Archive for the 'Piracy' Tag

Last week, USNI Blog covered the shooting death of a pirate by private security guards protecting a Panama Flag cargo ship in the post ‘Pirate Walks The Plank; Legal Scholars Baffled‘.

Private security contractors killed a Somali pirate Wednesday–and no one seems to know how to react.

Roger Middleton from the British think tank Chatham House commented that there’s currently no regulation of private security on board ships, no guidelines about who is responsible in case of an attack, and no industrywide standards. So what’s next?Link

Today via Fairplay Shipping News comes an answer to the ‘what’s next?’ question and I am not surprised:

Pirate suspects released

EU NAVFOR has told Fairplay that it has freed six pirate suspects detained after a deadly gunfight because there was no chance of conviction.

A pirate suspect was shot dead by guards during the attempted hijacking of Panama-flagged, 2,886dwt general cargo ship Almezaan off Somalia on 23 March. It was the first known slaying by such guards on a ship since the piracy crisis began.

Six others suspected of involvement in the attack were later detained by a team from EU NAVFOR’s Spanish warship Navarra. Spain began talks with Kenya and the Seychelles yesterday to negotiate a hand-over of the six pirate suspects for trial.

But EU NAVFOR spokesman Commander John Harbour told Fairplay today that the anti-piracy force had freed the suspects after 24 hours of intense investigation.

“We made the decision not to prosecute as the master refused to testify, and there was no case against the pirates,” he said.

The guard accused of shooting the suspect who died also refused to talk to authorities, Harbour added.

The six suspects who were freed had one of their skiffs returned and were provided with fuel to return to shore. – Fairplay

Here is what I think is relevant:

  • A shipping company went through the trouble and expense to protect their ship with armed guards.
  • It is possible to arrange for arms to be placed onboard commercial vessels for use by private security forces.
  • Their investment contributed to the successful defense of their ship.
  • The defense of the ship resulted in the death of a pirate.
  • Navel forces in the area arrived too late to assist the vessel under attack.
  • The surviving pirates were caught and quickly released.
  • The vessel crew and contractors refused to testify, probably out of fear of legal action against them as a result of the death of the pirate.

To me, this is a simple issue. The cargo ships are the ‘high value targets’. To properly protect them requires placing defenses between the ships and the pirates. The best way to do that is to have the defenders onboard, not just over the horizon. In fact, I am starting to wonder if the naval forces are providing a false sense of security. For the moment at least they seem to be doing their best anti-pirate operations when pirates have the misfortune to attack them directly.

Note: Be sure to check out the conversation in the comments section of the previous post linked above.

Armed Merchant Ship Crews Will Not Escalate The Pirate Problem

Private security contractors killed a Somali pirate Wednesday–and no one seems to know how to react.

Roger Middleton from the British think tank Chatham House commented that there’s currently no regulation of private security on board ships, no guidelines about who is responsible in case of an attack, and no industrywide standards. So what’s next?

“This will be scrutinized very closely…The bottom line is somebody has been killed and someone has to give an accounting of that,” said Arvinder Sambei, a legal consultant for the U.N. In other words, security contractors should standby to be investigated for their actions. It’s just not clear who will be doing the investigation–the ship’s flagged nation (Panama), the owners’ home nation (UAE) or the nation from which the contractors have citizenship (unknown).

All of this is making me wish I attended an open lectureheld here at the Academy by LCDR Berube on private security contractors as a possible solution to the piracy question held here at the Academy a few weeks ago. (LCDR Berube was recently spotted on Midrats talking about DADT.)

Do we want private security contractors helping secure ships from piracy? Sure, ships have the right to defend themselves. The follow-up questions of how closely their actions are monitored (a huge investigation every time there’s an incident could prove unwieldy) and who holds them accountable have yet to be answered. Any thoughts?

Fellow USNIBlog Shipmates Galrahn, EagleOne and myself dedicated yesterday’s Midrats radio show to the subject of piracy.

We had as our guest for most of the hour Claude Berube, a teacher at the U.S. Naval Academy with a background in naval research and development, acquisition, and intelligence. He is also co-author of two books, a former Senate Staffer, and as a LCDR in the USNR has experience in maritime interception operations, humanitarian relief, and anti-piracy.

If you missed the live show, you can hear in archived here.

The saga of America’s private-sector pirate-hunting Navy is over. That’s right. Blackwater’s (Or Xe’s) Navy is up for sale–in Spain, no less!

Make an offer! Blackwater’s former flagship, the McArthur, is a modified 183′ Norfolk Shipbuilding Expeditionary Yacht. And it can be yours for $3.7 million dollars–so put your money down! There’s been a “Major Price Reduction” already, so this ship won’t last long! Here’s what you’d get:

The “McArthur” is totally self-contained, makes her own water, and has satellite communications systems that provide for continuous broadband service and satellite telephone. The vessel has a two bed hospital and carries adequate stores of food and supplies to support her crew and 30 additional personnel for 45 days without re-supply. She has the ability to land and fuel small and medium size helicopters and store, launch and retrieve 3 small craft up to 15 tons and 36 ft. in length. She has temporary sheltering for over 100 survivors from disasters.

Now, all this must come as a rude shock to those in the milblogosphere who happily regurgitated Blackwater propaganda or credulously promoted Blackwater’s anti-pirate Navy. Here’s an example of the irrational press-release-fuelled exuberance:

“…The French are already using private contractors for these purposes. This is the next logical step based on those calls. Unless the citizens of the US are ready to push the US Navy to make this a top priority, something that requires political action, this is seen as one of the limited but cost effective ways for the shipping industry to respond…”

Blah, blah…The only thing was that nobody in the shipping business saw Blackwater as a cost-effective means to fight piracy. And few in the blogosphere bothered to do their due diligence–most just joined in the hype and began braying away (it’s a distressing habit that extends to the latest topic-of-the-day–be it ASBMs, piracy, or whatever–beware those who constantly hype the popular programs and suck up to the powerful people).

Sadly, blog-hype was unable to compensate for a platform that just was inappropriate for the job at hand.

I didn’t join in. Rather than pass on media releases, I began covering the hype in October 2007, after Wired’s Sharon Weinberger broke the McArthur story. In April 2008, I noted the ship had been sitting for about a year, unengaged in anti-piracy operations, and by October 2008 began wondering why milbloggers still fawned all over the concept when it just wasn’t working. It all got worse last year, when, in January 2009, I found McArthur fighting pirates from a Norfolk berth.

And by May 2009, the ship had dissolved into something more akin to Animal House than a buttoned-down pirate fighter. But then what does one expect from a company run by a boss who, after reaping a political windfall, cries like a baby once the going gets hard?

Maybe, one day, a company somewhat like Xe might get it right. But in the meantime, let’s raise a glass to a defunct Navy, and hope that our navies (whatever nations you readers might hail from) can avoid a similar fate…

h/t Moose! (BTW–what are you doing shopping for multi-million dollar yachts?)

News comes from Fairplay that the long saga of the ARCTIC ROSE is nearing endgame:

Arctic Sea docked in Malta

ARCTIC Sea is docked today in Valletta Grand Harbour, where repairs are expected to be carried out at Malta Shipyards.

Maltese tug Mari towed the Maltese-registered cargo ship into port yesterday because its steering mechanism needs fixing. The ship was involved in an international crisis when it was apparently hijacked in European waters this summer.

It is alongside at Boiler Wharf, after Malta’s Civil Protection Department found the ship to be free of any radioactive residues or dangerous chemicals.

Earlier yesterday the vessel was handed over by Russian authorities to its owners just outside Maltese territorial waters, the Malta Maritime Authority told reporters.

When asked whether they believed a hijacking of Arctic Sea had ever taken place, the MMA officials said they had no evidence to show otherwise and confirmed that hijacking suspects would be prosecuted in Russia under international law.

The vessel was seized by the Russian navy off Cape Verde on 16 August – by which time international rumours about illicit cargo were commonplace. The Malta officials yesterday denied any contact with Israeli authorities. – Fairplay

OK, so not too interesting. However, strategists normally concern themselves with how to take things. The problem in this case turned out to be how to get rid of the ship once the Russians decided that they no longer wanted it.

Posted by FFry in Navy | No Comments
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There were two interesting stories out in the last week involving Iran and the fight against pirates.

First, we have Iran’s statement that the best way to protect merchant shipping against pirates is to arm the ships:

Iran backs guns on ships – ARMED forces placed aboard merchant ships would be the cheapest and most effective way to deter pirates, an Iranian shipping leader said today.

Mohammad Souri, chairman of National Iranian Tanker, told the International Union of Marine Insurance conference in Bruges: “Having armed forces on board would be the cheapest way to counter piracy in the short term.”

He explained: “If a pirate thinks his life is in danger, he will try and escape the vessel. But insurers are reluctant to support their use on board.”

Multinational forces have included the use of more than 34 warships, helicopters and long-range patrolling aircraft from 16 different nations, he pointed out – all of which runs up huge expenses. But forces on the targeted ships would close down attacks much quicker, he suggested. As an average hijacking episode lasts two months, owners now face long-term fuel, equipment and charter costs – not to mention legal fees and ransoms.

As for his own fleet, Souri reported a dozen piracy attacks on vessels carrying about 2M barrels of crude.

About 30 of the company’s tankers have installed attack-delaying barbed wire, and all entrances are locked. – Fairplay Homepage

I have argued before that it makes the most sense to arm the ships since it is the ships that are the targets. (See link below)

The second article notes just where the Iranians are getting their armed guards:

EX-ROYAL Marines are being routinely deployed as anti-piracy forces onboard fully laden large Iranian oil tankers now under regular attack from heavily armed pirates off the Gulf of Aden. – Lloyd’s List, Former Royal Marines hired to protect Iranian tankers

The Iranians have interestingly stuck to using foreign teams and more interestingly with Brits, who I bet had to think twice before taking the job given Iran’s recent treatment of their fellow countrymen. This probably has more to do with issues related to where the vessels are trading (my guess is Europe) than with a lack of trained personnel in Iran.

Iran has decided to embark professionals onboard. I still think there is a case for training merchant mariners to defend their own vessel. After all, at some point, these armed-guards disembark and surely pirates will migrate to where they are not around.

Just today comes word that Pirates were thwarted by armed guards just long enough for Naval forces to come to the rescue.

“When pirates see the frigate, they usually abort,” said Cyrus Mody from IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre. HMAS Toowoomba responded to an emergency call from Bockstiegel’s MPP BBC Portugal (3,490dwt, built 2001) on Sunday night.

Nick Davis, speaking for Gulf of Aden Group Transits, told Fairplay today that it had posted an armed Yemeni navy team on the German general cargo ship, which opened fire, causing the pirates to flee while the crew called for help. – Fairplay

Did the armed guards prevent another hijacking? It is impossible to know for sure. However, they were there to defend the ship when the anti-pirate patrols were not.

Armed Merchant Ship Crews Will Not Escalate The Pirate Problem

Posted by Fred Fry.

Posted by FFry in Maritime Security | 1 Comment
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First, the Russian Navy sends half a fleet thousands of miles to rescue the crew of the Maltese-Flag cargo ship ARCTIC SEA despite having no obvious reason to do so.

Next, the Russian Government has to deny accusations that the ship was carrying secret cargo on behalf of the Russian Government.

Then, the Russian Government has imprisoned not only the hijackers but also the crew which still have yet to call home to their families.

The crew members were not allowed to go home on Thursday: like the hijackers they were taken to the Lefortovo remand prison for questioning. In Arkhangelsk the families of the crew waited for their loved ones with their eyes glued to their televisions. However, there was no indication of when the men would get home. “I only know what was said on television. I hope that I can see my husband as soon as possible”, said mechanic Vladimir Kazhinin’s wife Olga to Helsingin Sanomat by telephone.

Vazir Fazylov, the father of seaman Dmitri Fazylov was surprised that his son was not even allowed to call home. “Nobody is saying anything. We’re just watching TV. This is stupid.” – Helsingin Sanomat

And now, the Russian Navy plans to tow the ship over 4,000 miles to Russia for ‘further investigation’. (Bypassing the ship’s flag-state of Malta.)


It’s almost like the Russians know that there is something on the ship worth hiding. Surely, they have already investigated the ship from top-to-bottom, and any part of the ship not accessible due to cargo onboard would be accessible in Algeria once the cargo was off-loaded. Algeria would be the place to inspect the ship given that the cargo is headed that way and it would be somewhat idiotic to offload all that timber just to re-load it, unless there is something secret hidden under it after all.

One more thing. Why are the Russians towing the ship all the way back to Russia? It would be much faster and safer to sail it under its own power. The Ship operator had stated last week that it was planning to send out a replacement crew to the ship. Maybe the Russians don’t want more prying eyes around?

It is almost as if the Russians have hijacked the ship themselves.

News not too long ago of a merchant sailor found shot dead on a ship released by Somali pirates is just one more example of how dangerous modern-day pirates are:

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.”

The victim had died the day of the MV Marathon’s capture on May 7, he added. – Yahoo News(Found via EagleSpeak)

Merchant ships are being picked on by pirates simply because it is a safe bet that the merchant ships are unarmed and easy targets.

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.

On Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates

In the end, what is the core driver of each pirate? The argument could be made that it is economics. While much of the discussion about piracy has been in the fields of lawfare, tactics, diplomacy, and a bit of the, whatchacallit, The Global War on Overseas Contingency Operations Infinitely Enduring Freedom’s Justice – or sump’n. Perhaps the Dismal Science has something to add to our knowledge base on piracy. Let’s go to the bookshelf. This sounds like an interesting – and timely book, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates


Economist Leeson leads readers though a surprisingly entertaining crash course in economics in this study of high seas piracy at the turn of the 18th century. Far from being the bloodthirsty fiends portrayed in popular culture, pirates created a harmonious social order; through the application of rational choice theory, the author explains how a common pursuit of individual self-interest led pirates to create self-regulating, democratic societies aboard their ships, complete with checks and balances, more than half a century before the American and French revolutions brought such models to state-level governance. Understanding the profit motive that guided pirates’ actions reveals why pirates so cruelly tortured the crews of ships that resisted boarding, yet treated those who surrendered readily with the utmost respect. Both practices worked to minimize costs to the pirate crew by discouraging resistance that could lead to loss of life and limb for pirates and damage to either the pirates’ ship or the cargo aboard. Illustrated with salty tales of pirates both famous and infamous, the book rarely bogs down even when explaining intricate economic concepts, making it a great introduction to both pirate history and economic theory.

History, economics, pirates – tell me Eagle1, what is there not to like? For those trying to understand piracy today, this may be a good book to add to your list. Any ship in the 5th Flt AOR should have this in the Wardroom; awww heck, make that any AOR. If you want, via NRO’s “Between the Covers” you can hear John J. Miller interview the author here. Crossposted (and of course, anyone who is looking for a new book should browse USNIBooks collection first).

Posted by CDRSalamander in Books | 74 Comments
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