The International Law Department is the Naval War College's focal point for the study of international law, oceans policy, and operational law as they affect U.S. military policy, strategy and operations and advances the understanding of these areas through research, publication, teaching and international engagement.

More than 50 experts from various U.S. and international government and nongovernmental organizations gathered at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) for a two-day conference about piracy in the Horn of Africa that concluded on April 8.


The first of its kind at NWC, the "Legal Expert's Workshop on Maritime Piracy in the Horn of Africa," focused on the nature of Somali piracy, commercial shipping security and industry approaches, international naval anti-piracy operations, diplomatic policy, and U.S. legal and policy issues surrounding piracy.


The latest piracy attack on a U.S.-flagged cargo ship on April 8 brought even more relevance to the workshop's purpose for the organizers and participants.


"In the months of November and December 2008 and January 2009, more progress was made on counterpiracy diplomacy and international law than in the previous 90 years," said U.S. Navy Cmdr. James Kraska, professor of international law at NWC and the workshop's organizer.  "The seizure of the Maersk Alabama, however, illustrates that there is still much to be done in fine-tuning the international effort. We hope we will be able to develop some recommendations for doing so."


Hosted by NWC's International Law Department with support from the Naval War College Foundation, participants included U.S. and international naval and coast guard officers and representatives from the shipping industry, various non-governmental institutes and foundations, Science Applications International Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the Departments of State and Transportation.


"We have people with a lot of experience, operational experience, legal experience, academic experience," said workshop moderator and adjunct faculty member Lawrence Modisett.  "Just about every question that has come up, there's been someone in the room who would be the go-to person regardless. We get these people together and start getting them to exchange ideas and build on each other’s ideas. It's a great environment for innovative thinking and informed thinking."


Dennis Mandsager, professor and department chair, invited representatives from the naval forces of India, Japan, NATO and other nations, as well as top scholars in the field of international maritime law, to participate in the event.


"The perspectives of the different parties involved and different agencies in the U.S. and the different countries that are represented here, they all have a particular perspective depending upon their legal system, their defense capabilities, their interests in the region where piracy is occurring," said Dr. Frank Wiswall, Jr., vice president for Comite Maritime International, a nongovernmental international organization that contributes to the unification of maritime law. "It's fascinating to see the interplay of these various interests. That to me, makes it entirely worthwhile."


Throughout the workshop, participants utilized NWC's Decision Support Center, which allows for live collaboration through state-of-the-art tools designed to support group activities for collaborative research. The software allows simultaneous and anonymous input of data, and enables statistical analysis of the data.  The participants delivered presentations and considered a packed agenda of analysis on strategies or approaches to bring legal and policy tools to bear on the problem.


Tetsuo Kotani, a research fellow with Ocean Policy Research Foundation, said it was important for him to attend the workshop to hear the views of representatives from other countries.


"Japan is now sending naval ships to the Somali waters, and the question is how to coordinate our activities with other countries," said Kotani. His organization publishes recommendations to the Japanese government and for the public about issues such as the importance of counterpiracy measures.


U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Sandra Selman, an organizer for the event and NWC professor of international law, indicated that the results of the workshop will be analyzed and disseminated through a report to both government and shipping organizations. 


"We want to get the highlights of the workshop on the street quickly within a couple of weeks," said Selman. "We will then put together a comprehensive analysis of workshop results for later publication."


"This workshop has been very timely, and I think out of it are going to come a number of suggested solutions for not just the immediate problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden but approaching the whole matter, the whole difficulty of piracy and related attacks whether motivated by private gain or terrorist attacks," said Wiswall.


By Matthew Breen, Naval War College Public Affairs
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