Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Piracy solution if I ran a shipping interest (or owned a yacht): USAV

As in the Brit tradition of "His Majesty's Armed Vessels" (HMAV's) armed but non-rated ships of the Royal Navy, that acted in a capacity something like today's commercial vessels, sailing under the Union Jack. The most famous? Why, the Bounty or course. She had no trouble with pirates. Unfortunately, there were other issues. Scantily clad Tahitian women reportedly had something to do with it. Check the link.

But back to the present:

Times were not that long ago when shipping interests argued it was not economically feasible to protect themselves with arms, or repellents (such as LRAD), and indeed they claimed it was cheaper, and ultimately safer for crews, to simply pay ransoms. Insurance and protection was cost prohibitive, especially when you considered the long odds of actually being accosted by pirates of the Horn of Africa.

But, it seems over the several years this has been going on, such behavior encourages pirates, and has a net effect of increasing the frequency of attacks. This should be no surprise. From the pirates' perspective, risk is low, payoff high. But, uptick in takings has led some interest like Maersk to change their minds. So, some of the same commercial concerns that eschewed the option mere years ago are now are arming their vessels. Fixed guns, and small arms. Warning shots to skiffs full of pirates, and they tend to retreat.

Well, what would you do if you were a pirate looking for an easy buck? Move on to unarmed vessels of other types? Yep. Latest target: a private vessel of U.S. origin, a yacht. Two hostages killed while negotiations were underway with USN.

We see now that this is the case: Not only are unarmed pleasure craft not safe from being taken by pirates (no shocker there), but those that sail them are not merely being held for ransom, but are now being killed.

Four Americans taken hostage by Somali pirates off East Africa were shot and killed by their captors Monday, the U.S. military said, marking the first time U.S. citizens have been killed in a wave of pirate attacks plaguing the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for years.

U.S. naval forces, who were trailing the Americans' captured yacht with four warships, quickly boarded the vessel after hearing the gunfire and tried to provide lifesaving care to the Americans, but they died of their wounds, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement from Tampa, Fla.

On Monday, two pirates had peacefully come aboard the USS Sterett to negotiate with naval forces for the release of the hostages, and remained aboard overnight.

But on Tuesday, pirates aboard the Quest unexpectedly fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Sterett. Shortly afterward, gunfire erupted inside the Quest cabin, and U.S. special forces responded, approaching the Quest in small boats and boarding the vessel, Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said in a Tuesday press conference.

Some pirates moved to bow and put up their hands in surrender. The U.S. forces killed two pirates in the course of clearing the vessel - one with a handgun and one in a close-combat knife fight. There were no injuries to U.S. forces or damage to U.S. ships, Fox said.

The Quest was the home of Jean and Scott Adam, a couple from California who had been sailing around the world since December 2004 with a yacht full of Bibles. The two other Americans on board were Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, of Seattle, Wash.

The long term solution is not to rely on the USN patrolling the vast area of ocean off the Horn. Even if the whole fleet were available, that would be the equivalent of having 10 squad cars patrolling the entirety of Baltimore and Washington, protecting citizenry and looking for criminal activity to thwart. Cannot be done. A small group of human beings can not hope to mimic omniscience and omnipotence.

So, do the next best thing. "Localize" the patrol and its deterrent threat of lethality, as it were. I.e., the analog of allowing the citizenry of the Baltimore Washington area to arm and protect themselves; the analog of allowing formation of armed patrol in and around neighborhoods, patrols with significant autonomy, and also in constant communication with police.

Allow commercial interests that wish to do so to arm their ships in such a way as to present a vessel bristling with deterrent weaponry, apparent to the naked eye. Make use of these when necessary, warning shots, and if these fail, lethal force.

Also make it very clear, by our actions and communications that any U.S. flagged ship that is attacked will not only answer with superior force, but, when possible, will be joined in this answer by 'the cop on the beat' if he is within reasonable distance.

In the long run, pirates will see there isn't easy money, and will either move on, or give up the 'profession' all together.