Sunday, November 15, 2009

Turkish Navy’s Fight Against Piracy in the Gulf of Aden Serves Foreign Policy Goals



By: Emrullah Uslu

In February, the Turkish Parliament approved a government motion allowing Ankara to deploy Turkish naval forces (Turk Deniz Kuvvetleri) as part of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), an international anti-piracy naval force operating off the coast of Somalia. The motion called for a one-year limit to the deployment in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast, where scores of commercial vessels have been hijacked by pirates. After parliamentary approval, the Turkish frigate TCG Giresun (former USS Antrim) set sail from the Aksaz naval base on the Aegean coast to Somalia as part of a U.N.-led effort to prevent pirates from hijacking foreign ships (Anadolu Ajansi, February 18).

Since February, Turkish warships in the mission have engaged in numerous clashes with pirates. Recently the Turkish navy frigate TCG Gediz launched an operation against a pirate vessel allegedly planning to hijack a Greek commercial ship and subsequently detained five pirates. The Turkish General Staff posted a note on its webpage and shared the following details about the incident: “Kalashnikovs, one musket, four RPG-7 rounds, three AK-47 clips and 21 cans of benzene during the operation launched against the pirate skiff after responding immediately to a call for help” (tsk.mil.tr, November 6). The Gediz is a former Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate with 20 years of service in the U.S. Navy as the USS John A Moore before it was re-commissioned in the Turkish Navy

In September the Gediz launched an operation against pirates who were attacking two Panamanian registered merchant ships, detaining seven pirates (NTV, September 27). In July and August Turkish commanders conducted several operations against pirates and detained at least ten pirates (Anadolu Ajansi, July 24; August 11). On November 6 the Gediz intervened to prevent the hijacking of the Greek-owned MV Theodoros (Athens News Agency-Macedonian News Agency, November 6; Montena Informativna Agencija, November 5; Today’s Zaman, November 6). The Gediz fired warning shots at the pirates before deploying a helicopter in support. The action resulted in the capture of five pirates (Hurriyet, November 5).

Turkish participation in the international force against piracy in and around Somalia is not limited to the two G class frigates, TCG Gokava (former USS Samuel Eliot Morison) and TCG Gediz. Turkish Rear Admiral Caner Bener took command of CTF 151 between May 3 and August 15. Turkey was the second nation to command the international counter-piracy task force and the occasion marked the first time Turkey had commanded a combined naval task force (AFP, April 24; denizhaber.com, May 15).

Unlike the Turkish Army’s role in international operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, the Turkish Navy’s role in CTF-151 is a relatively new phenomenon. Though Turkish ships have been part of international military exercises (including NATO exercises), Turkish naval ships have not participated in international operations that require armed engagement with other forces. In addition to participating in CTF-151, the Turkish navy has already taken a role in the combined naval task force operating off the coast of Lebanon since 2006 as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Turkey’s participation in the international force off Somalia became part of the public debate when two Turkish commercial ships, MV Karagol, an oil/chemical tanker, and the MV Yasa Neslihan, a bulk carrier, were hijacked by pirates in October 2008 (turksam.org, February 18, 2009). Both ships were released after the payment of a ransom. In July 2009, another Turkish cargo ship, the MV Horizon-1, was hijacked and kept under the pirates’ control for more than three months (Sabah, July 8). The Turkish navy planned an operation against the pirates holding the Horizon-1, but the owner of the ship refused the offer, preferring to pay a ransom to save the ship and crew. After its release, the ship was accompanied by the Gediz to the Jordanian port of Aqaba (Hurriyet, October 6).

While Western analysts have examined the possible ties between terrorism and piracy, including the possibility of using a hijacked ship to damage or otherwise take down a major port, Turkish security analysts have not paid much attention to the issue. For instance, while two leading Turkish security think tanks have released reports about the Turkish military’s role against piracy, neither addressed the possible relationships between terrorism and piracy.

Turkey’s naval cooperation with the international community is related to two main issues. First is the recent growth of the Turkish shipping industry. More and more, Turkish-owned commercial ships are on the high seas where piracy is considered one of the main threats to Turkey’s emerging shipping business. Second is Turkey’s new foreign policy perspective, which seeks to be active in the international community in order to gain its support for Turkish issues, such as the nation’s fight against terrorism. The measures appear to be paying off, with Ankara gaining more international support for its counter-terrorism efforts than ever before.

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