Somali pirates have released a Dutch ship they had hijacked last month in the Gulf of Aden and one crew member was found dead aboard the boat, the Dutch defence ministry told AFP.
“The pirates let the ship, in which a crew member was found dead, leave,” ministry spokesman Marcel Pullen said. “He was shot dead.”
Looking at the threat, the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization, in a move certain to protect the safety of pirates only, has decided to flatly reject any suggestion of arming merchant seamen:
The MSC agreed that flag States should strongly discourage the carrying and use of firearms by seafarers for personal protection or for the protection of a ship.
Seafarers, it was agreed, are civilians and the use of firearms requires special training and aptitudes and the risk of accidents with firearms carried on board ship is great.Carriage of arms on board ship may encourage attackers to carry firearms or even more dangerous weapons, thereby escalating an already dangerous situation. Any firearm on board may itself become an attractive target for an attacker.
Carriage of firearms may pose an even greater danger if the ship is carrying flammable cargo or similar types of dangerous goods. – IMO guidance statement via EagleSpeak
This ‘professional’ guidance is a joke.
For starters, pirates are already attacking ships with fully-automatic weapons and RPGs. What is more dangerous, rounds going outbound from a ship or explosive RPG rounds coming inbound…. Crazier is the IMO suggesting that seafarers are not skilled enough to use firearms because their use requires special training. This the same group that has absolutely no hesitation in sticking seafarers in school to drill them on everything right down to how to properly wash your hands as part of ‘Personal Safety and Social Responsibility’. To this point nothing has been deemed beyond the training ability of a seafarer, so why now? I can’t think of any reason other than a desire to remove guns from the equation. Too bad for the IMO, that they have no control in removing the weapons causing the problems.
Another argument against arming merchant ships is the ‘threat of escalation’. The first question concerning that threat is with what are they are going to escalate with?
The most realistic option I can think of is that they just use more boats and RPGs. Attacks with larger numbers of boats being involved has already been seen. I can’t think of any more-powerful weapon that they could easily deploy. More advanced weapons are probably much harder to come by, and when available much more expensive, given competing interests. So even if pirates get their hands on something more advanced/powerful, they are probably not going to be so quick to use it, unless they are sure that it will result in a capture. They might as easily destroy the ship in the process. Now, they might be able to arm themselves with a cannon, but they would need a larger/sturdier boat if they wanted to use it. Acquiring a larger vessel might be more of a problem than acquiring more-powerful weapons.
Current attacks have involved small fast boats. Larger craft would probably not be able to go as fast. This will reduce the number of available targets at it becomes easier for faster ships to get away.
A bigger pirate boat, while allowing pirates a more stable platform and give the ability to field more powerful weapons, would also provide defending merchant seamen with bigger targets. Still, pirate boats are less stable platforms to shoot from than merchant ships which are large stable platforms that are not effected to any significant degree except in the harshest weather.
This brings the question, what should merchant mariners be aiming at. There are only two targets, the pirates and the boat that they are riding in. I think that it be best that if any attempt is made to arm merchant ships, then the arming should include the ability to disable pirate boats. If there is to be escalation, then it should be our side that does the escalating.
One weapon that should be considered is a 40mm grenade launcher. Here is one option:
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
Even a ‘miss’ will still have pirates thinking twice about continuing an attack against an armed vessel, probably thinking it better to search for an easier target, especially if their vessel is put at risk. And it need not be the merchant sailors that operate these weapons, but armed military teams embarked on the ships that are targeted by pirates.
There are valid reasons not to arm merchant ships against pirates, but the threat of escalation and a claimed lack of training on behalf of the crew are not. (And anyway, just where are the pirates getting their firearms training?)
So what am I missing? It seems that the threat of escalation is one that should be most risked by the pirates, not the sailors they threaten.
Note: This is cross-posted on my blog Fred Fry International.