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Highlights

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.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs 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.
Closed - Implemented
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.
Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs 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.
Closed - Implemented
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.
Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.

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