indicates that we are, indeed, impeding their operations and in doing so, pushing them to take more extreme options. It is obvious that the scourge of piracy has not gone away, and we need to maintain our vigilance.”
Meanwhile, EU Navfor's mandate is due to expire at the end of 2014. Operations have previously been conducted under fixed-term authorities that were renewed, most recently in March 2012, for the current deployment. Olive believes that despite the wider public perception of the problem having been resolved, decision-makers in Brussels who authorize and fund the Navfor operations appreciate what is at stake.
“The message is well-understood by the member states of the European Union who resource and fund us,” he says. “They understand that there's been great successes in the last 12 months, but it's certainly not a job done. The piracy model is very much fractured but not broken. We're continuing to enjoy good force flow from them at the moment—we've got six ships and that's going to rise over the coming weeks. But of course we have to keep talking to the member states throughout. There is a cycle whereby Brussels goes through the process of reviewing the future. But the dialogue is ongoing: it's a constant conversation between ourselves and our political masters in Brussels and member states.”
Some work is being carried out on new technology for counter-piracy missions. The U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) is funding a program to develop a fleet of “smart robocopters” to hunt down pirates in congested seas.
A new sensor carried by unmanned aircraft will be able to distinguish small pirate boats from other vessels. The Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker is a mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and laser-radar (ladar) technology, to be deployed on Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. The sensor prototype will include automatic target-recognition software enabling it to autonomously identify small boats, “reducing the workload of sailors operating the vehicle from control stations aboard Navy ships,” ONR says.
But resource constraints could still see some nations seek to exit the maritime policing role. Anthony Sharp, a British entrepreneur, believes that a private maritime counter-piracy capability could fill the gap. His new company, Typhon, aims to be first to market when it launches this summer.
“The only solutions from governments to the growth of maritime crime are to deploy warships,” Sharp tells Aviation Week. “So you deploy a billion-pound asset to take on a series of criminals in skiffs, and it's not the right tool for the job. What you really need is a close-protection system around you. [Navies] can't be involved in close protection, because that's not what government does. The time for international navies to do this is over. The chartering industry and the shipping industry must evolve to look after its own.”
Typhon plans to operate a 130-meter (426-ft.) close-protection vessel equipped with small fast-patrol boats and a crew of 60, recruited mainly from former Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel. The operational concept has the “mothership” escorting clients' vessels, with the fast-patrol capability available to intercept and, if necessary, take defensive action against suspicious craft.