OPED: Addressing Piracy (a different view)...
A case for arming vessels in pirate-infested waters By CDR JOSEPH A. TENAGLIA, USN (Ret) April 21, 2009: As a maritime security specialist, I have instructed literally thousands of mariners in anti-piracy and anti-terrorism procedures. In class, I have listened to countless hair-raising stories of encounters with pirates related by crews, mates and masters. The situation off Somalia is not new. In August 2001, the U.S.-flagged research vessel Maurice Ewing was attacked by pirates firing AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades, operating from small boats launched from a mother ship. The ship was saved only by the bravery and quick actions of several unarmed crewmembers. The ship was lucky not to have been boarded and it's story of survival that serves as an example of the consequences when a threat is ignored and mariners are forced to step up to save their ship. However, the incident did not generate media attention was soon forgotten in the wake of 9-11. The situation off Somalia has only grown worse. The near-term possibility of forming a legitimate government that can restore order in Somalia is remote. Numerous warnings have been issued by the U.S. Navy and the International Maritime Bureau. U.S. and coalition forces are attempting to patrol an area the size of the Mediterranean and Red Sea combined. It is understood that the USN and others are doing their best. It is a difficult place to operate for weeks and months at a time. Long separations, hot, boring, no decent ports to visit, long lines of logistics, tough on people and machines. There will never be enough assets to police the entire region. It is just too vast. Strikes against land targets will probably only bring more misery to a long suffering people and more resentment against the US. This leaves the merchant mariners in an untenable position. Crews are many times the first and the last lines of defense. They are using a variety of non-lethal measures to counter the pirates. These efforts have had some success and many boardings have been thwarted. Once boarded several crews have successfully fought back using ice picks, pipes, wrenches, and wooden clubs. But these defenses are no match for armed intruders and the attacks continue. The recent saga of the bravery of Capt Phillips and his crew begs one to wonder why after spending hours trying fend off pirates were they put in a situation where a Master, was forced to offer himself in exchange for his crew. In a perfect world there would be no reason for armed vessels. However there are certain situations like the one off Somalia, where good people are being shot at and taken hostage, while decision makers are frozen into inaction by a "fear of liability". Unfortunately the pirates don't have that fear. No matter what they say, pirates are thugs and look for "the three legged gazelle on the Serengeti". They know the ships are unarmed and are taking full advantage of it. The crews need their jobs and livelihood. In a shrinking US merchant marine, they are reluctant to voice their fears or speak against company policies. I recently spoke to an AB that transited that area and he said, “they were all scared out of their minds”. While a Master who was in the area wrote he had sighted several pirate vessels but had armed protection and felt sorry for those who did not. The right of self defense is a universal concept. In my experience a majority of professional merchant mariners and security personnel understand rules for use of force in self defense. Many have military experience are willing and capable of being trained to defend themselves against the threat of piracy. The U.S. Maritime Liaison Office (MARLO) in Bahrain reports no ship with an armed guard has ever been taken. If there is a legal impediment to the use of force in self defense, I have yet to find it. The dangers of weapons onboard ships is certainly no greater than on commercial aircraft. In business costs are always number one. If one factors cost of ransom insurance lost time when vessels lie idle under siege, the expense of security teams, and trained armed crews in specific situations like this may not be high a price to pay. Perhaps governments could provide grants to help defray costs to companies. Deterrence is the key. Tactically the crews and security teams have all the advantages. They have the high ground, cover, and they know the ship. Deadly force would only be used as a last resort when all other means have failed. Security teams and crews could equip themselves with a variety of reasonably priced commercially available acoustic, optical and concussive non-lethal technology. This technology provides a very effective warning and hailing system and would thwart anything less than a determined attack. Use of this technology integrated into a ship’s security plan would dramatically reduce the need for deadly force in all but the most extreme circumstances. Pirates are not SEALS or Marines. When facing armed merchants, there is a good probability they might find their "business model" of terrorizing unarmed people is no longer valid. Force is a deterrent and, despite the chest thumping, few want the situation to deteriorate to a point where young men, who are exploited by warlords and criminals, have to be shot by trained snipers. Reports indicate the possibility of a jihadist connection in regards to Somalia piracy. Certainly Al Qaeda has had a presence in the area and in their websites have praised the exploits of the pirates. A direct or indirect terrorist nexus cannot be ruled out. Over the years there is a certain paradigm and a mind set that has crept into the industry. Prohibitive rules and policies have been established that prevent mariners from protecting themselves. Clearly, the situation won't change until there is a disaster. Well......the disaster is at hand. As of today, 18 ships and over 300 mariners are being held hostage. Armed criminals operate on the high seas with little consequence. A policy that relies on ad hoc defensive measures has not deterred the criminals. How long can we tolerate this situation? It will take a concerted effort at all levels of our national and international diplomatic, military, and legal organizations (including shipping companies, unions, security organizations etc.), to resolve the piracy situation off Somalia. Every day the news is filled with a barrage of reports concerning more piracy attacks. Well equipped and armed security for vessels is not the going to solve the issue by itself. However, as the Commanding Officer of the USS Bainbridge indicated, it will certainly help. All won't agree, but let the pirates figure that out. It will stabilize the situation to allow diplomatic, military company and law enforcement authorities some space to work out long and short term resolutions. Ships at sea are in a unique environment. They don't have an immediately available fire or police department to respond in an emergency. In class discussions I always ask the question, "who's going to protect you out there". While no one doubts the Herculean efforts of maritime military and law enforcement, the answer is always the same....... "we need to protect ourselves". NOTE: Mr. Tenaglia's opinions may not necessarily reflect those of MarEx and its editorial team. Commander Joseph Tenaglia is CEO of Tactical Defense Concepts (TDC) a maritime security company. TDC can provide ISPS/MTSA approved CSO/VSO courses, shipboard awareness training, exercises and drills. TDC has also developed combined lethal and non-lethal capable security teams for shipboard deployment. These professionals can integrate their capabilities with a vessel's security plan and crew to provide optimum protection. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org