Maritime Security:

Actions Needed to Assess and Update Plan and Enhance Collaboration among Partners Involved in Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa

GAO-10-856: Published: Sep 24, 2010. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2010.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

John H. Pendleton
(404) 679-1816
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Somali pirates operating off the Horn of Africa have attacked more than 450 ships and taken nearly 2,400 hostages since 2007. A small number of U.S.-flagged vessels and ships have been among those affected. As Somalia lacks a functioning government and is unable to repress piracy in its waters, the National Security Council (NSC) developed the interagency Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan (Action Plan) in December 2008 to prevent, disrupt, and prosecute piracy off the Horn of Africa in collaboration with international and industry partners. GAO was asked to evaluate the extent to which U.S. agencies (1) have implemented the plan, and any challenges they face in doing so, and (2) have collaborated with partners in counterpiracy efforts. GAO examined counterpiracy plans, activities, collaborative practices, and data, and interviewed industry and international partners and officials at U.S. agencies and the Combined Maritime Forces in Bahrain.

The U.S. government has made progress in implementing its Action Plan, in collaboration with international and industry partners, but pirates have adapted their tactics and expanded their area of operations, almost doubling the number of reported attacks from 2008 to 2009, and the U.S. government has yet to evaluate the costs, benefits, or effectiveness of its efforts or update its plan accordingly. 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. Officials credit collaborative efforts with reducing the pirates' rate of success in boarding ships and hijacking vessels in 2009. However, 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 Action Plan's objective is to repress piracy as effectively as possible, but the effectiveness of U.S. resources applied to counterpiracy is unclear because the interagency group responsible for monitoring the Action Plan's implementation has not tracked the cost of U.S. activities--such as operating ships and aircraft and prosecuting suspected pirates--nor systematically evaluated the relative benefits or effectiveness of the Action Plan's tasks. GAO's prior work has shown that federal agencies engaged in collaborative efforts need to evaluate their activities to identify areas for improvement. Moreover, as pirates have adapted their tactics, the Action Plan has not been revised. Without a plan that reflects new developments and assesses the costs, benefits, and effectiveness of U.S. efforts, decision makers will lack information that could be used to target limited resources to provide the greatest benefit, commensurate with U.S. interests in the region. The U.S. government has collaborated with international and industry partners to counter piracy, but it has not implemented some key practices for enhancing and sustaining collaboration among U.S. agencies. According to U.S. and international stakeholders, the U.S. government has shared information with partners for military coordination. However, agencies have made less progress on several key efforts that involve multiple agencies--such as those to address piracy through strategic communications, disrupt pirate finances, and hold pirates accountable--in part because the Action Plan does not designate which agencies should lead or carry out 13 of the 14 tasks. For instance, the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, and the Treasury all collect information on pirate finances, but none has lead responsibility for analyzing that information to build a case against pirate leaders or financiers. The NSC, the President's principal arm for coordinating national security policy among government agencies, could bolster interagency collaboration and the U.S. contribution to counterpiracy efforts by clarifying agency roles and responsibilities and encouraging the agencies to develop joint guidance to implement their efforts. GAO recommends that the NSC reassess and update its Action Plan; identify metrics; assess the costs, benefits, and effectiveness of U.S. counterpiracy activities; and clarify agency roles and responsibilities. The NSC did not comment. The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, and the Treasury provided comments to clarify facts in the report.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. government efforts to implement the Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan (Action Plan), enhance interagency collaboration, provide information to decision makers on results, and better target resources, 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 should direct the Counter-Piracy Steering Group to (1) identify the costs of U.S. counterpiracy efforts including operational, support, and personnel costs; and (2) assess the benefits, and effectiveness of U.S. counterpiracy activities.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs did not comment on a draft of our report or our recommendations. However, in commenting on a related March 2010 testimony statement, the National Security Staff stated that the level of effort and opportunity costs associated with counter-piracy work is continuously monitored and the MSIPC was focused at that time on addressing the costs associated with bringing suspected pirates either to the United States for prosecution or transferring them to third party nations. Although the departments and agencies track some costs of U.S. counterpiracy efforts, as of August 2013, there is no known assessment of the benefits and effectiveness of various U.S. counterpiracy activities.

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. government efforts to implement the Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan (Action Plan), enhance interagency collaboration, provide information to decision makers on results, and better target resources, 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 should identify measures of effectiveness to use in evaluating U.S. counterpiracy efforts.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs did not comment on a draft of our report or our recommendations. However, in commenting on a related March 2010 testimony statement, the National Security Staff stated that as part of an ongoing review of U.S. piracy policy, departments and agencies are examining and developing metrics, roles and responsibilities, and implementation actions to serve as the focus of U.S. efforts for the next several years. As of August 2013, there are no published measures of effectiveness to use in evaluating U.S. counterpiracy efforts.

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. government efforts to implement the Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan (Action Plan), enhance interagency collaboration, provide information to decision makers on results, and better target resources, 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 should reassess and revise the Action Plan to better address evolving conditions off the Horn of Africa and their effect on priorities and plans.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs did not comment on a draft of our report or our recommendations. However, in commenting on a related March 2010 testimony statement, the National Security Staff stated that, as part of a broader U.S. approach toward the region, the Maritime Security Interagency Policy Committee (MSIPC) is conducting an ongoing review of U.S. piracy policy. According to State Department officials, the Action Plan was reviewed and revalidated in March 2013 with no changes needed to the Plan. GAO is following up with the National Security Staff to document this review.

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. government efforts to implement the Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan (Action Plan), enhance interagency collaboration, provide information to decision makers on results, and better target resources, 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 should clarify agency roles and responsibilities and develop joint guidance, information-sharing mechanisms, and other means to operate across agency boundaries for implementing key efforts such as strategic communication, disrupting pirate revenue, and facilitating prosecution.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs did not comment on a draft of our report or our recommendations. However, some steps may have been taken to address this recommendation. For example, according to Department of Justice officials, the National Security Staff published an "Interagency Framework for Decisionmaking in the Disposition of Suspected Pirates" in January 2013. GAO is following up with the National Security Staff to document this guidance.

    Jul 24, 2014

    Jul 16, 2014

    Jun 27, 2014

    Jun 24, 2014

    Jun 23, 2014

    Jun 18, 2014

    Jun 16, 2014

    Jun 11, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here