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May 05, 2009

Inhofe Opening Statement: Armed Services Committee Hearing on Piracy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today welcomed to the committee the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michèle A. Flournoy, USN Director for Strategic Plans and Policy Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vice Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., and Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador Stephen D. Mull.  During the hearing, at which he served as the Ranking Member, Senator Inhofe discussed the ongoing efforts to combat piracy on the high seas.





Inhofe Opening Statement (As Prepared for Delivery)




Senator Levin, thank you.


It is remarkable in this first decade of the 21st Century that we should be having a hearing on the issue of piracy, particularly involving pirate attacks off the coast of Africa.  We could almost look back in time two hundred years to the first decade of the 19th Century and ask our predecessors for their advice.  Today, we hear from representatives of the Obama Administration, while in their day, pirate attacks off Africa were a problem for the new Thomas Jefferson Administration. Both now and then, our resolve is being tested.


The early traditions and reputation of our Navy and Marine Corps were established, in large part, during those early responses by the young United States to the threat of piracy.  Our determination as a Nation to not pay ransom to pirates and their sponsors ashore…the international terrorists of their day…helped establish the enduring character of America by demonstrating that we would not tolerate attacks on American property and citizens anywhere in the world, no matter how far from our shores.


Our unwillingness to seek an easy solution by paying off the pirates, as other European counties had done as an incidental cost of international maritime trade, was not simply a matter of national honor for a young country seeking its place among the world powers.  Rather, the decision by the United States to fight the pirates was carefully considered, based on a keen appreciation as a seafaring nation that paying ransom to pirates--or other terrorists--simply emboldens them and increases the risk to our national security.  The same holds true today.


I appreciate that you have scheduled this important hearing. I recently returned from a trip to Djibouti where I had an opportunity to discuss the pirate situation in detail with Admiral Fitzgerald, Commander of US Naval Force Africa, and Rear Admiral Kurta, Commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.  I also am very familiar with the root cause of the piracy problem off Somalia, which is the long-term breakdown of an effective government and law and order there.  So, I come to this hearing with some significant background concerning matters in Africa as a whole, and in Somalia in particular. 


I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the efforts the United States is taking, both on its own, and with coalition partners, both to combat piracy at sea and to establish a better long-term solution ashore in Somalia. The threat of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia’s coast has been steadily growing since last August. 


However, the recent attack on a U.S.-flagged vessel, the Maersk ALABAMA, and the dramatic and extraordinarily professional rescue of Captain Richard Phillips by Navy SEALS last month has sharpened the seriousness of this issue for the United States.  It has also increased the stakes for all the other countries whose 25,000 vessels steam annually off the Horn of Africa along a coastline that would stretch from Portland, Maine to Miami, Florida. 


I look forward to hearing any details about the rescue of Captain Phillips that the witnesses can share.  I think that the success of that operation has, once again, vividly demonstrated the incredible capabilities of our special operations forces. I have enormous pride in the SEALS who were able to affect a flawless rescue of Captain Phillips.


I understand that some Somali tribes have sworn revenge against the U.S. and other U.S. vessels and citizens as a result of our success and I’d like your candid assessment of threats we may face. I would also like the witnesses to discuss the details of our new coalition task force off Somalia, how it coordinates with other navies, including those of the European Union, Russia, China, India, and Saudi Arabia, among others, and the challenges faced by these efforts at sea. 


I would like them to discuss the status of our efforts to hold pirates accountable and prosecute them under our recent Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Kenya, and in the recent case of the attack on the Maersk ALABAMA, the status of the prosecution of the surviving pirate here in the United States.  I would like to know more about what the U.S. and other nations are doing to work with shipping companies and their insurers to take preventive measures to reduce the threat of pirate attacks.


I understand, as the witnesses have indicated in their written statements, that the problem of piracy off Somalia will not be solved at sea by military means alone. While the Security Council has issued a number of resolutions authorizing the use of all necessary means to repress acts of piracy at sea, the real challenge and solution for these acts of violence lies ashore.  So, I look forward to hearing what is being done diplomatically and militarily to address the root problem of a lack of an effective, functioning government in Somalia.


Mr. Chairman, I join you in welcoming our distinguished witnesses and I look forward to their testimony.


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