Members of the Vermont Air National Guard will return to the Green Mountain State, after serving three months in the Middle East, according to a press release. Guard officials did not give a specific date, but said members would return at the end of February. When reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Captain Tracy Morris, spokesperson for the Air Guard, said the mission went smoothly, and there were no reported injuries. Morris said for safety and security reasons, she could not release if the airmen were flying directly home.
While overseas, members helped with air-to-ground attacks, guard officials said.
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- ^ Vermont s Congressional Delegation Reacts to Air Guard s Deployment (www.mychamplainvalley.com)
When it comes to maritime security, there can all too often be a tendency to look backwards without anticipating ahead. Collecting and collating data is all well and good, but fixating on it can perhaps lead to something of a shock when attacks flare up. Steven Jones, Maritime Correspondent at Security News Desk, discusses.
Past performance is no indicator of future results, as any stockbroker would be quick to stress. For shipping though, there has been an almost fanatical faith in data, despite it being held that only a small percentage of attacks are reported. The current crop of reports state piracy has dropped, and the latest figures from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) have both stressed 20 year lows in pirate activity. This would be cause for some celebration, were it not for the fact that out at sea there has been a sudden and dramatic spike in attacks, with not only pirates, but terrorists and insurgents all in the frame.
The latest attacks saw U.S. Navy vessels, USS Mason and USS Ponce both come under attack in the southern Red Sea. This followed a missile attack on the United Arab Emirates flagged HSV-2 Swift . The US Navy attacks were understood to be launched from the Yemen, more specifically areas controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi forces. With the conflict in Yemen escalating, marine insurers have been warning vessels transiting the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait may face increased risk.
Analysts have claimed there is a, step change in violence in these troubled waters. The advice is that commercial vessels in the region should operate under a heightened state of alert. An attack on Teekay LNG carrier Galicia Spirit by rocket propelled grenade fire seemed to confirm the fears. According to reports, a skiff filled with armed men approached from the Yemen coast and fired at the large gas carrier.
Fortunately, the vessel was not seriously damaged and the ensuing fire did not cause an explosion. Rather incredibly there were no injuries onboard, and the vessel suffered only light damage. It could have been so different, and in many regards this was something of a warning.
The fact that these regional waters appear to be more active is a massive cause for concern. Regardless of the exact nature of the Yemen threat, there are signs that Somali pirates are looking to sea once more. Just last month the chemical tanker CPO Korea was attacked off Somalia. An embarked armed team tracked a skiff rapidly moving towards the vessel and fired warning shots, which were returned from the skiff. The tanker immediately increased its speed and altered course before eventually breaking away without sustaining casualties. The United Nations (UN) has even revisited its discussions on piracy. The Security Council recently renewed its authorisation for international naval forces to join in fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia. Stating the problem remained, a matter of grave concern .
The Council unanimously adopted resolution 2316 (2016) and renewed the call for co-operation in deploying naval assets, logistical support, and by capturing boats, arms and related equipment used in piracy and armed robbery in the area. This comes at a rather difficult and complex time NATO has announced it is set to withdraw vessels, and the Danish Navy has already stated that it is mission accomplished , and they are ceasing Indian Ocean patrols. The success painted in the piracy data suggests progress, however the unfortunate reality at sea can be very different. Despite the celebratory tone, the Somali issue has not gone away, the Red Sea is potentially problematic and the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb is living up to its name, the Gate of Tears .
Elsewhere things are seemingly no better A Maersk Line container vessel came under attack from Nigerian pirates close to Bonny Island last month. An armed speedboat launched an assault on the vessel, but was thankfully thwarted. It is suspected the attack was carried out by the same group that attempted an attack on a convoy of supply vessels earlier in November. With vessels still coming under attack, and a need for diligent application of Best Management Practices (BMPs), a new guide has been produced, The Handbook on the Use of Force for Private Security Companies . Published by Oceans Beyond Piracy and written by Phillip Drew and Rob McLaughlin, it suggests that we could once more be seeing an increase in privately contracted armed security personnel onboard. Perhaps, then, the maritime security industry, which for the past couple of years has found its self in rather a tortuous commercial position, may be about to come to fore once more. It seems to depend on whether shipping companies seek to continue looking astern, or decide to project ahead with the decisions they will take to protect their crews, cargoes and vessels.
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by Steven Jones, Maritime Correspondent, Security News Desk
The global position on piracy appears to have shifted dramatically in the last 18 months. From the constant fear of attack, there appears to be something more of a grim war of attrition developing. So what is the current state of play?
The Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) project last month convened a meeting of 35 maritime experts to discuss the current state of maritime piracy off the east and west coasts of Africa. The focus was on finding a path to a coordinated and joined up approach to piracy. There were four key areas under consideration: developing an operational response, ensuring the rule of law is fit for purpose, the direction of vessel self-defence and what can be expected by way of international support. These four key issues were transposed onto two key areas of OBPs research, The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) and Horn of Africa (HoA). Highlighting what is working and can work, but also flagging up concerns or issues which are hampering the fight against piracy.
According to OBP, there are some signs of progress in the GoG region. The spike in kidnapping for ransoms which were seen in the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 appear to have been reduced. This is due to a combination of increased patrols by the Nigerian Navy, increased use of contracted security and a refocus of attacks away from piracy at sea and more towards inland infrastructure. The operational response in the region has seen regional nations increasingly willing and able to respond to piracy attacks. Sadly, there are still problems. There is considerable frustration that regional justice systems are still not seemingly holding pirates accountable. A commitment to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate pirates sends a signal of resolve, this appears to be weak in the GoG. Over in the Horn of Africa, there are concerns that piracy gangs are still organised and retain the capability and intent to attack international shipping. It is the opinion of OBP that these criminal networks are currently focused on other criminal activity, but are watching to see if conditions at sea become favourable again for piracy attacks.
International forces remain committed to support countries in the Horn of Africa/Western Indian Ocean region to deal with piracy, and the presence of navies is heartening. However, there are concerns that capacity building plans for regional forces are still many years from effectively suppressing piracy on their own. While the OBP meeting saw cause for hope, it should be remembered that the piracy problems persist. Just last month the chemical tanker Hanze Kochi was attacked by pirates in Gulf of Guinea off Brass, Nigeria. A group of armed men approached the vessel in early morning by fast boat. The duty officer raised alarm for piracy attack and all the crew locked in the citadel. A distress call was sent to the Nigerian navy. The pirates boarded the ship and took control, but the navy sent two boats with guards.
The pirates ransacked and robbed from the accommodation, but had no time due to approaching navy guards. They abandoned the tanker some minutes later and fled to the shore. The Nigerian navy freed the vessel and crew. A chilling illustration of how seafarers and vessels are still targeted and remain vulnerable. It also shows the importance of the defensive measures and means of responding, that are so important. Raising the alarm, retreating effectively into a citadel, and having the navy react seem to have possibly saved lives and the vessel in this case. With gathering such as OBP, it seems that reflection is rife regarding piracy and the safety of seafarers. While it is good to contemplate what has happened, to find successes and analyse weaknesses, there is a danger that we are not anticipating future trends.
Critics are quick to point out that an industry gathering on piracy that does not assess SE Asia is perhaps likely to miss key issues. So what are the challenges for shipping? According to experts, the challenge is not any one security threat it is about understanding them all. It is about intelligence and information-sharing. With knowledge, data and reporting, there is no need to fight alone or to become trapped in lonely furrows or fighting on new frontiers. If shipping can record, report and receive timely, accurate and useful information then there is a chance to do the right thing. Sadly, as we have seen time and again, shipping is not very good at this most basic and simple of tasks.
We do not know how many stowaways there are globally, our industry data on abandonments is pitiful, and our accident reports are incomplete. Intelligence may well be key, but until that describes the people charged with data gathering, we may be fighting a losing battle.
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