Ships should carry their own specialized defense group
I'm sorry; I fail to see why vessels do not take responsibility for this area of their own safety. We do our own collision avoidance ("Let's do something to avoid hitting that ship."), our own SMS ("Is it safe to do that? Are we doing that in the safest way."), our own navigation planning ("Big rocks and shoals in the way; let's go around them."). Why do we then expect to completely wash our hands of anti-piracy responsibility?
As far as the recent attacks on private yachts, any decent risk-assessment of a passage in a small vessel through the waters in question will surely flag up the unacceptable level of danger as things stand today.
More generally, I would make the comparison with the air carrier industry where air marshals, deputized by national law-enforcement, are present on many flights, acting both as a well-publicized deterrent and able to respond if the worst ever happens.
Does anyone know of a vessel with an armed protection team embarked that has ever been taken by "Somali" pirates? I don't. I've first-hand knowledge of two transits through the area; one with an embarked protection team and one with an armed escort vessel. I have no doubt ofthe outcome of any encounter with the ungodly. Costs are reasonable â€” especially if compared with the alternatives.
Please note that I am absolutely not advocating the arming of the existing ship's crew as some form of ad-hoc defense force. We have specialists in the other departments on the ship; deck, engines, housekeeping, etc. So it follows that you need experienced specialists in the security department as well.
I would envisage a system where individuals are licensed and deputized by flag states. In addition, vessels carrying armed protection would have to have a flag-state approved SMS covering weapon safety, drills and, of course, rules of engagement.
At the same time we do need to look for a better regulatory environment in Somalia and an improved enforcement regime. Others have suggested a blockade of Somali coastal waters and persistent surveillance of waters further offshore with the aim of inspecting/interdicting any vessels of interest. It will need a huge force to blockade that coastline and to carry out the requisite surveillance and that will entail considerable costs which will have to be passed on one way or another. Ultimately though, the best solution is a functioning Somali government.
Capt. Stephen Thomas is master of Fadlallah, a large motor yacht based in Saudi Arabia. In his previous military career he served with both airborne and marine forces.