Monday, September 29, 2008

Now tell me again....

....why it is that merchant ships go through pirate-infested waters unarmed? Yes, I realize that significant amounts of artillery on a ship today would qualify it as a man-o-war, but is it really unthinkable to allow, say, the crews of, say, a Ukrainian ship carrying 20 tanks and an unspecified amount of ammunition, to have a few .50 Brownings mounted on deck to suggest to pirates that they might do well to look elsewhere for amusement?

(or any cruise ship, or any ship carrying flammable items, or.....)

When life and death are a matter of seconds, the Navy and Coast Guard are only hours away. It's time to let merchant crews defend themselves if they so choose.


kingdavid said...

I haven't been following these Somali pirating stories---exactly what kind of weaponry are these pirates brandishing when they take over a ship?

I realize this is probably a pretty ignorant question, I'm just going by my perception from assorted news stories I catch, but---has Somalia, or Somalies in general, ever done anything to benefit the world. I know they're great at cornering taxi cab businesses in America; but, they seem intent on simply killing themselves off, or they're trying to kill infidels as terrorists and pirates. What's up with that ethnic group?

Bike Bubba said...

AK-47s, RPGs, and probably also a few 12.7mm (.50 cal) machine guns. It's a gross way of thinking about it, but yes, one of the best things that could happen for Somalia is if a few of these guys learned the hard way that merchant ships don't take kindly to piracy.

Had a Somali phlebotomist take my blood about a year back....they're not just taxi drivers and such.

Night Writer said...

The issue is, like many, complicated. Essentially, pirates have free reign in the area (despite it's strategic significance to the global economy since about 80% of the world's oil transfers through the Malacca Straits) but one concern is that by escalating defense to the deadly force level means more violence against the crews, which usually don't have military training. It's a bit like the corporate policies at SuperAmerica and other places that require employees not to resist.

That said, most ships trafficing those waters use tactics such as water cannons to fend off the smaller but faster pirate ships (often rubber Zodiacs-type boats). Some have used tacks and broken glass on decks, but that usually pisses them off. Mainly you try to keep them away by water cannon and defensive maneuvering (which can be tough in the relatively restricted, high-traffic waters).

Most pirate attacks don't take that much in terms of valuables - money and jewelry from crew/passengers and electronics from the bridge. Your typical pirate isn't going to have much more use for 30,000 barrels of oil than he does a few dozen heavy-battle tanks (hard to fence, you know). The big concern is some misadventure leading to a huge tanker running without a crew creating a shipping hazard or even a blockage of the Straits. Despite the stakes, political will and bureaucracy limit any serious military intervention - at least for now. More info at a post I did a few years back, or from the books I cite:

Bike Bubba said...

Given that you're talking about mostly Islamic terror, I'm not quite convinced that nonresistance is the ticket there any more than it is in, say, Washington DC or Chicago.

Let a few pirates assume room temperature with the help of a well armed crew, and let's see what happens to their desire to attack merchant ships. Keep in mind as well that a crew behind inch thick sheet steel of a hull enjoys a certain tactical advantage over pirates, methinks.

At the very least, it's completely absurd to sail a ship loaded with tanks and ammunition, but otherwise unarmed, through one of the world's greatest pirate zones. I would think you'd at least keep 100 miles from the coast to keep away from the little boats.