WASHINGTON– The presence of partner nations and the newly formed task force to reduce the number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden seem to be working, the commander of Combined Task Force 151 said.

“I think the combination of the coalition working together [with] the maritime community has decreased the pirate activity over the last couple of months,” Navy Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, also the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2, told bloggers and online journalists during a Defense Department bloggers roundtable yesterday.

The task force was formed earlier this month and comprises three ships — USS San Antonio, USS Mahan and HMS Portland — that are collaborating with other nations to deter future pirate attacks.

While a number of factors — even the weather — can impact the number of attacks, McKnight gave credit to the European Union and the nations involved in anti-piracy operations, as well as the task force, with helping to decrease attacks since early December.

“Some things have changed that have helped us in this case to combat piracy,” McKnight said. “The United Nations has come out with several resolutions … that give us more authority to combat piracy.”

U.N. Resolution 1846, approved by the United Nations Security Council on Dec. 2, authorizes states and regional organizations cooperating with the Somali transitional government to enter Somalia’s territorial waters and use ”all necessary means” to combat piracy. Two weeks later, U.N. Resolution 1851 was approved, and calls for those states and organizations to “actively participate in defeating piracy and armed robbery off Somalia’s coast by deploying naval vessels and military aircraft, and through seizure and disposition of boats and arms used in the commission of those crimes.”

The other recent change that has assisted in combating piracy is the maritime community itself, McKnight said.

“We have tried very hard to say to the maritime community, there are just not enough Navy ships out there to cover 1.1 million square miles,” he said.

McKnight added that creating a safe corridor allows the nations involved in combating piracy to offer protection to the maritime vessels transiting through the Gulf of Aden.

In standing up Combined Task Force 151, McKnight said, he hopes to “make it unpleasant to be in the pirate business.”

“Right now, we have about 14 nations out here with about 20 ships,” he said. “We’ve had some encouraging signs from other ships and other nations to join the task force. I expect that by the spring we will have quite a few ships joining.”

McKnight said these and other nations involved and those interested in participating in the future all share the same goal of “free commerce.”

“We have to make sure that we have free commerce throughout the open seas and throughout the world,” McKnight said.

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