Posted by Fred Fry:
Here is a little diversion from some of the recent good conversations going on at the USNI Blog. I am going to take things in a slightly different direction. Partly to give a little appreciation as to how things look from the viewpoint of the ships being attacked, and partly to see what kind of other ideas this fine group of readers might come up with as ways to keep or delay pirates from boarding a merchant ship.
Sure, most of these ships are flying foreign flags and not directly America’s problem, but the cargo they carry might just be needed by US forces somewhere in the globe. Or, as in the case of the M/V FAINA which is currently being held by pirates, the cargo carried, tanks and weapons, is best kept out of the hands of pirates and their network ashore. Like it or not, merchant shipping comprises part of the US Military’s supply lines, just like those truck convoys attacked in Pakistan comprises part of the supply lines for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
I look forward to constructive criticism of what some might consider goofy, stupid or even dangerous suggestions. Just keep in mind that the obvious defense, arming merchant ship crews, is forbidden or too difficult rules-wise to be a valid option. That leaves either doing nothing and welcoming pirates aboard, diverting traffic away from the area entirely, or some other form of defense.
So, here is a revision of a previous article I wrote concerning my thoughts on Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates. This is just some ideas to get people thinking on just how best to beat back armed pirates.
Keep in mind the following three stories when reading the article below:
The Admiral talked about the “golden thirty minutes”. If the allies can get a ship or an aircraft to a threatened vessel within thirty minutes of notice the pirates can usually be deterred and the attack averted. – America’s North Shore Journal
PIRATES have today hijacked an escorted German LPG ship with 13 crew in the Gulf of Aden.
The 4,316dwt Longchamp was en route to Asia from Europe, escorted by a naval convoy, when it was boarded by seven armed pirates this morning, owner MPC told Fairplay.
The crew are 12 Filipinos and 1 Indonesian, a company spokesman said.
He told Fairplay that no injuries were reported and that company satellite data shows that the ship is approaching the Somali coast.
MPC would not confirm reports that the ship was fully laden.
Longchamp is managed by Bernhard Schulte. – Fairplay
Ship captain reported ‘executed’ – PIRATES executed a ship’s captain after he resisted capture off the coast of West Africa, Fairplay can confirm today.
“A guerrilla attack on a commercial vessel retaliated on the captain and executed him, a source delivering a high-level briefing on piracy told Fairplay. “We are worried about the transfer [of piracy] from East Africa to West Africa.”
The Greek ministry of shipping named the captain as Theodoros Mastaloudis.
A news agency report said yesterday that pirates had killed a Greek master of an unnamed ship on Saturday off the coast of Cameroon but gave no details.
His vessel had come to the rescue of another ship being attacked by pirates, Reuters reported on Monday. - Fairplay
From these three stories we have: Confirmation that there is a price to pay for doing anything that might upset a pirate’s plans; That the Navy sees as one of their main challenges/goals is getting to a ship under attack within 30 minutes; And that even nearby naval protection/escort is not 100 percent protection from being taken by pirates. So at the end of the day, some merchant sailors are finding themselves with nothing to defend the ship except their best creativity.
Given the information above, a merchant ship should plan on having to defend their ship on their own for at least 30 minutes while waiting for help to arrive. Recent attacks on merchant shipping off Somalia show that determined pirates can take over a ship in minutes, if there is nothing standing in their way. This means that they need some short-term solutions that they can deploy to delay attacking pirates from getting onboard. In this most recent hijacking of the LONGCHAMP, being part of a convoy escorted by naval forces was not enough to prevent being taken over by pirates. In the end, they also needed to be able to protect the ship themselves in addition to having a naval vessel acting as their bodyguard.
Most merchant ships do not carry firearms but they do carry other sorts of projectiles. One merchant ship managed to disable a pirate boat by hitting it with a distress flare (or flares or perhaps even other flaming projectiles). The pirate boat caught fire and the pirates ended up being rescued/captured by the Danish Navy and are currently facing prosecution in the Netherlands. All ships have flares and many probably also carry extra expired flares. These are not little flares that you find on weekend warriors in harbors around the US, but pretty impressive ‘industrial strength’ flares that probably make pirates pause after having one shot at them. (However, doing so, might subject you to execution as noted in the story above.)
OK, that is a good start, but you are going to need a lot of flares to put up a sustained defense for a half hour. Your going to need something else.
One suggestion that I have made before was to use ‘Pepperball’ paintballs:
The PepperBall® system is unique in the industry as the first non-lethal weapon to combine multiple effects to accomplish its objective safely and without permanent injuries or death. Since late 1999 PepperBall has been deployed in thousands of situations around the globe, successfully filling a gap in the use of force continuum where no other tools are available.
The PepperBall system consists of a PepperBall launcher and projectiles. The launchers are high-pressure air delivery systems. PepperBall projectiles are hard plastic spheres built to burst on impact. Live projectiles are the foundation of the system and are filled with enough PAVA (Capsaicin II) powder to irritate a suspect’s eyes, nose and throat. As such, the PepperBall system combines a unique kinetic impact technology with pepper powder irritant as a non-lethal deployment device for peace officers. We call this combination of affects Chem-netics™ and hold multiple patents protecting our technology.
Chem-netics makes PepperBall systems effective tools for gaining target compliance. PepperBall projectiles are launched from several types of launchers appropriate for the intended use. These launchers use high-pressure air (CO2) to launch the projectiles. Because the projectiles break upon impact they do not penetrate skin, making this weapon safe even at contact range. – Link
One reason that this looks like an effective defense is that the PepperBalls can be ‘delivered’ through a fully automatic paintball gun. (Video link here) A paintball ‘gun’ is not a firearm and most likely would be easier to carry onboard.
Hell, looking at the following video, any sort of fully-automatic paintball gun is sure to have a good deterrent effect. (Video link Here) Even better if you can get them to fire marbles as well, not that paintballs don’t already hurt. And unlike when playing paintball as a sport, there is no rule against hitting pirates in the head with paintballs.
One drawback to these items is that they need to be sourced from ashore, including an adequate supply of compressed gas bottles, ammunition and spares. So, until you can get your hands on something like this, what can your engineering crew build onboard? How about some sort of potato gun. Not for chucking potatoes, but instead to shoot Molotov cocktails, nuts and bolts, ice blocks, sections of pipe, or whatever that will force them to duck for cover.
Taking a page from the Sea Shepherd eco-terror group, how about tossing bottles of butyric acid onto the pirate skiffs? No, maybe not that. After all, if it won’t stop the Japanese from whaling, it certainly is not going to stop a pirate from attacking. One recent lesson learned from a repelled pirate attack on the Chinese ship was that broken glass on deck prevented the pirates from moving around freely because many of the pirates had no shoes and they were afraid of damaging their feet. So, how about showering approaching pirate boats with crushed glass?
Then of course there is the LRAD acoustic device. This is the weapon that the unarmed security team on the M/V BISCAGLIA unsuccessfully used to defend the ship against the pirates. The security company panned the device as ineffective but given that the devices are in use in Iraq and elsewhere, I am going to discount their panning the device as nothing more than an attempt to shift blame.
It was the M/V BISCAGLIA incident that reminded me of a list I had made up a while ago of how to defend a ship against Greenpeace protesters:
Greenpeace keeps getting away with this because ship’s crews are not given the GreenLight to repel them. Here are some ways to protect the ship if you find yourself being attacked by Greenpeace: (Note: Anything you do is your responsibility, although it is Greenpeace that forces you to act.)
- Use fire hoses and fire monitors. Add Foam or soap to make everything slippery. Deliver the soap inside water balloons and then use the hoses to foam it all up.
- Use the anchor wash if there is an attempt to secure themselves to the anchor chain.
- Use paintball guns. For more effect, shoot Pepper balls. [Noted above]
- Have the engineers whip up a couple potato cannons. Instead of potatoes, you can try ice cubes for a shotgun effect.
- Make use of expired flares. Just don’t shoot them skyward.
Originally Posted on Maritime Monday 76
Of course Somali pirates are not Greenpeace protesters, but the list above is a little better than nothing at all and sending a constant stream of material/scrap metal their way might be enough of a deterrent for them to seek a less challenging target, or at least delay them until naval forces arrive to take over the situation. So thinking about this failed defense of the M/V BISCAGLIA, I came up with a couple more ways to defend against pirates if they manage to get alongside:
- Molatov cocktails thrown onto the deck as they come alongside
- Drop the pilot ladder into the sea with a pirate or two, three still clinging to it
- Drop twistlocks and whatever else that is heavy on them
- Fabricate gravity-powered ‘missiles’ out of large diameter pipe that can shoot through the pirate vessel’s hull with the front end cut at an angle like a hypodermic needle to hole the pirate boat. (Not too large that it is not easy to move around the deck and deploy, but large enough to fly through the hull when it hits.)
I would think that the pirates are at their most vulnerable when they are alongside trying to get onboard so this is probably where they should be hit if they cannot be kept away. They are also in a position where if they were to attempt to damage the ship they would most likely become casualties in the process as well.
The suggestions above are of increasing effectiveness as the freeboard of the vessel increases, giving gravity a greater punch as whatever is tossed over the side strikes the vessel.
One option that does not seem to have been seriously discussed yet is having the Navy offer to place armed marines or other military teams onboard some merchant ships for the transit through the pirate area. They can board on one end, ride to the other end and then catch a ride back on another ship. Now lets say you could get these armed teams onboard merchant ships. Just how well armed should these security teams be? Technically, there are two targets. The pirate vessel itself and the pirates onboard the vessel.
To this point, most defensive actions seem to target the pirates. Perhaps the better move is to target their boat with enough firepower that can disable or sink it. This probably means deployment of a heavy machine gun or some sort of rocket or missile that can hole their boat with one shot. Or how about a couple Marines with a 40 mm grenade launcher as part of their gear?
The MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher) is a lightweight 40 mm semi-automatic, 6-shot grenade launcher developed and manufactured in South Africa by the Milkor company (renamed Rippel Effect in 2007). The MGL was demonstrated as a concept to the South African Defence Force in 1981. The operating principle was immediately accepted and subjected to a stringent qualification program. The MGL was then officially accepted into service with the SADF as the Y2. After its introduction in 1983, the MGL was gradually adopted by the armed forces and law enforcement organizations of over 30 countries; it has since proven its effectiveness in harsh environments ranging from rain forests to deserts. Total production since 1983 has been more than 18,000 units.
The MGL is multiple-shot weapon, intended to significantly increase a small squad’s firepower when compared to traditional single-shot grenade launchers like the M203. The MGL is designed to be simple, rugged and reliable. It uses the well-proven revolver principle to achieve a high rate of accurate fire which can be rapidly brought to bear on a target. A variety of rounds such as HE, HEAT, anti-riot baton, irritant or pyrotechnic can be loaded and fired at a rate of one per second; the cylinder can be loaded or unloaded rapidly to maintain a high rate of fire. Although intended primarily for offensive/defensive use with high-explosive rounds, with appropriate ammunition the launcher is suitable for anti-riot and other security operations. – Wikipedia
Using military personnel will overcome a major obstacle in the way of arming merchant ships, namely, it is damn near impossible to get private armed security teams to and from these vessels due to weapons restrictions.
There are already a number of naval vessels in the area conducting anti-pirate operations. Just have a couple stationed at the edge of the pirate areas and then have willing ships embark defensive teams onboard who can ride the vessel through the area and then be collected on the other side by another naval vessel stationed for that purpose. The team can then hitch a ride back to their ship on another cargo vessel going the other way. But this is how it would need to be done, at sea deployment, if done at all. As a bonus, naval vessel can better be tasked for hunting the pirates down and less so on escort duty as these boarding parties essentially turn the ships into additional units to protect the rest of the convoy. There is no need to place them on all the ships. Just having them on some ships (Such as the most vulnerable targets) will make pirates act more cautiously, never knowing if the ship they are about to attack is armed or not.
There is no simple answer here but surely there is more that can be done by the vessels to better prevent more ships from being taken by pirates. So what other ideas are out there?
Kennebec Captain‘s post “The (Unarmed) Defense of the Biscaglia” was the inspiration for this post.
Originally posted here: On Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates – 1 Dec 08
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