The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

More piracy: It’s time to let people defend themselves

Posted by Bill Nance on December 2, 2008

Yet another incident of piracy:

NAIROBI, Kenya – Pirates chased and shot at a U.S. cruise liner with more than 1,000 people on board but failed to hijack the vessel as it sailed along a corridor patrolled by international warships, a maritime official said Tuesday.

The liner, carrying 656 international passengers and 399 crew members, was sailing through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden on Sunday when it encountered six bandits in two speedboats, said Noel Choong who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Malaysia.

The pirates fired at the passenger liner but the larger boat was faster than the pirates’ vessels, Choong said.

This could have been very bad indeed. In case you don’t know how bad, you might want to remember what happened on the Achille Lauro.

The U.S. Navy and the very small navies of the rest of the world cannot patrol everywhere. It’s not even remotely possible. After all, this incident took place in a relatively small part of the world’s waterways where there is already a very substantial anti-piracy naval presence.

While piracy off the coast of Somalia has recently received a lot of attention, it’s far from the only place where this occurs.

Wherever there is grinding poverty, access to weapons and easy access to shipping lanes, piracy is becoming increasingly prevalent and there is simply no way the navies of the industrialized world can patrol everywhere.

The answer here is clear. Ships must be allowed to arm themselves and have crew with some ship-defense training.

This is a lot easier to do than the opponents might think. First of all, while most sailors have no desire to become soldiers, they would probably be happy to undergo a few days of ship-board training rather than risk being murdered on the high seas.

This is more important when you factor in terrorism. A terrorist may have no interest in taking hostages and ships for ransom. They may prefer to steal the ship and kill the crew, or simply kill the crews as a political statement and leave the ship where it lies. Explain this to your reluctant sailors and I promise you more enthusiasm will quickly develop.

Ship defense is not rocket science. It primarily involves simple watch-standing and a crew able to be called to general quarters in short order. This is no different from standard fire-fighting training many commercial ships already have in place.

But a few UNARMED security guards won’t fill the bill at all. To adequately defend a ship, heavy guns, such as the venerable Browning .50 caliber machine gun, and the MK19 40mm automatic grenade launcher would be necessary. These weapons would be quite effective at repelling any attempted boarding by pirates. Several of these weapons placed fore, aft and amidships after leaving port would make short work of pirates on speedboats and small fishing boats, which are the preferred vessels of pirates.

A couple of well trained people on each ship could easily train the ship’s crew in the use of these weapons. Again, this is not rocket science. Any jackass can be trained to use a gun emplacement. It’s frankly a lot less demanding than teaching someone to shoot a pistol or rifle accurately.

The problem with this has been two-fold. One obstacle is shipowners who simply want to pretend “it won’t happen to me.” This is a fairly recent phenomena and shipowners would rather cash in their insurance policies in the event of a loss or hostage-taking than deal with all the hassle of arming their ships.

The easy solution to this is simply to stop insuring ships whose owners will not provide for the welfare of their own vessels.

The second and probably most serious obstacle are the laws of various nations which prohibit these weapons from entering their waters. Indonesia is a prime example of this. They simultaneously prevent ships from arming themselves and fail to provide security. While it is understandable that no one wants every commercial shipping vessel in their harbors sprouting heavy weapons from their decks, there is no reason why, upon entering near to port where there is plenty of security, ships cannot simply dismount their guns and store them in an armory until they leave safe harbor. A simple customs seal can be placed on the doors to these armories until the ship goes on it’s way.

The answer here is international cooperation on both political and business levels. Countries must be made to understand that the potential problems posed by having freighters putting up gun emplacements upon leaving their ports is far less than that posed shipping costs becoming so high that all international commerce becomes prohibitively expensive.

Governments could pressure Lloyd’s of London and other insurers to simply stop insuring any ship venturing near dangerous waters unless they are properly armed to defend themselves. This would make the cost of imports and exports from places like Indonesia so expensive they’d be forced to change policy as well as force reluctant ship owners to take some responsibility for the safety of their vessels and crew.

The notion that heavy weapons should only be in the hands of the military, where the military does not and cannot provide security, has been demonstrated to be foolish in the extreme.

If there is any single right which should trump all others, it is the right and obligation for self defense. Wherever this right is removed by law, law-abiding people are merely victims in waiting for anyone willing to violate those laws.

How long it will take ship owners and governments to figure this out remains to be seen.


3 Responses to “More piracy: It’s time to let people defend themselves”

  1. Peter Lesniak said

    As ironical as it may seem, we have to take into consideration that Somalia’s piracy lies in the interests of president-elect Obama. As pirates started to attack Iranian transportation vessels, this might be the best line of communication between the USA and Iran, especially with regard to security issue in both states.

  2. […] combined with arming ships for their own defense will solve the […]

  3. […] go into the details, which appear to still be developing.  But  I will again restate that arming the fucking ships would prevent this. I don’t know how many times it need be said, but gun control, which is what in effect what […]

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