Sea Transportation: No More Mister Nice Guy

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March 11, 2010: The international anti-piracy patrol has admitted that it is now pursuing a policy of hunting down and destroying pirate mother ships. Several recent incidents, that resulted in the destruction of  mother ships, indicated that this was the case. But now this has been confirmed, along with the warning that even if there is not enough evidence to prosecute the pirates, the mother ship will be destroyed, and the crew dumped on a Somali beach. If there is enough evidence to prosecute, arrangements have been made for Kenya or Seychelles to do it. Western nations are providing these two nations with cash and other assistance to make these prosecutions possible.

The anti-pirate patrol is going after pirate mother ships because these vessels are necessary if the pirates are to attack ships far (up to 1,500 kilometers) off the coast. Mother ships (usually stolen sea-going fishing ships) are spotted leaving known pirate bases, and, when they get far enough out to indicate they are going after distant targets, they are intercepted by a warship. If weapons and boarding equipment is found, the pirates are arrested and prosecuted, and the mother ships and speedboats destroyed. If the pirates managed to dump their weapons and boarding gear overboard, the mother ship is sunk anyway.

The anti-piracy forces have a considerable maritime reconnaissance force of aircraft and UAVs, plus the occasional use of photo satellites. Thus it is difficult for the pirates to head out for the high seas without being spotted. The pirates are no doubt trying to come up with some new tactic to get around this.

Meanwhile, more merchant ships are carrying armed guards, and there have been at least four incidents this year where these guards fired their weapons to drive off pirates.  But most merchant ships have noted that all the ships taken of late are those that did not heed the advice of the anti-piracy patrol. This advice includes travelling through the Gulf of Aden in the two patrolled corridors, or, better yet, waiting for the regular convoys the patrol escorts through the corridors daily. Even ships travelling the corridor, or with a convoy, are advised to post additional lookouts, and radio the patrol immediately if they spot a pirate speed boat. Any small boat near the corridors, equipped with a powerful outboard engine (something a fisherman could not afford, but necessary to overtake a merchant ship), should be considered suspicious, and reported.

Captains are also advised of measures they can take to repel boarders, as it’s been observed that the pirates will give up if crew resistance keeps them off the ship for more than a half hour. But the crew must have water hoses at the ready, and crewmen practiced in the use of high pressure water against boarders. So captains are advised to train their crews to use the hoses, as well as devices to cut boarding ropes or push away ladders. The crew are out of the line of fire while doing this, so there’s not a lot of danger. But the skills must be acquired before they are needed.

The Gulf of Aden has become, for the moment, a place where a guarded (in the corridor or a convoy) ship is impossible to take. If the campaign against the mother ships succeeds, the pirates may get discouraged, and look for other work (like the lucrative Yemeni smuggling run). But first, the pirates will try to find chinks in the new, improved, anti-piracy tactics.

 

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