Are Weapons the Answer To Counter Ship Piracy? Pt. 2

By MarEx 2011-06-08 22:48:26

Written by:  Andrew Kain, CEO and Ric Filon, Director Maritime Services, AKE Ltd 

... Part 1 of "Are Weapons the Answer To Counter Ship Piracy?" can be found here

Weapons and effects

Hollywood and the media have greatly exaggerated the destructive power of such weapons as the RPG7, while the AK47 has an iconic status. The RPG7 is a rocket propelled grenade, with very limited capability and effect. The AK47 is a superb close quarter battle weapon, ideal for insurgents, pirates and many others, because of its simplicity and functionality. However, it is a very inaccurate weapon, with little penetration capability. Both can, and do, create a situation of panic and fear in those with no understanding because of the noise effect and peoples? unrealistic image of their capabilities. That said, the inherent inaccuracies of the weapons and their very limited effectiveness are not the main considerations in whether to arm Sea Marshalls or not, although they should contribute to the argument against arms in most cases.

From considerable experience in shooting, training and developing shooting techniques, we can testify to the difficulties experienced by most professional soldiers in achieving hits over 100, 200 and 300 metres, when firing from a stable ground platform against a stationary target fixed to a stable platform in a benign range environment. When you apply any movement at either end, the difficulty increases dramatically and when movement is at both ends, accuracy is replaced by luck. The chances of anyone firing from a moving skiff and hitting what they are aiming for, is very low. A hit with even an RPG7, to do any serious damage, would have to be luckiest shot in the world, and would certainly not be the result of deliberate aimed shot at a specific point on the vessel.

Weapons for Defence

The use of weapons to counter piracy, (and there may be circumstances where some vessels and transits will require weapons as part of the defence) needs to be carefully thought through. The application of weapons should be a staged approach with the first being deterrence. For deterrence to be effective, knowledge of the weapon systems presence must be with the pirates. It must also be in their minds the fact that the weapon systems on board the vessel are more powerful than their own otherwise any deterrent effect is diminished. To achieve this, the weapons systems on board have to be prominently displayed at least at the point of danger.

The next stage where deterrence has failed is to effectively neutralise an attack. The weapons must either be able to put down sufficient fire power as a demonstration to clearly convince pirates that further attack would not be in their interest; or be of sufficient accuracy to disable the power units of pirate vessels; ideally without endangering any of the occupants of the pirate vessel.

This requires a category of weapons that can be described as „specialist?. Weapons such as pistols, shotguns and single shot rifles are not capable of providing a deterrent. Neither are they capable of effectively stopping a determined armed attack. Of equal importance is the expertise of those handling the weapons systems on board ship and this is an area where the shipping industry will find it most difficult to determine.

What can be stated with absolute certainty is the following:

  • Having served in any branch of any military for any length of time will not, on its own, illustrate the capability o fsecurity personnel with any weapons system.
  • Capability with any weapons system will, to a large extent, very much depend on currency (when did those tasked to use them last fire them?) which will be even more difficult to determine.
  • The production of CVs on its own is of little use!
  • There is no effective system of accreditation for security companies in the world. (Some of the companies who have signed up for latest Swiss generated protocols have dubious histories inrelation to application of standards and there is no way of effectively policing whether or not a company complies with what it has signed up for.)

Rules of Engagement

When the risks are fully understood, the appropriate weapons systems have been identified and are manned by those of requisite experience so that the advantage and control of situation clearly lies with the ship and its security there needs to be clear rules of engagement to cover every situation.

(Defining rules of engagement for all circumstances is not possible)

Perhaps two of the most difficult areas within the rules of engagement are:

(1) Who has control of the situation? And;
(2) What actually constitutes a risk to life whereby, pirates would be engaged with lethal force?
(The identification of actual pirates may not be that easy, as has been lethally demonstrated)

It is our view that in all circumstances the Master must have control (and this is probably the legal position), supported and advised by the Head of Security.

What constitutes a risk or a threat to life will, in many cases, be subjective and dependent on the experience of those security operatives involved and this could increase dramatically the potential for criminal error.


To achieve and then maintain control, the industry needs to institutionalise a better understanding of the actual risks confronting it. It must also have the means to communicate this knowledge to individual ship?s Masters, Officers and crews, so that all can and do understand the „actual? risks and how to mitigate them. In situations where it is considered appropriate to have weapons on board vessels, there needs to be a clear understanding of what constitutes appropriate weaponry that will effectively provide deterrence, and where deterrence fails be capable of effectively neutralizing an armed and determined attack.

Where weapons are deployed, it is absolutely critical that those employed to operate them have the appropriate skills and experience and are also current in weapon use. Finally, rules of engagement need to be appropriate and have to be realistic; and there must be absolute clarity as to who has control. The legal ramifications of this practical consideration are likely to be extensive.

Without proper consideration of the factors above, the deployment of weapons on vessels will do nothing to reduce the risk of piracy to shipping and could in fact „perversely? add further and unnecessary risks to the industry at considerable extra cost.

The potential means of reducing the commercial return for pirates and of imposing considerable financial pressures on them currently exists within the power of the industry, without resort to arms.