Thursday, October 2, 2008

At last, Pirates make the news

I know there's been a lot in the news lately, the mortgage meltdown, the credit crisis, the elections, Sarah Palin getting skewered by Katie Couric (And the comic genius of Tina Fey). But like the global recession there has been another news story looming on the horizon.

I was so pleased to finally hear a report this week on National Public Radio (My preferred source for news) concerning piracy and the hijacking of the MV Faina. It brought to light the growing boldness the pirates are showing in attacking defenseless ships. This topic has been ignored for some time by the American media because what happens to a Monrovia flagged tanker crewed by Filipinos has little effect on the United States.

Now that a ship carrying munitions has fallen into the hands of Somali pirates in close proximity to the Islamic fueled rebellion there is greater concern from Russia and the U.S.. Unfortunately shipping companies are still paying out millions of dollars in ransom for hijacked ships enabling the pirates like drunks at a wine tasting.

I'm sure that neither the U.S. or Russia will allow the 33 T-72M1 and T72-M1K battle tanks, six anti-aircraft defense systems, 150 RPG-7 launchers, six missile launchers and 14,000 rounds of 125 mm ammunition to fall into the hands of Muslim extremists but what about the crew lying at anchor close to the Somali coast.? What about the Captain who has just died, his conditions surely exacerbated by the stress of seeing his multi-ethnic crew of 21 being confined at gunpoint?

Isn't their kidnapping by a thousand man strong criminal organisation enough justification? The French didn't put up with it when Le Ponant was hijacked. Their Marine Commandos intervened, liberated the crew and apprehended the pirates who are now standing trial.

Instead we are in negotiations with a the pirate spokesman giving more legitimacy to their crimes. It took ten years for the United States to authorize six frigates to combat the Barbary Pirates and cease paying tribute. How long will it take us now? Maybe were just waiting for the Russians to show up and take care of their own mess. But what of the other 14 or so ships currently being ransomed? I suppose it will require the hijacking of an American ship to pull some SEALs out of the dessert and away from the real "War on Terror".

Having transited the Gulf of Aden numerous times I pay close attention to these events mainly because I'm the one who plots the course line through these attacks. Information about recent locations or attacks, the methods employed and the deterrents used by the ships is very useful to mariners. Seeing the increase in media coverage and discussions of piracy online is a positive change. Hopefully the coalition navy will sooner than later institute an anti piracy policy that goes beyond surveillance and five minute VHF interrogations.

Still beyond people who directly deal with piracy and it's effects there remains a lack of awareness about the threats to innocent passage of commercial vessels around Africa. A month ago during my VSO course an FBI Agent working in maritime security informed the class that the real piracy hot spot was still the Strait of Malacca. Perhaps he should check out this satellite imagery from UNOSAT. (Click on Somalia)


  1. Great post but who's fault is it that the ships are defenseless? My take is that letting a ship sail anywhere near Somalia without a Long Range Acoustic Device is criminal. I'm actually surprised the insurance companies haven't made it mandatory already.

  2. I see your point but we DO have an LRAD on board, and despite it's success in defending the Seaborne Spirit as VSO and a designated LRAD operator I have my doubts regarding it's effectiveness. It is and ideal tool for establishing intent and one way communication, say with a stricken vessel. But, when it comes to automatic weapons one well placed round could finish it off. Also, in poor visibility, heavy winds, tossing seas etc. it's effectiveness will be limited in driving away the assailants. Also, a ship would realistically need more than one unit to thwart multiple craft at a time. We tried to overcome that problem by mounting the unit on a SCRAM cart that has a battery and wheels but you still would have to lug it from one bridge wing to another. Despite the impressive technology it has it's limitations as a means of defense.

  3. Great post. While I think the LRAD is the best bet for us, I do see your point about its limitations. I haven't used the LRAD myself so don't really know it first hand. But this piracy of the Car carrier may be a hidden boon as it atleast has brought the problem into focus.

    Stay safe .


  4. BTW, had added you in my blogs links. Hope to read more from you.

    Cheers and seafe sailing,

  5. Interesting perspective. I've never seen an LRAD unit myself which is funny since I work for a US based company the US is suppose to be the most security conscience nation.

    My only point of rebuttal is that piracy is not a major concern of mine during heavy winds or tossing seas. Even poor visibility works both ways.