January 04, 2010, Kaiserslautern, Germany —- U.S. Africa Command has bolstered its anti-piracy forces with the recent addition of maritime patrol aircraft and more personnel in the Seychelles islands.
The Navy last month deployed three P-3 Orion aircraft from the Maine-based VP-26 Tridents, along with 112 sailors, to the Seychelles to patrol the waters off East Africa and the island nation for pirates. Patrol Squadron 26’s insignia, a skull over a compass and two bombs or torpedoes that form an X, resembles the Jolly Roger flag, which symbolizes piracy.
"They can cover a wide area of water and a wide area in general and they can stay up a long time," said Navy Capt. John Moore, the commodore of Combined Task Force 67 in Sigonella, Italy, which flies P-3s. "The P-3 is uniquely suited for counterpiracy missions."
P-3s operating out of the Seychelles’ Mahe regional airport can stay airborne for up to eight hours, he said.
Four vessels were seized off the Somalia coast last week as pirates continue to make millions of dollars in ransom money despite extra safety measures by merchant ships and an international armada.
The move to base P-3s in the Seychelles comes after the Navy tested the idea in August by operating an Orion out of the airport and the U.S. started flying Reaper drones from the island nation more than a month ago to combat piracy. U.S. Africa Command and Navy officials said there are no plans to arm the P-3s and Reapers.
Moore described the mission so far as a success, but he stopped short of saying whether P-3s will be deployed routinely to the Seychelles. Orions rotate in and out of the Horn of Africa area every six months.
The program to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in the Horn of Africa was planned to last several months but may be lengthened as its effectiveness is determined, AFRICOM officials said in an e-mail.
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