Pirate Attacks at Sea Expanding

Although the US government has made progress in implementing its 2008 Action Plan to combat piracy on the high seas, pirates have adapted their tactics and expanded their area of operations, almost doubling the number of reported attacks from 2008 to 2009, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report, titled Actions Needed to Assess and Update Plan and Enhance Collaboration among Partners Involved in Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa, found that “although the Action Plan’s objective is to repress piracy as effectively as possible, the effectiveness of U.S. efforts is unclear because the agencies implementing the plan are not tracking costs—such as operating ships and aircraft and prosecuting pirates—or evaluating the relative benefits or effectiveness of their actions. Thus, decision makers lack information that could be used to target limited resources to provide the greatest benefit, commensurate with U.S. interests in the region.”
“The United States has advised industry partners on self-protection measures, contributed leadership and assets to an international coalition patrolling pirate-infested waters, and concluded prosecution arrangements with Kenya and the Seychelles,” the report states.
Despite these collaborative efforts , however, the report notes that “from 2007 to 2009, the most recent year for which complete data were available, the total number of hijackings reported to the International Maritime Bureau increased, ransoms paid by the shipping industry increased sharply, and attacks spread from the heavily patrolled Gulf of Aden—the focus of the Action Plan—to the vast Indian Ocean.”
The crux of the problem, according to the GAO, is that roles and responsibilities of collaborating agencies remain inadequately defined.
“The Action Plan would be a more effective tool if it had clearly identified which US agencies are responsible for which tasks,” the report says, adding that “the Action Plan does not designate which agencies should lead or carry out 13 of the 14 tasks that it lays out.” For example,it comments, “ the Departments of Defense, Justice, State and Treasury all collect information on piracy finances, but none has been designated as the lead agency responsible for analyzing that information to build cases against piracy leaders or financiers.”
GAO recommends that the government clarify agency roles and responsibilities to implement key efforts, particularly strategic communications, disrupting pirate revenues, and facilitating prosecution.
Specifically it calls upon the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, in collaboration with the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, and the Treasury to reassess and revise the Action Plan to better address evolving conditions off the Horn of Africa, identify measures of effectiveness to use in evaluating US counterpiracy efforts and identify the costs of US counterpiracy efforts including operational, support, and personnel costs.
The report was done at the request of the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

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