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Turbulent Waters Ahead? 
Brazil Leads Anti-Piracy Taskforce in
Gulf of Aden and Northern Indian Ocean

by Melissa Rossi*
*Melissa Rossi is a researcher at the Brazilian Naval War College and EGIC Steering Committee Member.
 

Since 2008, when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approved its first anti-piracy resolutions for the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, different countries and naval missions have taken on the dangerous task of suppressing piracy in areas such as the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Northern Indian Ocean and Strait of Hormuz. This was a much needed response to a flare up in pirate attacks that had begun to seriously disrupt international trade in a crucial global maritime route. In 2013, the World Bank estimated that Somali piracy cost the world economy $18 billion a year due to the increased costs in fuel, insurance and security measures.

As of March (2022), the UNSC decided not to renew its latest anti-piracy resolution (Resolution 2608) that allowed operations within Somali territorial waters since the piracy and armed robbery at sea threat has been contained for several years now — thanks to the relentless deployment of several anti-piracy missions in the area. However, the international framework for fighting piracy in international waters remains in place, including the ongoing protection of the important Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden, among other areas, as it is believed that piracy is under control but not fully overcome. The root causes of piracy, related to extreme poverty and lack of perspectives, the absence of the Somali government in certain regions, such as Puntland, where many of the pirates have operated from in the past, and now a terrible drought that has affected the livelihood of millions in the Horn of Africa (and displaced some 1 million in Somalia alone), still sadly persist.

In light of these challenges, the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, which counts on the support of 34 countries and where the United States’ 5th Fleet and US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) are also based, has continued supporting its Combined Taskforce 151 (CTF 151) in the arduous mission of fighting piracy in the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Northern Indian Ocean and Strait of Hormuz. To this extent, CMF has counted on the ongoing support of its coalition members, some of them from very distant parts of the world. Indeed, as of 18 August 2022, Brazil has taken the helm of CTF 151. 

It is the second consecutive year that Brazil commands CTF 151, now under the command of Brazilian Admiral Nelson de Oliveira Leite, who comments on the challenging task ahead of him with great enthusiasm and determination, mentioning how he is ‘extremely honoured in commanding the Combined Taskforce and working together with the international community, represented by my Staff Officers and the military of nine countries, in order to maintain piracy suppressed and to guarantee to the maritime international community the flow of commerce in the region.’(1)

Indeed, the mission may encounter some turbulent waters ahead. First, as mentioned above, Somalia is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe owing to one of the worst droughts in the last four decades. This scenario has been worsened by the war in Ukraine and the withholding of grains meant to feed millions in the Horn of Africa. As famine and desperation grow, so will the illicit activities at sea, piracy most likely being one of them. Next, weather conditions during this time of the year also facilitate the navigation of smaller vessels — often used by pirates — due to the presence of lower waves. This is linked to the monsoons in the area. Finally, it is important to note that the maritime industry recently decided to scrap (from January 2023) what is known as the high-risk area in the Northern Indian Ocean, as a response to the absence of pirate attacks, which may lead commercial vessels to reduce their security at the same time as the socio-economic situation in Somalia worsens. However, what this will mean in practice is still yet to be observed.

Despite such unfavourable variables, the continued presence of so many missions in the area helps to reassure the maritime community and support peace and stability in the region. As for Brazil’s role in fighting piracy so far from home, Admiral Leite explains that ‘The Command of CTF 151 also represents an important source of learning and experience when conducting anti-piracy actions, which can be applied to our own strategic surroundings’.(2)

We wish the Admiral and the entire CTF 151 crew fair winds and following seas!

References

(1) Author’s interview, 15 September 2022.​

(2) Author’s interview, 15 September 2022.​

 

21 September 2022