Dealing With Somali Piracy (Updated)

Although Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips has been freed by the U. S. Navy from the Somali pirates who’d held him captive for several days and the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia has caught the attention of the American people, the matter is far from over. There will be after action reports, debriefings, and, no doubt, investigations. It’s my understanding that the FBI has impounded the Maersk Alabama and is treating it as a crime scene. Although three of Capt. Phillips’s captors were killed in the rescue, one is in the custody of the United States. There will undoubtedly be a lengthy trial and, possibly, incarceration, although it has been suggested that in the case of the fourth pirate there may be extenuating circumstances.

This might be a good opportunity to reflect on prospective alternatives for dealing with piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Amphibious assault on pirate bases

It wasn’t long after the Maersk Alabama was attacked before we started seeing proposals to follow Thomas Jefferson’s lead in dealing with the Tripoli pirates and attack the Somali pirates in their bases. The Russians have been proposing a joint amphibious operation for some time now.

Let’s say you’ve eliminated the current pirate bases. What then?

The cost of entry into piracy in Somalia is very low and the prospective rewards are high. After the current pirate bases have been eliminated all of the incentives will still be in place and there are lots of unemployed Somali fishermen.

It’s also worth mentioning that Americans have been reluctant to engage in land operations in Somalia since 1993.

Air assault

I’ve also heard various forms of air assault suggested. A BGM-109 Tomahawk costs a little over a half million dollars. How many would be needed?

This approach solves the problem of the U. S. reluctance to engage in further land activities in Somalia but otherwise has the problems of the approach outlined above.

I also don’t believe that this approach satisfies the criteria for a just war.

Convoys

The approach being eyed by the world’s navies, assembled in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden in pursuit of of Somali pirates seems to be performing convoy duty for ships in the region. Roughly 25% of the world’s shipping passes through this area and there simply aren’t enough available ships of the proper type.

The attack on the Maersk Alabama took place more than 700 km from shore, in the Indian Ocean. That’s a very large territory through which to convoy vessels.

“Anti-piracy”

John Robb has suggested that “anti-piracy” is the inevitable but self-defeating solution to the problem:

The Pyrrhic solution that will eventually be adopted is a combination of A) funded militias (Somali anti-pirates that raid pirate dens) and B) business as usual (private sector management ala the symbiosis detailed above).

His estimate of the cost of these “anti-pirates” is approximately $2-3 million per month. What could possibly go wrong?

Pay off the pirates

It’s been suggested that tributes be paid to the pirates to save them the trouble of actually attacking ships. I see no straightforward way to enforce this solution and it certainly lowers the already low cost of entry for piracy.

Create a pirate chief

Combining Eric Posner’s line of reasoning:

It would be much better if a single pirate leader controlled entry. Then we could do business with him, paying him a tribute (we might prefer to call it a “toll”) in return for a promise not to molest our ships. As a monopolist, he would have an incentive to limit “production” of piratical activity, relative to the unregulated market we currently live in. The monopolist essentially would be selling passage off the coast of Somalia, and would be constrained by competition from people who control alternative routes (which, unfortunately, seems limited). We might even expect the pirates to start organizing, or fighting among themselves, in an effort to establish a single firm that could obtain these monopoly rents. In the happy event that an organization emerged, we could call it a “state” and deal with it as we deal with any other state—paying it or pressuring to act as we want it to act, in light of its interests and capacities. We could even call this state “Somalia.” If the gains from rational management of this newly discovered resource—the power to block important sea lanes—provide sufficient incentives for Somalia’s warring clans to make a deal and reestablish a state that can control entry into the market, we should be sure to keep paying Somalia money (we might call it “foreign aid” if “tribute” or even “toll” is too irksome) rather than yield to the temptation to smash it to pieces.

with John Robb’s we could create a pirate chief whom we’d pay to prevent competition. Again, what could possibly go wrong?

Do nothing

Adopt a market-based solution. The insurance companies would keep paying ransoms and raising rates to cover their costs. At the margins it would raise the costs of goods coming via this route. 1% has been suggested. Even if it’s slightly more that’s still small potatoes compared to convoy duty, amphibious assault, or air assault. The Somali pirates are no threat to the United States and don’t appear to have political motivations.

I’m open to other suggestions. Propose your alternatives in the comments. Please limit your suggestions to things that can be done with forces that actually exist.

UPDATE

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Fred Iklé suggests that the crews of merchant vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden be armed:

When these pitifully unarmed crews watch pirates climb aboard their vessels, they can do little to fight back. And while the United States and many other naval powers keep warships in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean — deployments that cost millions of dollars — these ships cannot keep pirates from boarding commercial ships that have unarmed crews.

As Dr. Iklé observes the reason that crews have not already been armed is that the shipping companies have been advised not to by lawyers and by their insurance companies.

FILED UNDER: General,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. markm says:

    Do nothing

    I’m sure this is over simplistic…but why not amend the “laws of the seas” or whatever is the controlling document that keeps these ships from arming themselves???. A few armed crew or Marshalls on board and the pirates won’t get another ship…take away the prize and they’ll move along to something else….not to mention it’s an inexpensive solution.

    As for the various forms of assault, it’s my understanding that the pirates have “some” hostages from other ships that they’ve tucked away on shore. If that is true we can hardly go in to break stuff…or at least until all those people can be accounted for.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    markm:

    I was composing my update that included the “arm the crews” option even as you entered your comment.

  3. markm says:

    As Dr. Iklé observes the reason that crews have not already been armed is that the shipping companies have been advised not to by lawyers and by their insurance companies.

    mmmmkay…well, if i’m a shipping company then I arm the ships with lawyers and insurance agents..see how that works out.

    To me, that is beyond stupid but as I said above, i’m probably being over simplistic about the matter.

  4. Bithead says:

    The suggestion of arming the crews is a good one, but it’s likley not to be adopted, in light of the Obama adminitration’s recent recinding of Bush’s XO to arm airline pilots.

  5. Michael says:

    Two options occur to me:

    1. Travel in defended convoys. This would increase the cost of shipping and the subsequent goods. However, it might not be a permanent thing, if we can make piracy non-profitable for a long enough period, Somalis would turn their efforts towards something else. If they like that new method well enough, we can potentially end convoys without seeing an immediate return of piracy.

    2. Stop paying ransoms. Make it an international law, take the option away from the owning companies so that the pirate can’t negotiate with them, but rather with the government under who’s flag the ship was sailing.

  6. Michael says:

    The suggestion of arming the crews is a good one

    I would suggest that you also train the crews in the use of those fire arms. Giving an automatic weapon to someone who’d never fired a gun before in his life isn’t exactly a good idea.

    A single “sea marshal” per ship might be a better proposal, someone with the skill necessary, who could also coordinate the untrained crew. But then who’s to pay for them?

  7. markm says:

    Two options occur to me:

    1. Travel in defended convoys.

    2. Stop paying ransoms.

    IF…if the ships were armed, don’t 1 and 2 go away at a significantly cheaper cost?. Convoys would be crazy expensive (for what it’s worth, i’ve got some military products I manufactured that are aboard that ship. Cost of shipping is on Uncle Sam but private company shipping costs would probably be prohibitive)

    It sure seems to me that if nothing else, an armed crew would buy plenty of time to attempt to fix the bigger picture.

  8. I know the results have been mixed in practice, but don’t long-range acoustic devices offers some measure of protection? Why aren’t these devices used more frequently? Surely it’s better than nothing.

  9. markm says:

    Giving an automatic weapon to someone who’d never fired a gun before in his life isn’t exactly a good idea.

    I don’t think you’d need automatic weapons…I don’t even think you’d need large bore stuff. If the pirates know that within two hundred yards of a container ship they may take some incoming fire…that’d probably be enough of a deterrent. Hell, it wouldn’t even have to be precise. If they see water spraying up around them i’m sure they’d scurry off. That wouldn’t take much training. You could probably get some retired Military types that’d like to do that.

  10. markm says:

    And besides, they are 200+ miles from shore. There’s little chance for collateral damage.

  11. Michael says:

    IF…if the ships were armed, don’t 1 and 2 go away at a significantly cheaper cost?.

    Only if an armed crew actually stops hijacking attempts. Most of these pirate carry RPG’s, if they start taking small arms fire from the ship, I presume they’d use it. Now you’re not only looking at risk to the crew, but also to the ship itself. I’d imagine the owner would rather pay a few million in ransom, then many millions in repair.

    Also, if you increase the risk to the pirates, without stopping hijacking, you’ll just inflate the size of the ransom demand. It will also make them more willing to inflict casualties, if there is a significant risk of them taking casualties.

  12. Michael says:

    And besides, they are 200+ miles from shore. There’s little chance for collateral damage.

    Where do you draw the line though? Can the crew open fire to any approaching vessel when they’re 100 miles from shore? 50? 10? When do pirates become distinguishable from fishermen?

  13. Comrade Stuck says:

    It’s kind of sci fi, but couldn’t there be erected some kind of barrier or a type of fencing around the ships hull that could be electrified if attacked. These guys have to use hook and ropes to climb aboard. It could be a shocking success.

  14. Michael says:

    I don’t think you’d need automatic weapons…I don’t even think you’d need large bore stuff. If the pirates know that within two hundred yards of a container ship they may take some incoming fire…that’d probably be enough of a deterrent.

    As long as the pirates have a significant arms advantage, I don’t think the’ll stop making attempts. If they have RPGs and AK-47s, I don’t think they’re going to turn around because someone on deck has a pistol.

  15. sam says:

    This might be far-fetched, but I wonder how much it would cost to fashion a program along the lines of the WWII German Surface Raiders? The pirates couldn’t be sure they were attacking an armed vs an unarmed ship (until it was too late for them). This would obivate having to arm each and every ship that transits the problem area. And since the ships would be, essentially, flagged military vessels, the insurance problems, etc. wouldn’t arise I’d think. Perhaps each country that floats bottoms in the area could contribute one such ship apiece.

  16. markm says:

    IF…if the ships were armed, don’t 1 and 2 go away at a significantly cheaper cost?.

    Only if an armed crew actually stops hijacking attempts. Most of these pirate carry RPG’s, if they start taking small arms fire from the ship, I presume they’d use it.

    You may be right but I don’t think an RPG would do much to one of those ships and I still believe you would deter them if they knew they could get shot.

  17. Create a pirate chief

    Are you suggesting creating a pirate Czaarrgghh?

  18. markm says:

    And besides, they are 200+ miles from shore. There’s little chance for collateral damage.

    Where do you draw the line though? Can the crew open fire to any approaching vessel when they’re 100 miles from shore? 50? 10?

    Well, I certainly don’t see it as a distance from shore issue. A vessel should not be approaching any container ship. Period. (I believe that is the rule with our Naval ships post USS Cole attack).

  19. Michael says:

    You may be right but I don’t think an RPG would do much to one of those ships

    It wouldn’t sink it, I wasn’t suggesting it would. But it could easily kill several people firing from the deck or windows, and would certainly cause more damage to the vessel than most companies have been paying in ransom.

    I still believe you would deter them if they knew they could get shot.

    Or that they would instead bring along hostages taken in earlier hijacking to use as human shields, as they were planning on doing while attempting to save their cohorts who were holding Phillips.

  20. Michael says:

    A vessel should not be approaching any container ship. Period.

    What about a container ship approaching another vessel? Suppose they take a half dozen boats out in front of your path, do you change course and avoid them, or sail straight towards them and then open fire?

  21. Triumph says:

    Obama’s a wimp. As long as he is charge, the country will be beholden to African moselem pirates–B. Hussein’s base of support.

  22. markm says:

    A vessel should not be approaching any container ship. Period.

    What about a container ship approaching another vessel?

    Meaning a hijacked ship being used in another hijacking?.

    Suppose they take a half dozen boats out in front of your path, do you change course and avoid them, or sail straight towards them and then open fire?

    I don’t think those ships are that maneuverable nor do they stop on a dime so I doubt you’d have a choice in the matter.

  23. Michael says:

    Meaning a hijacked ship being used in another hijacking?.

    Or a fishing vessel being used by pirates, just waiting a a mile out for it’s prey to come to it. Surely we won’t allow shipping vessels to open fire on any boat in it’s path.

  24. markm says:

    Meaning a hijacked ship being used in another hijacking?.

    Or a fishing vessel being used by pirates, just waiting a a mile out for it’s prey to come to it. Surely we won’t allow shipping vessels to open fire on any boat in it’s path.

    I don’t have a problem with establishing shipping rules and making those rules known to all that keep all non-shipping vessels out of a designated shipping area. I don’t see the need for a 20ft fishing vessel to be 200-300 miles of the Somali coast. Again, overly simplistic but doable. We would be doing the same thing with a convoy minus all the cost.

  25. Tlaloc says:

    Again, what could possibly go wrong?

    I’m not sure how you managed to find a font that actually drips sarcasm but I applaud you for it.

    Since we’re discussing solutions that will never happen, why don’t we just mine the entire Somali coast line?

    Okay serious suggestion-
    Why don’t we keep an armed naval response force in the area but we collect a toll from passing ships in return for responding to any pirate attacks. To make it sound better say that we need to be indemnified against any damage that may occur during such a response and that the toll is the transaction/contract fee.

    Someone doesn’t pay then we say we just can’t intervene because of the legal ramifications of firing on a ship belonging to some other nation.

  26. Michael says:

    Okay serious suggestion

    You either need to download that font that drips sarcasm, or we need to talk about what “serious” means. Because I can’t believe you’d honestly suggest that anybody should be charging “protection” money, lest something unfortunate happen to that “nice little ship of yours”.

  27. Dave Schuler says:

    The underlying point that Tlaloc raises, the free ridership problem, is one that I believe is very important. One often sees the point made that we’re spending nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world put together. Another way to look at that is that to some degree other developed nations are freeriding on U. S. military spending. Tlaloc’s suggestion is interesting but I suspect it would meet substantial political opposition both here and abroad.

  28. Herb Ely says:

    Could we use tracking devices on pirate ships? Once attached, (clandestinely) the Navy could track the pirates and intercept whenever they approached an intended victim. Don’t know if this will work but it is a big ocean. The Navy’s job would be easier if it did not have to defend all of it.

  29. PD Shaw says:

    Who put the lawyers and insurance companies in charge?

    I like this proposal from Joe Katzman at Winds of Change:

    Ultimately, the solution is to arm merchant ships with remote-controlled weapon stations. They bolt on to the deck with no other modifications, and can mount machine guns or even light 20mm-27mm cannon, coupled with ammo, calibrated sights, zoom cameras, and infared. They get their name because they can be controlled and fired from anywhere on ship by using a joystick and screen, and are pretty cheap.

    I think this addresses a couple of the problems with arming the vessels by centralizing control over the weapons. You’re not going to have to worry about training an entire crew, nor should you have as many problems at port, as you would with everbody carrying.

    LINK

  30. Houston says:

    Air assault

    I’ve also heard various forms of air assault suggested. A BGM-109 Tomahawk costs a little over a half million dollars. How many would be needed?

    This approach solves the problem of the U. S. reluctance to engage in further land activities in Somalia but otherwise has the problems of the approach outlined above.

    I also don’t believe that this approach satisfies the criteria for a just war.

    I’m pretty sure “air assault” here means the deployment of Special Forces via helos down onto the deck of the hijacked ship – not the assault of the ship with a Harpoon.

    That would be kinda harsh on the hostages as well as the hijackers, eh?

  31. Matt says:

    Weapons can be bad due to the various fumes that can be present on an ocean going transport. It’d be very easy to cause massive explosions on some of these ships..

    SOme ships actually currently use electrified fencing and stuff to try to stop the pirates from getting on the ship. I read about one ship where the crew used an extremely slippery substance on the deck where pirates would be likely to board. There’s a lot of creative ideas being used already or being implemented..

    There’s also a couple “shipjack” programs that are designed to alert authorities when sensors on the ship are triggered by pirates boarding the ship.

  32. markm says:

    Tlaloc’s suggestion is interesting but I suspect it would meet substantial political opposition both here and abroad.

    As would any kind of strike, no?. What with the President coming up empty handed in Europe while seeking help for Afghanistan/Pakistan which is a far more serious threat….I think think we’ll have to go all Mavericky and go it alone, again, whatever our solution is.

    Oh, and I sure hear more on the news about arming the crew than I have in the recent past.

  33. mannning says:

    I would force the issue by mandating 8-man squads to be inserted aboard all vessels at the three-mile limit outbound, and taken off inbound at that limit. The ships should be escorted into and out of port by the nation/port naval vessels.

    I would arm the squads with TOW, M-2 MGs, and all necessary comm and night vision gear.

    Their ROE would be to engage any vessels that approach too near, and sink them, plus kill all boarders.

    Further, I would assign a squadron of Reapers, MQ-9A/B to the area, first to develop a fuller surface picture and establish tracks for all vessels in their areas, second to integrate input from other sources to confirm tracks and IDs, and third, to follow suspicious tracks, and sink them if they do not respond to warnings using guided weapons such as the GBU-39A/B. Early warning to the squads would ensure their effective response.

    Raiding the complex of captured ships is almost sure to result in the loss of quite a few crews held in the ships. The question is, are they that expendable? This needs more thought.

  34. Davebo says:

    long-range acoustic devices offers some measure of protection?

    They have on offshore rigs off the coast of Nigeria.

    And to date, their use would allow all vessels access to ports that would otherwise refuse access to vessels carrying weapons.

    But hey, I agree with drillbithead. Give them small yield nukes and see what happens.

    But then I’ve retired and bought 7 sets of polyester jumpsuits and taken of complaining about the government full time.

  35. Tlaloc says:

    You either need to download that font that drips sarcasm, or we need to talk about what “serious” means. Because I can’t believe you’d honestly suggest that anybody should be charging “protection” money, lest something unfortunate happen to that “nice little ship of yours”.

    You misunderstand, if they don’t pay we don’t harm them in the least but it costs us a ton of money to keep an armed presence in the area and we have absolutely no reason to be protecting everyone else’s shipping if they choose not to, unless they’re willing to pony up some cash for the service. It’s no more unethical than a person hiring themselves out as a bodyguard.

  36. Tlaloc says:

    Ultimately, the solution is to arm merchant ships with remote-controlled weapon stations. They bolt on to the deck with no other modifications, and can mount machine guns or even light 20mm-27mm cannon, coupled with ammo, calibrated sights, zoom cameras, and infared. They get their name because they can be controlled and fired from anywhere on ship by using a joystick and screen, and are pretty cheap.

    As soon as you start putting them on merchant ships the pirates will have them too. The correct version of the old NRA saw is that when citizens have free access to guns so do criminals.

  37. Bithead says:

    This conversation strikes me as a clear demonstation of what happens when we try to deal with everything, by means of law.

    How about world-wide, we simply recognize an inherrent right to self-defense, and defense of property?

    Or is that too much freedom?

  38. Dave Schuler says:

    Note that law enforcement isn’t out of the picture in this instance by a long shot. The FBI has been involved in the negotiations with the pirates and they are conducting an investigation. The pirate who’s in custody will undoubtedly be tried and, probably, incarcerated. Where is a good question.

    Unless he gets a life sentence he’ll present a problem. He can’t be repatriated to Somalia because of the conditions there. He can apply for asylum.

  39. Bithead says:

    Tlaloc, at what point in world history have criminals not had free access to whatever they hell they wanted?

  40. mannning says:

    My understanding is that the 27 or so captured vessels are being used to house their crews–some 250 of them, or thereabouts. They are under guard day and night, and locked up tightly. I speculate that the pirates have placed explosives aboard every ship, which is meant to deter us from assaulting the ships by threatening to blow up the crews and sink the ships at the first sign of attack. A full scale assault, then, would be met with carnage aboard the captured ships. We retrieve exactly nothing that way for our losses in the assault.

    The pirates could well have radio-controlled detonators ashore for the explosives, so boarding the ships to find the detonators would be worse than useless–we would lose our boarding teams to the explosions.

    Even using an airborne spray to knock out the whole area would not work, since once the aircraft or just the spray is detected, the pirates would press the buttons. They may have rigged “dead-man-switches” in parallel to the buttons.

    I have yet to discover a surefire way to free the crews and save the ships. Any ideas?

    We need a stimulus package.

  41. mannning says:

    So, Tlaloc, you would deny the weapons to the crews or professionals aboard the merchantmen, because the weapons might appear in pirate hands also? By that reasoning, we should disarm our police because the criminals might appear with Glocks and AK-47s.

    Oh! They already do appear with those weapons? Quick, disarm the police!

  42. Grewgills says:

    Re: Arming the crews/armed guards
    I was under the impression that laws in certain ports of call prevented armed guards or mercenaries (uncertain about legal distinction). I don’t remember where I read it and can’t find sourcing with the strings I have googled. Does anyone know if this is an issue?
    Regardless, it seems that some portion of US flagged shipping could have marshals aboard. If the companies payed it could even be 100%. That would likely solve the problem for US flagged vessels. Companies that flagged elsewhere could try to convince the flagging nation to address the problem for them.

    I have yet to discover a surefire way to free the crews and save the ships. Any ideas?

    If there were a surefire way, particularly one that would come up here, it would have been done. Any plan would have risks. What level of risk is acceptable?

  43. mannning says:

    The whole point of having armed men loaded and unloaded at the three-mile limit, or the 12 mile limit, is to avoid the problem of national or port authorities, their fear of arms, and their laws.

    They can provide security within their own limits.

    It is patently obvious that any plan has risks, and that some plans have more risk than others. That does not move the problem one iota.

    In this case, there seems to be no plan offered up yet that avoids maximum risk for the crews and the assault teams. Until such a plan is offered, talk of an assault on the shores of Somalia is not very meaningful. That is, unless one deems that loss of those lives is of no consequence.

  44. Michael says:

    The whole point of having armed men loaded and unloaded at the three-mile limit, or the 12 mile limit, is to avoid the problem of national or port authorities, their fear of arms, and their laws.

    Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just keep those men in their own well-armed vessel to escort a convoy of vessels? It seems to me you can have a higher ship to guard ratio that way.

    A fast attack ship would be able to intercept pirates before they even get close to the convoy, present a smaller target to enemy RPGs, and would be better able to distinguish between hostile and benign vessels.

  45. Michael says:

    In this case, there seems to be no plan offered up yet that avoids maximum risk for the crews and the assault teams.

    We could take another page out of the Barbary Coast wars, and just start taking Somali hostages to exchange for our own, rather than insisting on incarcerating them for the rest of their lives.

  46. PD Shaw says:

    I was under the impression that laws in certain ports of call prevented armed guards or mercenaries (uncertain about legal distinction). I don’t remember where I read it and can’t find sourcing with the strings I have googled. Does anyone know if this is an issue?

    I assume that is a big issue. That’s why I liked the proposal I mentioned above, which involved arming the ship with remote-controlled cannons bolted to the deck. Such specialized defensive weaponry would raise much fewer concerns that they would be converted to common criminal use, and their presence would be readily observable by local security.

  47. Tlaloc says:

    Tlaloc, at what point in world history have criminals not had free access to whatever they hell they wanted?

    When what they want is very hard to come by.

    When was the last time you saw a gangbanger with an RPG? Or a tank? Or a flamethrower?

    What? You’ve never seen American criminals packing that kind of weaponry? Well, isn’t that interesting.

    At the same time you find them with plentiful supplies of small arms, just like the rest of the population. That almost suggests a correlation, one we could even use to our advantage if we didn’t like seeing, say, headlines like this:

    The US economic crisis and soaring job losses have brought a rash of killings across America with at least 58 fatalities in eight incidents over the past month.

    Take easy access to guns out of the equation and it would have read more like this:

    The US economic crisis and soaring job losses have brought a rash of killings across America with at least 8 fatalities in eight incidents over the past month.

  48. Tlaloc says:

    So, Tlaloc, you would deny the weapons to the crews or professionals aboard the merchantmen, because the weapons might appear in pirate hands also?

    No might about it. The second those guns go on sale you’ll see the pirates using them. All you accomplish is making the current piracy more bloody and dangerous.

    By that reasoning, we should disarm our police because the criminals might appear with Glocks and AK-47s.

    Yeah, because giving military weapons to every passing boat captain is a lot like letting highly trained and supervised police officers carry pistols.

    Really, it totally is!!!

  49. sr says:

    let the ship owners deal with the problem. my understanding is that the reason crews are not armed is that insurance companies have determined that there is greater likelihood of loss of life, cargo, etc.(and therefore greater potential insurance loss) if the crews are armed or have armed security personnel on board. one thing we could do is create an international reinsurance fund to cover significant losses. this would reduce premiums and permit vessels to arm themselves at reasonable insurance premiums

  50. mannning says:

    That is one of the issues—convoys. Most of the shippers do not want convoys because they take a lot of time to form up, go to places not on the call list to begin with, and thus raise both costs and shipment times. Then too, if you have N ports in the area of concern, are you going to have N!/(N-2)! convoys forming up, one for each origin and destination pair each way? Often enough? Doubtful. Will you have a warship per pair, or two, or three warships? This gets rather costly very fast.

    If you simplify the convoy idea to major routes, and let the ships form up and disperse at either end of the main convoy drag, guess where the pirates will wait? In any event, outside the main drag, as we have seen recently.

    Seems to me that warships can maintain about 20 to 30 knots, give or take, for some period of time. A Reaper, however, can reach 200+ mph, somewhere around a ten times faster closure rate.

    I like those odds better, other things being equal, and Reapers are cheaper to buy and operate than blue water warships, especially of the modern destroyer and frigate classes.

    Of course, a mix of Reapers and warships is most likely to be best for a lot of reasons, but I suggest that the ratio of Reapers to warships ought to be about 4 or 5 to 1 as a WAG. You get a much bigger surface picture that way, and good odds of being near enough to engage the pirates with missiles and destroy them.

  51. PD Shaw says:

    sr:

    let the ship owners deal with the problem. my understanding is that the reason crews are not armed is that insurance companies have determined that there is greater likelihood of loss of life, cargo, etc.(and therefore greater potential insurance loss) if the crews are armed or have armed security personnel on board.

    The problem with this line of reasoning is that insurance companies do not have costs associated with the value of life. They may be asked to insure, say $50k per life lost during a hijacking, but they are not insuring the value of life. They are offering a payout in the event of death. I do not know that the lives of the crew are insured; I am certain that the cargo is. If only the cargo is insured, then the insurance company has no interest in any life remaining on board. The presence of guns, i.e. a shootout, only increases the risk to the cargo.

  52. anjin-san says:

    Tlaloc, at what point in world history have criminals not had free access to whatever they hell they wanted?

    Interesting. Well, somehow I am sure its all the Democrats fault, clear back to pre-history.

  53. mannning says:

    Seems to me that much of the success of the pirates to date is because merchant ships are big, fat, unarmed targets. Give them weapons and training of the crews, or give them a squad of well-armed soldiers, and the pirate threat will subside–for the big fat merchantmen.

    There is a limit to the escalation the pirates can achieve in weaponry given their speedboat tactics, and no one is more aware than the pirates of their serious vulnerability when approaching a merchantman in one of those open boats.

    There is a relatively unlimited potential for the merchantmen to employ ever heavier weapons as needed. They would win an arms race with little difficulty. The real limits they face are the laws concerning armed merchantmen at ports of call. These laws can be avoided by offloading the men and weapons at the twelve-mile limit onto a vessel stationed there for that purpose.

  54. Jon says:

    Great discussion — I think most of the ideas presented are ridiculous. The prospect of providing more security & arming the crews seem to be the most popular, but both of these will just raise the ransom demands and increase the pirates access to weaponry while likely not lowering the number of hijack attempts and successful hijackings.

    ‘Terrorism’ of this type works — quite well in fact. While I am not a fan of ‘Nation Building’ it’s appalling to me that none of the ideas presented in the articles or in the comments suggests giving money to the people of Somalia.

    My proposed solution is a simple one — increase insurance rates on shipping lines (has to happen anyway…reality of piracy working) but take a large portion of the increased insurance revenue and give it to non-governmental organizations that will in turn invest the money into Somalia. The fundamental problem is not piracy or access to weapons/protection — the problem is in the living conditions and inequality found in Somalia. Any solution that ignores this and attempts to ‘fix’ the problem simply by targeting the pirates is bound to fail.

    The NGO’s used have to be something better than the World Bank or IMF or other US lackey organizations, but I’m sure their are organizations that can make a difference quickly and effectively.

  55. Michael says:

    it’s appalling to me that none of the ideas presented in the articles or in the comments suggests giving money to the people of Somalia.

    I believe Dave Schuler covered that under “Pay off the pirates”. Your solution is essentially that, without the guarantee that it will actually stop the hijacking. Your reference to “the people of Somalia”, as if they were one group, shows that you haven’t given this nearly enough thought or research, so I’ll respectfully defer my remaining criticisms of your post until you have.

  56. mannning says:

    Fixing the Somali government would require ten to twenty years and untold billions of dollars of someone’s money. Meanwhile the pirates can assure their continued existence in Somalia by spreading around a chunk of their money throughout the government from time to time. So fixing the government is a low payoff approach, and is certainly not worthy of my money.

    Just make it very highly probable that any pirate crew setting forth to capture a ship faces death and destruction inside of hours.

  57. mannning says:

    The prospect of providing more security & arming the crews seem to be the most popular, but both of these will just raise the ransom demands and increase the pirates access to weaponry while likely not lowering the number of hijack attempts and successful hijackings.

    Your pirates already have all the access they need to arm themselves to the teeth, and they have the money to buy any conventional weapon on the market, plus upgrading their mother vessels also for better deep water operation and heavier weapons.

    But, they will still have to use speedboats to attempt boarding. These boats can be torn apart by well-aimed 50 cal. machine gun rounds at ranges up to 1000 m. A couple of “Ma Duces” on the merchantman operated by trained men would be very effective, regardless of the armament of the pirates.

    If the pirates escalate the threat by declaring that they will sink the ship with some heavy weapon aboard the trawler, unless the ship surrenders, we have cause to put a TOW or similar weapon on the ship, to sink the trawler first.
    One must ask also what the payoff is for the pirates to sink the ship? Obviously, the only payoff is the warning to other ships that refusal to surrender will result in their sinking. But, if the merchantman has the defensive armament to sink the pirate,and the will to use it, of course, for the pirates there is no payoff to be had.

    Thus, by making the engagement significantly more dangerous for the pirates through arming the merchantmen directly, or by putting an armed contingent aboard ships, and adding the Reaper threat either way, it would soon become quite obvious to the pirates that they are in a very low payoff, no-win situation.