Monday, May 04, 2009

Dealing with Somali Pirates

Background on the problem (in context)

Great CBC Report

With that said... this is not a legitimate excuse for the crimes that are being committed.

There are two main solutions to this problem; one tactical and the other strategic.


The hijackings could be made more difficult by using a comprehensive approach, combining maneuvers and tactics with increased security on board the ships. There must be layers of security.... not just one or two options. All options should be available to the captains and crew of merchant ships.

  • Run the ships at Maximum Speed to attempt to outrun the pirates (hard to do for very large ships when pirates are in small speed boats)

  • Use barbed wire to help prevent pirates from boarding the Ships

  • Use Non-lethal weapons such as Long Range Acoustic Device's (LRAD)

  • Use high pressure water hoses (may not be very effective if pirates are firing weapons)

  • Hire armed security teams to join crew

  • Train and arm crews with firearms

  • Add more Naval Forces to the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean off Somalia

  • I'm an advocate for arming the crews of Merchant ships in the Horn of Africa. However, I believe that the use of firearms should be a last resort. Firearms are particularly effective for large ships (in trained hands) because such ships provide the high ground for them a tactical advantage (even if the Pirates are using more powerful rifles). I also believe that firearms should be locked away on board until they are needed. Protective Gun shields (for rifles) should also be placed around the perimeter of these ships.

    Once merchant ships have security on board or they have armed crews, it will change the game of piracy. Once pirates begin to calculate and recognize that there is a heavy price to pay for attacking merchant ships, then they will (over time) be forced to find another line of work. Even if half the ships took these comprehensive measures, it would begin to raise doubts and concerns in the minds of pirates as to which ships are armed and which ones are not... it would raise so much doubt that pirates would be deterred enough to bypass more and more targets.

    Having security on board works. Just last week an Italian cruise ship was attacked by suspected Somali Pirates but the on board security team fought off the attack with small caliber firearms (proving that even small arms can have an impact in trained hands). We also know that LRAD's do work, and several cruise ship companies are investing in these non-lethal tools. However, these tools have to be part of a larger more comprehensive program. On their own, they may not be very effective.

    The shipping companies have balked at adding more security because they are more concerned about their bottom lines than the security of their employees. I don't think they care much about their employees at all. It should be illegal for a company to knowingly put its employees in harms way when there are measures that could be taken to increase security for their crews. The lack of action to protect employees in these situations led Richard Hicks, one of the crew members of the Maersk Alabama, to sue the owner of the ship and the company that manages the crew. Even Richard Phillips, the Maersk Captain who was taken hostage by Pirates, mentioned in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that arming the crews could be part of a comprehensive solution. But not surprisingly the owner of the shipping company disagreed during the same Senate hearing.... arguing that putting the safety of his employees in the hands of fate is a much better approach. (Of course what he was really saying was that he doesn't want to spend the money).

    Watch the Video of Richard Phillips Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    The shipping companies claim that the costs of taking preventive measures, adding armed security or arming the crews would be too much for them to pay. Yet, they have been paying ransoms to Pirates averaging $1-2 million per ship. Training crew members, adding armed guards or providing weapons for their ships would be far less expensive. Their response to that is - "Well... insurance rates would increase". I don't see how, considering that weapons would be locked away on board, and only used during legitimate emergencies. Also....only the Captain and first mate should have a key to access the weapons. Cruise Ship companies (those with armed security) don't seem to mind an increase in insurance...and that industry is struggling as well. If insurance costs do rise, that could be mitigated with subsidies from the Countries of origin (where shipping companies are based) or through some sort of special UN fund that could be set up. To me, the greater risk is knowingly sending employees into harms way, unarmed, putting them in a situation where they may not see their families again.

    There is a strategic solution to this problem as well...and it has to play out along with the tactical solutions.


    Bring Somalia out of its Failed State status. Whenever you have a Country that has no functioning government, (in this case) no Navy, and no economy, this sort of lawlessness is often the result. Men will always try to find a way to support themselves and their families. If no legitimate economy exists, then they will resort to illegal activity.

    The international community is partly to blame for this situation. Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush dropped the ball on Somalia, just like they failed Rwanda and Darfur. Somalia has been without a government since 1991. It is a nation led by tribes and criminal gangs who fight over territory. Yes, there is an officially recognized President that has emerged recently but he does not have effective control of the Country. The UN has to do more to help build a Somali Military, especially a Naval force, route out Tribal gangs, help Somalia rebuild its economy and educate its people. It will be difficult to do any of that now, because the situation has been allowed to fester unattended for so long. Unfortunately, due to the misdeeds of the Bush Administration, Americans are not in much of a mood to have another war or nation building adventure, especially in Africa where mitigating the suffering of the people has never been seen as a priority by the rest of the World. The only time that Africa has been seen as vital was when Europeans were raping the Continent of its natural resources. And even was the resources that concerned Europeans, not the people. Africans are the only people on this earth that can be allowed to die by the hundreds of thousands while the World sits back and does nothing. That kind of apathy in the face of suffering just doesn't happen on that kind of scale anywhere else in the World on such a consistent basis.

    Bottom line- until there are comprehensive solutions that address both tactical and strategic issues, that use multiple approaches to deal with the problem, and can provide layers of security, then Piracy off the coast of Somalia will continue.

    1 comment:

    KennebecCaptain said...

    Good post, I agree with putting security teams aboard, I don't like the idea of arming the crews.