Readers offer their solutions to the growing piracy threat

Editor's note: Professional Mariner recently invited readers to submit their suggestions for ending the growing threat of piracy. What follows is a sampling of those submissions. To see other submissions, visit the Mariners Speak section of our website.

Members of a U.S. Coast Guard team check out a suspected pirate vessel. The team, operating from the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg, is part of the international maritime force trying to deter piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Pirates will learn to stay away from ships with armed crews or security teams

by Milton J. Singleton In 67 B.C. the Roman Senate ordered general Gnaeus Pompeius to remove the piracy problem from the eastern Mediterranean. Within three months Pompey had obliterated all the pirate strongholds and made the Mare Nostrum secure for Roman merchant fleets for the next five centuries.

The political and moral climate of the early 21st century however makes the Roman solution for piracy unthinkable. Since 2005, the growing instability in Somalia has created a new and very effective piracy threat throughout the Indian Ocean.

Despite the large naval presence offshore, the piracy threat remains substantial due to the large profits that can be made by otherwise impoverished Somalis. Many experts have argued that the only way to permanently stop the threat of Somali piracy is to intervene and rebuild the country. Once a real government is in place, then an effective police and coast guard can be established. However, with the U.S., NATO and the U.N. still heavily engaged in nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan, no country has the resources to take on the task of rebuilding Somalia at this time.

This leaves only one viable option to ensure the safety of international commerce, the individual arming of merchant vessels. Over 33,000 ships a year transit the Gulf of Aden and they cannot all be protected by naval forces. Making merchant ships responsible for their own security is the only way to ensure the safety of their crew and cargo.

Ship owners have the choice of hiring security teams or to provide their crews with some basic defensive weapons and training. In addition to small arms (shotguns, M16s/AKs, pistols), crew-served weapons would also be essential, such as .50 caliber machine guns or grenade launchers. To protect their traditional neutral status that has ensured free commerce for generations and comply with port state requirements, ships could stow their weaponry in secured spaces once they have safely transited the risk area.

The first time a pirate skiff encounters a tanker that fires a heavy caliber warning shot across its fragile bow, it will definitely break off and go in search of easier prey. If all vessels equip themselves as necessary, there will be no easier prey to turn to and young Somali men may be more strongly motivated to find alternative employment.

Jim Singleton, a business analyst for General Maritime Management and a Kings Point graduate, is also a commander in the Navy Reserve who has served as an anti-piracy expert for NATO.

Partnership for deterrence needed between the military and the maritime industry

by Lt. Craig Allen Jr. Piracy is an affront on the global commitment to freedom of navigation on the seas and cancerous to the international economy. All agree that the current situation is both unacceptable and unlikely to change in a meaningful way without a paradigm shift by all concerned communities. The professional mariner community must necessarily commit itself to upholding its part in a coordinated, multi-faceted solution to the pirate problem.

Naval presence alone will never be sufficient to eradicate piracy. Combined Task Force 151 operates a potent fleet of warships in the Gulf of Aden, but the expanse of water to patrol is too great and the problems inherent to positively identifying and apprehending pirates too intractable for it to ever approach a panacea. The shipping industry cannot rely on naval combatants to provide an impenetrable security presence.

Deterring pirates from what is presently a highly lucrative commercial enterprise requires convincing them that the risk of attempting an attack outweighs the enormous benefits of success. The maritime community can alter the calculus by increasing perceived cost through hardening ships as targets and/or reducing the benefits by refusing the exorbitant ransom sums demanded. It is unlikely that the latter option will succeed without greater international solidarity.

Hardening ships as targets against pirate attacks provides the most immediately feasible option, and to that end the military and commercial shipping industry should work together to share the burden. Coalition forces could, for a given time period, surge personnel to provide a marshaling service to vessels transiting high-threat areas. The U.S. Coast Guard conducts a sea marshal service for high interest vessels entering major shipping ports in the United States. A similar concept applied more broadly would be an effective countermeasure against pirates, who are unlikely to overwhelm a vigilant military security team. Sea marshals can also embark and disembark at sea, thus obviating complications regarding weapon restrictions in commercial ports. For a long-term solution, IMO and ICS should work together to develop standardized certification criteria for private marshaling contractors with a view towards eventually incorporating qualified security services to replace coalition military forces.

Equipping at-risk vessels with trained security teams positioned at a tactical advantage to seaborne attack will deter many and repulse others who attempt boarding. The idea of arming peaceable vessels, though uncomfortable to many, is a necessary reaction to the resurgence of a very old scourge.

Lt. Craig Allen Jr. is the commanding officer of USCGC Baranof (WPB 1318), a 110-foot patrol boat stationed in Bahrain.

Combatants, not armed merchant vessels, are the answer

by Capt. Raymond J. Brown Stopping piracy in the Indian Ocean is no easy task, but it can be done. It will require political will and unity of command at sea. And then a subsequent interdiction rate which will throw the criminal organizations into disarray.

We hear much about "engaging the international community," applying political pressure and increasing naval patrols. We hear about arming merchant ships. Consider the following:

– When was the last time the proverbial "international community" accomplished anything?

– How is that political pressure working out for you — on an emasculated government in Somalia?

– There is a lot of ocean, and naval "showing the flag" presence is highly overrated. Diplomacy without force is like an orchestra without instruments.

– Have armed merchant ships, in the history of the world, ever deterred piracy?

Be it totalitarian governments and their warring aggression, violation of human rights, the slave trade, piracy, gun runners or drug trafficking, ask yourself… in the last four centuries, "Who, and who alone, has ever forced lawless miscreants to cease operations at sea?"

Simple and only answer: commissioned ships of the United States and the United Kingdom. If it is not the Stars and Stripes of the U.S. Navy and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy carrying out the mission, it will not happen. And though both navies are pale shadows of past might and grandeur, they are still the only answer. Thus has it ever been.

But this does not mean just menacing presence afloat.

The U.S. Coast Guard essentially played at Caribbean drug interdiction for over a dozen years from the mid 1970s. However, in one month, October 1987, Coast Guard cutters and aircraft were able to inflict losses on drug runners well in excess of 80 percent. The Marimberos have never recovered, and the narcotics trade eventually moved from Colombian ports to Mexican deserts.

In the pirate-infested Indian Ocean, English-speaking sailors in warships will need to be afforded rules of engagement, real-time intelligence, and, yes, enough ships to permit such an interdiction rate. The pirates' losses need to be in quick succession, not over time.

That human outrage or financial loss has reached a threshold which allows such fleet action remains to be seen.

Capt. Raymond J. Brown is director of intelligence with Total Security Services International of Rockville, Md.

Send out decoy ships with military crews to destroy pirate vessels

by Walter A. Shields Pirates have been around forever. We will never completely eliminate them, but we can certainly cut down on their activities. All we have to do is make piracy so hazardous that they will look to safer endeavors.

Many politicians have talked about the problem. Many lawyers have talked about the problem. Many diplomats have talked about the problem. All to no effect. Obviously, piracy and kidnapping are illegal, but the legal system means nothing to these criminals.

So listen to an ordinary seaman's simple answer to the problem. Send some well-armed decoy ships into their waters. Then, when they attack, blow the SOBs straight to Davy Jones' Locker. No prisoners, no trials, no second chances.

Shades of Q-ship of two world wars. They were not very effective against U-boats, but they could wipe out a lot of pirates.

The United States incursion to Somalia was a disaster. We don't want to do that again. We don't need to invade them. We just need to demolish their pirate fleet.

The United States Marines subdued the pirates of Tripoli. The United States Navy furnished U.S. Navy gunners to the merchant ships of WW II. The existing Marines and Navy should certainly be able to blast these pirate ships and their crews into oblivion with our modern weapons.

My question: Why haven't we already done that?

Walter A. Shields, a retired ordinary seaman, currently serves as a volunteer aboard the SS American Victory Mariners' Memorial Museum in Tampa, Fla.

Use 21st century technology to stop an 18th century problem

by Norman J. Barta According to the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) global piracy report, pirates captured 1,181 seafarers in 2010, killing eight, with 53 ships hijacked, in an operating range the IMB says is unprecedented. "Violence against crew members continues to increase," the report concluded.

Solutions? Firearms are problematic: Ports restrict the entrance of "armed" vessels; crews do not want to encourage fire fights; vessels carrying volatile materials cannot afford exposure to explosive armament. Lesser approaches, such as wire fencing or attempting to outrun pirate boats, are often either infeasible or ineffective. Naval forces are patrolling critical regions, but simply cannot cover the extraordinary territory in which pirates operate.

Adm. Peter Hudson, a commander of the EU's Atalanta fleet, stated, "We are patrolling an area the size of the continental U.S. and we are doing it with 20 police cars."

Rather than calling for a naval cavalry that will rarely come over the hill in time, the maritime community has available a range of advanced, integrated non-lethal technologies to protect vessels against the threat of piracy. These include small target radar systems that can recognize small boats at 10-plus miles and direct long-range visual and thermal cameras to observe the threat; and dazzle-laser, acoustic-device and water cannon deterrents that can effectively deflect a pirate attack, beginning with the laser’s visually and psychologically impairing effects at two miles or more. Such technologies have been proven effective at their task: identifying, evading and deflecting pirate intrusions. An example: As early as April 2008, M/V Resolve used a long range acoustic device to repel a pirate attack when the intruder was approximately 0.8 miles from the hull.

How long will the maritime community wait for naval support? How many more vessels and crew need to be waylaid, how many more seafarers injured or killed before the seafaring community makes the investment necessary to step up with an effective onboard response? Mariners have always been a self-reliant lot. It's time to embrace the integrated high-technology solutions readily available as an "insurance policy" against the threat of piracy on today's high seas.

Norman J. Barta is CEO of Balinor International, LLC, distributor of Anti-Piracy Technology (APT) advanced piracy detection and deterrent systems.

By Professional Mariner Staff