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Sea Transportation: Explosive Developments
   Next Article → COUNTER-TERRORISM: Avoiding The Snatch
May 3, 2009: Merchant marine sailors have been filling up their discussion boards and email groups with ideas on how to defeat pirates, and a consensus has formed that the most practical tactic is to establish a drill for sending a distress message to the owner, or nearby warships, quickly shutting down the engines (including any auxiliary generators) and getting all the crew to a safe room. It's already part of ship procedure to send an emergency message quickly, and someone is always on the bridge to do so. Shutting down the engines is also a normal procedure, but doing it quickly, and making sure some savvy pirate can't get them started again, takes some planning and practice. But some crews have already done it, to good effect. Once the engines are shut down, the pirates are stuck. With help on the way, the pirates usually abandon ship, unless they capture one of more of the crew.

That's why you need a safe room, and have to get everyone into it once the pirates are on board. The safe room is a space that is very difficult for the pirates to get in to, and stocked with water, food and some toilet facilities, as well as some kind of radio or satellite phone, and whatever else the crew decides they need. There are several spaces on the ship that could be modified to serve as a safe room. During the recent capture of the U.S. merchant ship Alabama, the crew made for the steering gear space (room), which is at the rear (stern) of merchant ships and usually easy to make very difficult for someone to get into. The Alabama also took advantage of the general alarm that ships have (meant to alert everyone to a ship wide emergency) and the powerless phone system (that works when the engine is shut down, again, another emergency feature of ships) to get everyone alerted to the pirates, and down to the steering space.

Merchant sailors are a very practical bunch, and adept with tools. They also know that if the "shut down and safe room" practices are generally adopted, pirates will start coming prepared (with bolt cutters, explosives, grenades or even cutting torches). That's already happening. A Portuguese warship recently captured 19 pirates, and found that they were carrying four sticks of dynamite, along with their usual AK-47s, RPGs and boarding ladders. The pirates were disarmed, and then released, because the Portuguese government will only keep pirates prisoner if a Portuguese ship was attacked.

The merchant marine sailors discussions continue on how best to deal with each of those potential problems. As more ships defeat a pirate boarding with these tactics, more crews will adopt, and improve on, the techniques. All this also requires practice and drills (to insure that everyone can do their part in time.) Some sailors are also discussing ways to counterattack the pirates, if they don't leave. That has also been done successfully by some crews. More dangerous, but also more satisfying to crews that can carry it off.

Ship officers are also suggesting to the owners that some money (under $10-100,000 per ship) be made available for these anti-piracy improvements. Some owners are inclined to make the investment, if only for the morale benefit.

Next Article → COUNTER-TERRORISM: Avoiding The Snatch
  

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matisse    Convoys, Corridors, and Armed Response   5/4/2009 12:01:31 AM
I've been waiting to see a thorough, reasonable discussion of establishing a narrow corridor for merchant ships to use - a corridor that can successfully covered by available naval and security assets. I know the idea is being considered, but no media reports i have seen cover the pros and cons and what it would take.
 
Other ideas I'd like to see properly discussed are convoys, and/or allowing merchant vessels to carry weapons.
 
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sjdoc    Commercial inefficiencies   5/4/2009 3:57:37 AM
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Convoys and safe corridors are relatively odious to commercial shipping.  The cost advantages by which commercial freight carriers make their optimum profits require flexibility in operations which maximize what the ships and crews can do, and waiting for convoys to assemble, steaming at convoy speeds, risking collision, and generally putting up with what is the seaborne equivalent of gridlock traffic driving just wears the hell out of men, machinery, and scheduling. 
 
Time is money, and both convoy operations and "safe corridor" conduit restrictions cost shippers one of their most critically important resources.  The corporate bean-counters could give precise numbers on just what the shipping firms would lose - in dollars, yen, and Euros - if they were obliged to go to a system of transit that made it possible for naval escorts to bulletproof them against the pirates of Somalia.  That's a cost that the customers of the shipping firms will have to be willing to pay, and it'll have to be reflected in the prices of goods eventually sold by those customers to the end consumers. 
 
There's going to be a point at which the profit potential for goods flowing through this plunder zone drops below the threshhold of tolerability, at which nothing is shipped there, and the Somalis have to go back to attacking fishing boats. 
 
That or somebody gets fed up enough to quit the "play nice" practices, and the Somali buccaneers find themselves treated to a modern version of caedite eos
 
Think "shoot, shovel, and shut up."
 
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RtWingCon    destroy all boats   5/5/2009 1:30:36 AM

send in the Cobras and Riverines and destroy every boat on the somali coast. Leave the canoes for fishing. no need to destroy villages and people(except those on the boats), etc. When they buy more boats from their previous extortions, tear'em up again. Somewhat brutal, if not a fantasy solution given the weakness all nations/ peoples exhibit in dealing with rogue states. Obama will likely bow to them instead and say "can't we all get along."

 
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RtWingCon       5/5/2009 1:37:04 AM

I've been waiting to see a thorough, reasonable discussion of establishing a narrow corridor for merchant ships to use - a corridor that can successfully covered by available naval and security assets. I know the idea is being considered, but no media reports i have seen cover the pros and cons and what it would take.

 

Other ideas I'd like to see properly discussed are convoys, and/or allowing merchant vessels to carry weapons.



My limited understanding is in many merchant ships they carry shotguns for birds. Obviously not enough. However one promising tech that I read about elsewhere is a high frequency emitter that's is being used in limited numbers. I understand it has been used successfully to ward off boarders.
 
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