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.

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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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2014, the National Security Council Staff (NSCS) issued a new United States Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan, with a regional annex devoted to the conditions of piracy off the Horn of Africa. The plan revises and supercedes the previous Countering Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Partnership and Action Plan. The plan includes an updated background and overview of the threat that piracy off the Horn of Africa poses to mariners and industry. In GAO-14-422, Maritime Security: Ongoing U.S. Counterpiracy Efforts Would Benefit From Agency Assessments, agency officials stated that their decisions and actions are guided by informal discussions rather than formal assessments. However, the results of these informal discussions were provided as input to the NSCS's revised plan.

    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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The new United States Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan, issued in June 2014, includes a section on "Implementation, Monitoring, and Review" for the efforts related to countering piracy off the Horn of Africa. The Plan states that successful implementation of these efforts can be measured tangibly by the trends of successful pirate attacks, BMP compliance rates by industry, the percentage of suspected pirates prosecuted, and increased maritime security governance and stability within the region.

    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

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In the new United States Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan, issued in June 2014, the NSCS states that the Counter Piracy Steering Group will continue to assess expenditures to reduce risk and protect the maritime industry from piracy. In GAO-14-422, Maritime Security: Ongoing U.S. Counterpiracy Efforts Would Benefit From Agency Assessments, we found that agencies can identify some costs related to their counterpiracy efforts. However, most agencies do not systematically track the costs of counterpiracy efforts or activities because these efforts and activities typically fall under a broader maritime security category. Further, the United States Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan states that the Counter Piracy Steering Group will coordinate, implement, and monitor the objectives outlined in this Plan. Additionally, while the Plan identifies some measures of effectivesness tied to some overarching efforts, there are many other efforts in the plan that do not include an associated measure of effectiveness.

    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

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While the United States Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan, issued in June 2014, identifies several new efforts, it does not identify which agencies have the lead and/or support roles for these efforts. The Plan does discuss international partnerships in a broad sense, as well as some details regarding U.S. coordination between the Counter Piracy Steering Group, the Maritime Security Interagency Policy Committee, and the National Security Council. However, these means of U.S. coordination are unchanged from the 2008 Action Plan. In GAO-14-422, Maritime Security: Ongoing U.S. Counterpiracy Efforts Would Benefit From Agency Assessments, we found that agencies have identified roles and responsiblilities for applying the Maritime Operational Threat Response process to piracy incidents involving U.S. interests. Department of Justice officials also stated that the National Security Council had identified roles and responsibilities for transporting pirate suspects for prosecution in a framework document. However, we have not been given the opportunity to review this document.

    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

 

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