DoD News Briefing with Vice Adm. Gortney from the Pentagon
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome.
It is my privilege to be able to introduce to you in person, instead of afar and on a TV screen, Vice Admiral William Gortney, who is the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. And he is in town and has been kind enough to give us some of his time to give us an operational update into what the 5th Fleet is doing as well as address some of your questions with respect to the formation of the new Combined Task Force 151 and counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
He is going to give you a brief overview and then get into some questions.
ADM. GORTNEY: Thanks.
MODERATOR: Admiral, thank you for joining us.
ADM. GORTNEY: Appreciate it.
ADM. GORTNEY: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon.
I thought I'd take this opportunity to provide an overview of current ops in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command AOR. And for those of you who traveled with Secretary Gates to the Manama Dialogue, it's good seeing you again. Some of these introductory remarks will be secondhand to you.
But I took command of NAVCENT at the beginning of July and I wear three hats. I think this is important for everybody to understand, is the command relationships that we have out there. As a NAVCENT commander, I report directly to General Petraeus for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. I also serve as the commander of the United States 5th Fleet. It's the Navy's numbered fleet in the region. And I also serve as the commander of the Combined Maritime Forces. It's a coalition of more than 20 nations, clearly a coalition of the willing who provide staff officers, sailors, ships and aircraft to the region.
My deputy for the Combined Maritime Forces is a British one-star, Commodore Tim Lowe. And together, we operate in a maritime environment to ensure stability and security throughout the region. And it's a busy region.
On an average day, we currently have over 13,000 sailors' boots on the ground -- 6,000 in Iraq, a little over 2,000 in Afghanistan -- and 10,000 afloat. So that tells you I have more ashore than I do at sea.
And the Navy's presence in the AOR is just -- it's just over 23,000 sailors. And whether it's in Bahrain, Baghdad, or Bagram, our sailors are making a tremendous difference every single day.
As most of you're aware, the United States Navy has maintained an aircraft carrier strike group presence in the AOR for over two decades. And for the past several years, the carrier has been primarily operating in the Arabian Gulf supporting OIF. However, late last summer, at the direction of CENTCOM, we moved the carrier's primary area of operations outside the Arabian Gulf, and it's now supporting full time Operation Enduring Freedom. And the airwing sorties shifted from full support to OIF to OEF.
We still have shore-based aircraft, P-3s, EA-6Bs in OIF, but the embarked airwing is providing direct support, close-air support, to the troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Currently, it's Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Wing 8, and they're on station today, having a remarkable impact providing close-air support for the U.S. and allied forces against the enemy.
I next want to shift to piracy. I'm sure you're probably wondering why I would bring the topic up of piracy, but as most of you know, acts have spiked. It spiked in about the middle of August. It had been down to the two or three pirated vessels, and in August -- very aggressive increase in activity by a different clan on the north coast of Somalia. And as commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, I directed the establishment of the Maritime Security Patrol Area, coalition shifts and aircraft to patrol that area against destabilizing activity.
And while we initially gave the commodore of one of our existing taskforces -- that was CTF-150 -- I did so knowing that it was an additional mission for an already busy commander whose mandate was counterterrorism. And more importantly, I did so carefully, because I knew that some of our navies in the coalition do not have the authority to conduct piracy operations in CTF-150.
It's important to know that although the Coalition of the Willing To Combine Maritime Forces doesn't have a mandate, the CTFs themselves do. And they're all based on a particular mandate. And the nations, when they send their ships to support the Combined Maritime Forces, they do so to a particular CTF in that mandate. And our red line is, is that we'll never ask a member of the coalition to do something that its nation didn't -- doesn't want it to do.
So because of the complexity of operations, I determined it was necessary to establish CTF-151 to taskforce with a mission and a mandate from the U.N. to conduct counterpiracy operations throughout the AOR. And those nations that do not have the authority to do counterpiracy operations will most likely continue to work in CTF-150, while those other nations that do have the -- that are seeking authorities to do so will bring their collective capabilities to bear to deter, disrupt and eventually bring to justice the maritime criminals involved in the piracy events.
And before I turn it over for questions, I'd like to bring up one additional issue, and that's the return of adult family members to Bahrain.
In early November, we joined the U.S. embassy in Manama to jointly announce that DOD had approved the return of adult family members to Bahrain, and my wife was the first dependent to join us. The return of our adult members reinforces the security and stability in the region. It demonstrates our enduring commitment to our host, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and will make the quality of life for service members and DOD civilians even better.
And we hope that the word of the return of family members of all ages will be forthcoming soon. I look forward to having a front-row seat watching that occur. It's a great place in Bahrain.
And with that, I'd like to take a few of your questions. Sir.
Q Can you give us a sense of the size and the scope of all the vessels now dedicated to counter-piracy? You've got 151. We've got this got this Atalia , or Alanta?
ADM. GORTNEY: The EU, EU NAVFOR, the European Union, has sent Atalia to contribute. We have 14 nations that have sent their navies, working either bilaterally or by themselves or in part of a coalition. A lot of them are in the EU. We have the combined maritime forces that are operating now under CTF 151. And then there are those like Russia and China that are operating independently.
Q One follow-up. How do you command and -- how do you network all these forces so they're not all clustered in one area? How do you do command and control of all these nations?
ADM. GORTNEY: It's coordination of effort, it's not a command and control, because there are so many different nations involved that don't belong in the Combined Maritime Forces in a clean chain of command. So we coordinate at the operational level in my headquarters at the Combined Maritime Forces with those nations that are there. The EU has liaison officers in my staff, embedded into my staff, and we coordinate at that level.
And at the tactical level or on the waterfront, CTF-151 is now responsible to manage that tactical deconfliction. And we do that by publishing our intentions and our effectiveness and our schedules. It's all unclassified. We share that through all unclassified means. With the Chinese, we're exchanging e-mails with them on the unclassified net. With the Russians it's a little different. We're transmitting that over bridge-to-bridge radio. So it's from the most basic form of radio transmission to -- for the nations that are part of CENTRIX, that are part of our coalition to a very networked operation.
Q One more on rules of engagement. Do all the nations have different rules of engagement? And can you give us a feel for the most extreme, the French or the Danes, they go in there and capture pirates, versus others who don't?
ADM. GORTNEY: All of the nations are operating under the authorities from the UNSCR. However, different nations have different -- might be more restrictive than the UNSCRs. So unless they're operating within the coalition, they're operating underneath their national authorities.
Q Okay, thanks.
ADM. GORTNEY: Sir.
Q Can you talk about the impact specifically of the Chinese and Russian participation in this effort? What sort of impact have they had on the effort? And are you satisfied with the level of cooperation that you described?
ADM. GORTNEY: Yeah, I think, it's -- from all of the nations, I think, it's really a fascinating story to watch unfold as, at this point, 14 nations have sent their navies to work against this destabilizing activity. And their participating in different efforts.
I think it's a very positive sign that Russia's down there and that China's down there. They have made an impact. They're primarily doing escorts of their own national flag vessels. That's how they're choosing to do it. And that allows us to go focus elsewhere with the rest of the ships that are down there. So we look forward to their continued participation.
Q So they're not hunting pirates per se. They're just doing escort --
ADM. GORTNEY: That's correct. No one is down there hunting pirates. Everybody is down there in a disruption and a deterrent process.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the operation in more detail? And what do your forces do if they encounter suspicious boats, especially if they're not in the act of doing something? Do you have the authority to deal with those folks, in any way, in international waters? And what are your orders regarding any detainees that you might take?
ADM. GORTNEY: Currently I'm going to have to take you back just a few, take you back just a few days. But when the activity spiked in the middle of August, we sat down. We knew we had -- our current process wasn't working, and we had to take a new look at it.
We knew that the problem of piracy started ashore. And it's because there is not a rule of law. There isn't a governance. There isn't economic stability. There isn't a court system that will hold these criminals responsible for their actions. And so the ultimate solution is ashore proper.
So we had to focus on prevention efforts at sea. And we developed a campaign plan. We created, working with the International Maritime Organization, the Maritime Security Patrol Area, a place to channel the shipping, so that we can concentrate naval activity, to make our naval activity more effective, because we knew we would be ineffective alone. And we went off on three lines of influence.
The first one was to bring more navies into it, international navies, to bring more of the international community to help solve this international problem and to bring more navies into it.
The second one was to work with the shipping industry on best practices to, what can they do to prevent pirates from successfully getting onboard their vessel?
And the third line of influence was to work through the interagency process to find a way to solve what we call the persons under control: When we capture a pirate, where do we take him? Where do we hold him? Where -- what court system tries him and holds him? If they're found guilty, hold them accountable for their actions.
We've had great effects in the first two -- once again, 14 nations at that are down there. The shipping industry is having the greatest impact. They're doing a terrific job of sharing best practices, speed, maneuver and non-kinetic defensive measures that will prevent pirates from getting on board the vessel. And we have had great effect on that. And we've actually gotten -- in the last six weeks there's only been four successful piracy attacks.
The down side of that, though, is that the attacks continue. And if we're going to be -- whether there's -- the -- they're all -- all the rest have been unsuccessful, and if we're going to be effective, it's coming to closure on our last one, where we capture the pirates and take them to a court of law and, if they're found guilty, hold them accountable for their actions.
We're close with that. The State Department's close on finalizing an agreement with one of the nations out there. And once we get that authority, then we're going to change my orders. And my orders right now to the coalition are disrupt, deter, but do not capture. But once we get the authorities, what we -- that we need there and a place to take them, then we're going to go -- my orders will change to disrupt, deter and capture, and try and hold them accountable for their actions.
Q Can you just fill in the rest of those numbers, how many unsuccessful attempts the last six weeks and how does that -- the numbers compare to the spike period?
ADM. GORTNEY: We've been averaging for about the last three months 12 to 14 per month unsuccessful attacks. This month alone we're at that number. So that should tell you that we're not being 100 percent successful in the deterrence of the attempt, and that's where we have to go after -- our efforts, once again, of driving the successful numbers have been good, two in -- four in the last six weeks, but not the -- from the attacks occurring. And we want the attacks to stop occurring. There's two ways to do that. We have to disincentivize the process, disincentivize pirates from being pirates, and one of them is to say that they can't make any money, but the shipping industry will continue to pay them if they're successful once they get on board.
The second thing is, we have to make it unpleasant to be a pirate, and that's where, when we can capture them and try them and hold them accountable for their actions, if they're found guilty, is the way we're going to go after that.
Q On Iran, if I could, just over a year ago we were all focusing on the actions of Iranian fast boats in the straits. We haven't heard much since then. Can you update us on what the IRGC navy is doing in the Gulf, the regular navy outside the Gulf?
And then, at the strategic level, how is Iran using its naval force to influence American actions and those of our allies and partners?
ADM. GORTNEY: Yes. I was deployed out there on the Harry S. Truman as a strike group commander starting in November of last year. And for the -- about the two or three months before the January '08 event that you talked to, the IRGCN was being very aggressive and unprofessional and provocative, to the point on 6 January -- making high-speed runs very close to one of our destroyers, putting objects in the water that could be perceived as mines. And that destroyer was in international waters doing exactly what -- it had every right to be there.
Since that time, we haven't seen any of that activity. The regular navy is outside of Strait of Hormuz, as you mentioned; the IRGCN is inside. And we have not seen that provocative nature. Do not know why. We think it's a positive sign that we haven't seen it. And what we do is we monitor our activity very carefully of where they are and where we are, and make sure that our forces, should they interact with each other, don't create an event that might escalate out of control by our governments.
Q And beyond that tactical assessment, how does Iran use its navy for political ends in the Gulf?
ADM. GORTNEY: I would have to say that they exercise their navy, like all nations exercise their navies, and there's a -- there's rhetoric that comes out of every one of those exercises. I think that's designed to instill confidence in their people and potentially intimidate their neighbors. That, I think, is not helpful. It doesn't conduce -- it doesn't promote stability and security in the region. But we see that their rhetoric is much greater than their real capability.
Q Are the Iranians cooperating with your anti-piracy measures in some way?
ADM. GORTNEY: We have not seen that at this point, no, sir.
Q Sir, given what you know about the current operations, how do you evaluate, how do you see the region -- regional cooperation? I mean, the Gulf countries' cooperation?
ADM. GORTNEY: It's very, very good. You know, the reason we created CTF-151 was to create a combined task force from within the coalition with a piracy mandate.
Down there right now, Saudi Arabia's participating in associated support in that organization, with that and counter-piracy efforts. The UAE will be sending vessels down there. We're equipping and training with them to send their vessels to operate either within CTF- 151 or with CTF-151.
The -- so we think it's a positive sign that they're -- they value, they recognize the importance of the waters that they share and they're going to contribute in that stability and security of that region.
Q Once you get the agreement with the country on where to prosecute these pirates, will that mean putting small boats in the water, doing more proactive things, boarding some of the pirates' vessels?
ADM. GORTNEY: We are going to aggressively go after the pirates that are conducting pirate activity. And it's going to be a mixture of surveillance and then rapid action once we observe them, because we have to -- you know we're going to have to adhere to rules of evidence. And so what's very clear in the UNSCR is if someone is in the act of piracy then they're pirates. And if we maintain a positive ID on them while they watch it and then we track them down and we coerce them into surrendering and then we'll arrest them and take them to that particular country that will hold them accountable for their actions if they're found guilty. So the rules of evidence is very, very important to us.
If we come across a vessel that has what we call pirate paraphernalia, which -- this is what we're seeing right now. They're very small skiffs and they have small arms, AK-47s, RPGs and ladders. And although from a distance they may be small skiffs being towed by another mother ship, they look just like any other fishing vessel out there in the region. It's the most -- kind of some of the best fishing area in the world. So they're all over the place.
But when you come upon them and you look into their skiffs and they have AK-47s, RPGs and ladders, they're not very good for pirates. I mean to -- I mean, that's not very good equipment to fish with. So then we take it; we document it; we throw the pirate paraphernalia overboard and then we let them go. And we will arrest them once we get those authority. Once we come across them like that we'll arrest them, see if we then have the rules of evidence that the country will try them.
Q When do you anticipate getting this authority and what will it all --
ADM. GORTNEY: We're expecting it within the -- within this week, next week. But we're very, very close.
Q (Off mike) -- on a unnamed nation thus far saying we'll take them and prosecute them?
ADM. GORTNEY: That's correct. And I'd prefer not to mention that nation until that's publicly announced.
Q Is the nation in the Middle East, though, or is it, you know, in Europe or something --
ADM. GORTNEY: It would be within that region -- within the region.
Q Can we follow up on Somalia for a minute? You talk about the maritime action, but under the terms of the UNSCR, they say all action. What's your view, now, about either potential air action or going ashore?
ADM. GORTNEY: Well, our authorities are going to be to work on the prevention efforts at sea. And that's where we're focusing on on this one. Should the UNSCR give -- it gives us the authorities to go ashore. The policy of how that would be implemented has not trickled down to my level, and so I'll have to defer to that until it does.
Q But in fact, I think in the past you have talked about your concern about if any action in the air or on shore -- your concerns about civilian casualties, that it would be very difficult to undertake anything like that. So do you still feel that way?
ADM. GORTNEY: I do have to weigh any time -- well, Barbara, you're familiar with my history and my background. And I've been involved in dropping bombs for a long time. And so when we talk kinetic activity in our business, one of the things that we're concerned about is we hit what we're supposed to hit and we don't hit what we're not supposed to hit and the collateral damage associated with it.
So whether we're dropping bombs, if we get ordered to drop bombs in Somalia, or put precision fires in Somalia or whether it's in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere in the world, those -- our concerns don't change. We want to make sure we hit what we're supposed to hit and not hit what we're not supposed to hit. And that's what my comments were about.
Q Now, you also said at the beginning here that this aggressive period was by a particular Somali clan on the north shore.
ADM. GORTNEY: That's correct.
Q Can you target -- do you yet see any links to radical Islamic movements inside Somalia? Do you see clan links here? Do you see links to the Islamic Courts Union?
ADM. GORTNEY: Thanks for asking that question. No, we look very, very carefully for links to terrorism and -- any form of terrorism -- and we do not see that link right now. And the reason we watch for it is terrorism is fueled by money. And so anywhere that there -- people are making a lot of money, we think the terrorists will go. But right now we do not see that linkage.
Al-Shabab, which is operating in the south -- the al-Shabab and the pirates, they hate each other. The clans and al-Shabab hate each other right now. We'd want to be very careful that whatever we do, we don't drive them together.
But we do not see that link now and we -- it would be a significant game-changer if we see it develop.
Q Robert Gibbs, who is the spokesman for President-elect Obama, said yesterday that the new commander-in-chief would get rid of "don't ask, don't tell." Do you think that's a good idea? What is your reaction to that?
ADM. GORTNEY: Wow. That's a policy decision well above pay grade, outside of my AOR. So I'll have to defer -- I'm going to have to defer from that particular question right now.
ADM. GORTNEY: Yes, ma'am.
Q I was wondering about the score of successful attacks you referenced a little while ago. Can you give us any details about them, you know, where the vessels were from, you know, what the pirates got, where the pirates were from, that kind of thing?
ADM. GORTNEY: Sure.
We break the target vessels up into the type of vessel, the type of merchant vessel that happens to be out there. It takes two things to have a successful piracy attack. You need a pirate and you need a ship that eventually lets the pirates get onboard.
When the coalition navies are out there, there aren't any -- if they see us, they're not pirates; they're fishermen. When we're not there, they could be pirates.
When it comes to the merchant vessel itself, if the vessel is maneuvering at speed, a speed over 15 knots, and has a high freeboard from the deck down to the water, pirates won't even attempt to get onboard, because it's just too hard a target to get onboard.
So they go after what we call the low and slow vessels, 13-14 knots or slower with a low freeboard. And then that allows these very small boats -- I mean, these boats are no bigger, are smaller than this platform that I'm standing on here today.
And so if they're not able to maneuver, they slow down. And it makes it a lot easier for the pirates to get onboard, by putting grappling hooks up or putting one of those ladders up onboard. And that's usually the case.
Now, the shipping industry has been very good for those vessels. We've seen vessels be very successful putting barbed wire around the low parts of the vessel, slippery foam on it.
We had a vessel the other day, a couple weeks ago, that they just locked themselves in the bridge. And the pirates got onboard but they couldn't get inside the bridge. And then the master inside, safely inside, inside his bridge, called for the coalition. The coalition showed up with a helicopter. Now the pirates knew they had to get off the vessel. And they got off the vessel.
So that's the sort of thing that's occurring. It's really -- they don't target a particular vessel. They target a vessel that they can easily get on.
Q So it's any contraband basically.
ADM. GORTNEY: Anything. They stop any vessel that gets on there.
So if a vessel makes itself a hard target through speed, maneuver or any of that, then they just won't bother. They'll wait for that, you know, the low, slow sheikh that lets himself get boarded.
Q You mention that there's a clan on the north Somali coast who has been involved in a lot of this piracy. Is there any way that you can directly pressure them short of, say, attacks on the ground?
ADM. GORTNEY: That's the good thing about the international community and the contact group that just reported out yesterday, that's bringing all of the international community to bear to help work, address some of the issues ashore. That's the -- it's very, very positive, I think that's going -- they're going after the root cause and applying all measures available, all tools in the toolbox available to do that.
How that pans out we'll see, and we encourage that activity from occurring.
Myself, I focus on the prevention efforts at sea.
Q Sir, can you give a brief update on where the Faina sits? There's been a couple of reports that they've been close to having a ransom paid. And to that end, can you also talk about what you all are doing, or maybe plan to do, in talking with these various shipping companies about paying ransom? As you said -- that it's -- you know, they make -- (inaudible) --
ADM. GORTNEY: Motor vessel Faina's the only vessel that we're monitoring underneath our U.S. national hat. When it was pirated on the night of September 25th, and we knew what was on board the vessel, we did it because we did not want the weapons of the magnitude that are on board Faina to get ashore and further destabilize a destabilized region.
And we've been monitoring it ever since. We opened up the -- we started talking with the pirates, and we said that they could resupply Faina but they were not allowed to offload anything from that vessel. And if they did, we would sink the vessel that they were offloading into.
And so then it goes into the negotiation phase. And just like with Faina and all the vessels, we don't get involved in the negotiation phase. We monitor the -- of all the vessels over there, how much fuel is on board, how much water's on board, how much -- how many days' food do they have. We monitor, through any intel means that we might have available, the status of the negotiations. But we do not get involved in the -- directly involved with the negotiation process.
So -- and Faina is -- it usually takes 45 days for the negotiation to come to closure, and Faina's obviously taken longer than that. And -- but we see encouraging signs that have -- cleaned up the negotiation process, and we hope it's going to come to closure here soon.
Q In general, going a little bit further, though, are you talking with the shipping industry at all about paying ransoms -- (inaudible) -- causes trouble -- you know --
ADM. GORTNEY: If we're asked, we will always recommend to go ahead and pay the ransom. It's -- you know, it comes down to the cargo on board versus the hostages.
Right now, we have 11 vessels pirated, with 210 hostages. And so, to be frank, our concern for those hostages, those merchant mariners that are from around the world, you know, who signed up -- who did not sign up for the risks that those of us who wear the cloth of our nations sign up for, that we're willing to take the risk. So our concern for those hostages is -- is great. So the quicker they close, to let the hostages go, we think is a good thing.
ADM. GORTNEY: Yes, sir?
Q Could you give us your personal assessment on the French base in UAE? How do you see that decision?
ADM. GORTNEY: I think that's a -- extremely positive sign, that the French want to move into -- I believe it's Jebel Ali -- oh, no, Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is where I think the base is going to be. And the France -- and France is getting involved inside the Arabian Gulf. We think that is a positive thing.
And we have a very, very good relationship with the French navy out there. It's an enduring relationship. You know, the French navy's been with us and the French government's been with us in OEF from the day it started, and have been at our side ever since.
Q Yes, sir. Could you give us the updated information on the older taskforce CTF-150? Has there been any late detention or capture of the suspected terrorists?
ADM. GORTNEY: We haven't picked up a terrorist in CTF-150 in quite a few years. Probably, I think the last one was when I was an airwing commander on Kennedy in the opening days of OEF.
We've focused our efforts now on understanding the smuggling networks that the terrorists might use, and we now are focusing on the smugglers that are moving hashish out of the Makran Coast and smuggling it down into Somalia and into Yemen for further transit into the West, into Saudi Arabia and then into the Western European nations.
And I think this last year we busted over -- got 68 tons of hashish. We haven't found the opium, and that's what we're looking for. But the real purpose there is to understand that network, because we know that network feeds the Taliban. Drugs are the fuel for terrorists, and they're poisoning our youth, and we're focusing on that to get a better understanding of that network.
Q What's Taskforce 151 going to look like in a year? As I understand it now, it's a coalition, but of three United States ships only. So who do you expect to join, when, and what's it going to -- what's it going to look like full force?
ADM. GORTNEY: Yeah. The only reason 151 is U.S. only -- and now U.K. will be signing up for it -- is because the nations have to get a mandate. Their forces have to get a mandate to serve with the CTF. So it takes a while for that process to work. And we see great -- a great deal of interest in people joining, the nations joining 151, because they now have a mandate to do the counterpiracy. It's CTF that gives them the authorities to do that.
So we see, either working within 151 or an associated, we see Saudi, UAE, the U.K., Pakistan, Australia has made interest into it, Turkey has made very positive signs into it. So there's a number of countries, a significant number of countries, to be frank, that we -- I think six months, a year from now, once they're processed and they get the authorities, will be a part of CTF-151, as well as CTF-150.
Q Any interest from the Chinese?
ADM. GORTNEY: Not to join the coalition, but we are sharing information with them. I've seen that -- we've seen that in there. We're exchanging unclassified e-mails and radio transmissions. We're receiving their reports of what they have done. We look forward to being able to get reports with what they're going to do, what their planned events are going to do, because we share that with them so that we can better coordinate our activities down there.
STAFF: We have time for maybe a couple more here.
ADM. GORTNEY: Thanks.
Q There's been this increased, obviously, in the past few weeks, few months, international efforts -- anti-piracy, deterrence, what not, in the waters. But you said yourself that there have already been a total of 14 attempts this month. Why is it? Why is it there's been this dramatic increase in piracy in the last six or eight months? Obviously, there's the incentive for the money, but what beyond that is the --
ADM. GORTNEY: The money. It's all about the money. These all used to be fishermen. And now it's more lucrative to be a pirate. So we need to de-incentivize this enthusiasm to be a pirate and get them back to fishing. And once they saw that it was paying very well, $1.5 (million) to $2 million a ship, and there's always ships out there, and the policemen, so to speak, the navies of the world, don't have a place to take me and arrest me and hold me accountable for my actions, there's no lack of support for it.
So that's what we're going to do, is go after those number of attacks, to drive that number of attack down by disincentivizing. It's not going to be fun to be a pirate.
Q Sir, can you confirm that the pirates who left the MV Sirius Star, some of them drowned when they were leaving, and that some of that ransom was lost in the waters? And was that a natural occurrence?
ADM. GORTNEY: No. Well, I read about exactly what happened in the press. We did not witness the drowning. But one of the pirates was interviewed as to what happened. And once again, any loss of life is a tragic loss of life. And they did a sharp turn when they thought they were being attacked from the beach, which was just celebratory fire, what I heard -- from what I read into it, and they drowned and the money was in their pocket. Yeah.
Q The task force was not involved in it?
ADM. GORTNEY: We were not involved, not involved in that. We don't get involved in the transfer of the money, which is now being parachuted in. I mean, we're talking pretty low-tech here, transferring cash. And then if a nation asks and we're able, we help, you know, escort the vessel away, or if they need a tow or anything like that we'll do that if we're asked, if we have the ability to do it, because sometimes we're just not around to be able to do it and they want to get their vessel clear. But the negotiations, the transfer of the money, we don't get involved with that.
Q Are you authorized to chase pirates and, you know -- what are your rules of engagement in terms of disincentivizing them?
ADM. GORTNEY: We have all of the authorities we need, really, to go after the pirates. If we see them in a piracy attack or they have the pirate paraphernalia, we have the authorities to go after them and use lethal fire to take them under our custody. The problem is, there's not a way to -- until we have a mechanism to hold them accountable and try them for their actions, there's no way to finish the problem.
And that's where that last line is so important, because once we get that, we can go after the problem that you brought up, which is to disincentivize. It's to stop the number of piracy attacks.
Q So you've been talking about piracy, Somalia, Iran, your whole area of operations. If you were to sit down with President- elect Obama and give him the same operational and security briefing that you've given us, what would you want the new president to know? And what would you tell him to be concerned about in your region?
ADM. GORTNEY: I would say that the stability and the security in the region, in the maritime, is better than I've ever seen it.
The metric for stability and security, I think, is a good one to go after, is to look at business investment. And even despite the recession, business only invests where there's stability and security. And if you look in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and, of course, the Emirates, the amount of growth, even with the current economic outlook, it's been pretty good.
We see statistically, if you take the piracy piece at its face value, we estimate between the beginning of January to the end of November, just through the Maritime Security Patrol Area alone, over 24,000 vessels have transited. Your chances of being pirated is a 0.13 percent chance of being pirated, successfully pirated. If you use the International Maritime Organization's numbers, that number drops to 0.06.
So statistically it's a pretty small number. And the global economy is flowing pretty well through there. That is not affected by the economic downturn, the global economic downturn. We see the destabilizing activity out of the IRGCN that was in the Arabian Gulf; we haven't seen it in over a year. We think that's healthy as well.
So I would also say though, the nations that are out there, because I talk to most of their navy leadership and DOD leadership. They want us out there. They know that the United States Navy has been out there for over 60 years and will be out there for another 30 or 40, God-willing. And they want us to be there, because they know we provide that stability and security in that region. Because the United States Navy maintains a credible, forward-deployed force, no other navy has to.
Q What do you worry about out there, if it's all going this well? What should he be worried about?
ADM. GORTNEY: It could all change pretty quick. And stability and security sometimes can be a fragile, fragile situation out there.
But it's all trending in the correct direction, from the way I look at it.
Q Can I just ask one question about Afghanistan? You said you moved the carrier down to -- (inaudible) -- operations there. What do you expect the next six months, in terms of your activity to support the effort in Afghanistan?
ADM. GORTNEY: Well, as we close more forces that are -- into Afghanistan, those forces will probably go into more areas. And if they're -- that area's contested by the Taliban, the level of violence will go up, and so our forces will have to respond.
And we provide -- you know, once again, from the aircraft carrier, over 70 percent of her daily hours are supported through that close air support. And we'll continue to give those numbers and, as much as we can, give more, as it's needed.
Q (Off mike) -- another request, another -- no, not another carrier --
ADM. GORTNEY: We have not seen that request. But as the CENTCOM works the requirements on where -- on the way ahead, if another carrier's needed, then they would ask for it.
MODERATOR: (Off mike) -- to bring it to a close. Thank you, all.
Q Thank you, Admiral.
Q Thank you, Admiral.
ADM. GORTNEY: Sure.