NIU's John T. Hughes Library Welcomes Legendary Pirate Fighter
By Oksana Osborne, NIU Staff
Capturing 16 pirates may sound like a simple task for the world's best navy, but retired Navy Rear Adm. Terry McKnight knows otherwise. In a recent presentation at National Intelligence University's John T. Hughes Library, he explained that 85 percent of the pirates his task force encountered were subject to a policy referred to as "catch and release." If there was insufficient evidence to prosecute them under international law, the "suspected pirates" had to be given a verbal warning and let go (sans their weapons, thankfully).
McKnight, author of Pirate Alley: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia, visited the library as part of its Meet the Author series. McKnight is a 31-year Navy veteran who was selected in 2009 to be the first commander of Combined Task Force 151, a multinational coalition newly designed to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. As task force commander, he directed operations that disrupted several hijackings and resulted in the capture of those 16 Somali pirates.
Pirate attacks have declined due to the success of Task Force 151. In 2011, Somali piracy accounted for about half of the world's total; in 2012, it dropped to one-third. Of the 30,000 vessels that transit the Gulf of Aden each year, less than 1 percent are impacted by pirates, but the costs still run in the billions. Military operations, ransom payments, security measures for merchant ships, fuel for detours, and other expenses totaled approximately $6 billion in 2012. For further information, McKnight directed the audience to oceansbeyondpiracy.org.
McKnight shared these statistics in a fast-paced, interactive program at the library, addressing attendees' questions throughout. Responding to an inquiry about whether piracy could be better fought on land, McKnight cited the difficulty of distinguishing pirates from fishermen and other innocent people out of the water, and he noted the resources to attempt it are already allocated to bigger conflicts.
He identified additional hotbeds of piracy around the world, including the Caribbean, the Philippines and the coast of Nigeria. Piracy in these areas differs from that of Somalia, where they tend to attack vessels indiscriminately – instead of targeting particular cargo – and follow a code to not hurt the crew or damage the ship. After detailing the Somali pirates' modus operandi, McKnight listed factors he believes are keys to success in fighting them: cooperation with the government of Somalia, more Somali linguists, maritime patrol aircraft and an Executive Order forbidding ransom payments in U.S. dollars to pirates. McKnight posited the successful cooperation among unlikely partners in 151 can bridge better relationships for the future. He shared a heartening example: since he left, the task force has been commanded by admirals from various countries – some of whom do not have suitable flagships. The solution? Other countries in the coalition host the command teams on their ships.
The NIU John T. Hughes Library presents Meet the Author events bimonthly to bring published authors to DIA and NIU to discuss their books and answer questions from our internal community. Future events will be published on the NIU Main Page under Upcoming Events, in the DIAA Newsletter and by email notification to DIAA Members.
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