Monday, December 1

On Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates

It seems that the piracy problem off Somalia keeps spiraling out of control. Attacks on merchant ships brought calls for the ships to take action to protect themselves. Now, the ship M/V BISCAGLIA with a security team onboard was taken after pirates persisted to finally overcome the anti-pirate measures deployed against them.

One reason why the defense of the ship failed was because the pirates were armed and the security team only had non-lethal weapons to defend the ship with. Still they managed for about 45 minutes. Why weren't they armed? It is a logistics/legal problem:
“They were unarmed. They had no other option. As far as I’m concerned they deserve a medal,” said Nick Davis, a former British Army pilot who runs AntiPiracy Maritime Security Solutions (APMSS) out of Poole, Dorset. Mr Davis said his guards were unarmed because it was almost impossible to carry firearms through Customs and on to vessels in most countries, and because ships with cargoes of chemicals or gas seldom allowed weapons on board. - Times Online (Found at EagleSpeak here)
Pirates of course don't need to concern themselves with the legalities for their weapons since they are not facing any sort of legal challenge.

Unfortunately in this case, the non-deadly LRAD system and fire hoses were not enough to prevent the pirates from boarding.

This incident did remind me of this list I made up of how to defend a ship against Greenpeace protesters
Greenpeace keeps getting away with this because ship's crews are not given the GreenLight to repel them. Here are some ways to protect the ship if you find yourself being attacked by Greenpeace: (Note: Anything you do is your responsibility, although it is Greenpeace that forces you to act.)

- Use fire hoses and fire monitors. Add Foam or soap to make everything slippery. Deliver the soap inside water balloons and then use the hoses to foam it all up.

- Use the anchor wash if there is an attempt to secure themselves to the anchor chain.

- Use paintball guns. For more effect, shoot Pepper balls.

- Have the engineers whip up a couple potato cannons. Instead of potatoes, you can try ice cubes for a shotgun effect.

- Make use of expired flares. Just don't shoot them skyward.

Originally Posted on Maritime Monday 76
Of course Somali pirates are not Greenpeace protesters, but the list above is a little better than nothing at all and sending a constant stream of material/scrap metal their way might be enough of a deterrent for them to seek a less challenging target. So thinking about this failed defense of the M/V BISCAGLIA, I came up with a couple more ways to defend against borders:
- Molatov cocktails thrown onto the deck as they come alongside

- Drop the pilot ladder into the sea with a pirate or two, three still clinging to it

- Drop twistlocks and whatever else that heavy on them

- Fabricate gravity-powered 'missiles' out of large diameter pipe that can shoot through the pirate vessel's hull with the front end cut at an angle like a hypodermic needle to hole the pirate boat. (Not too large that it is not easy to move around the deck and deploy, but large enough to fly through the hull when it hits.)


I would think that the pirates are at their most vulnerable when they are alongside trying to get onboard so this is probably where they should be hit if they cannot be kept away. They are also in a position where if they were to attempt to damage the ship they would most likely become casualties in the process as well.

The suggestions above are of increasing effectiveness as the freeboard of the vessel increases, giving gravity a greater punch as whatever is tossed over the side strikes the vessel.

Buts lets say you could get armed teams onboard merchant ships. Just how well armed should these security teams be? Technically, there are two targets. The pirate vessel itself and the pirates onboard the vessel.

This time the security team targeted the pirates. Perhaps the better move is to target the vessel with enough firepower that can disable or sink it. This probably means deployment of a heavy machine gun, such as a .50 caliber or of some sort of rocket or missile that can hole their boat with one shot. How about a couple Marines with a 40 mm grenade launcher as part of their gear?

The MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher) is a lightweight 40 mm semi-automatic, 6-shot grenade launcher developed and manufactured in South Africa by the Milkor company (renamed Rippel Effect in 2007). The MGL was demonstrated as a concept to the South African Defence Force in 1981. The operating principle was immediately accepted and subjected to a stringent qualification program. The MGL was then officially accepted into service with the SADF as the Y2. After its introduction in 1983, the MGL was gradually adopted by the armed forces and law enforcement organizations of over 30 countries; it has since proven its effectiveness in harsh environments ranging from rain forests to deserts. Total production since 1983 has been more than 18,000 units.

The MGL is multiple-shot weapon, intended to significantly increase a small squad's firepower when compared to traditional single-shot grenade launchers like the M203. The MGL is designed to be simple, rugged and reliable. It uses the well-proven revolver principle to achieve a high rate of accurate fire which can be rapidly brought to bear on a target. A variety of rounds such as HE, HEAT, anti-riot baton, irritant or pyrotechnic can be loaded and fired at a rate of one per second; the cylinder can be loaded or unloaded rapidly to maintain a high rate of fire. Although intended primarily for offensive/defensive use with high-explosive rounds, with appropriate ammunition the launcher is suitable for anti-riot and other security operations. - Wikipedia
Using military personnel will overcome a major obstacle in the way of arming merchant ships, namely, it is damn near impossible to get armed security teams to and from these vessels since they need to be permitted entry into the country where they plan to embark the vessels they intend to protect as well as be permitted to disembark via another port/country once the ship has passed through the pirate area. There are already a number of naval vessels in the area conducting anti-pirate operations. Just have a couple stationed at the edge of the pirate areas and then have willing ships embark defensive teams onboard who can ride the vessel through the area and then be collected on the other side by another naval vessel stationed for that purpose. The team can then hitch a ride back to their ship on another cargo vessel going the other way. But this is how it would need to be done, at sea deployment, if done at all. As a bonus, the naval vessels can better be tasked for hunting the pirates down via boardings and less so on escort duty.

There is no simple answer here but surely there is more that can be done by the vessels to better prevent more ships from being taken by pirates.

Surely, the three rescued members of the security team will be able to discuss the pirate attack and how they were able to eventually defeat their defenses. This should then be shared so that protection plans can be adjusted accordingly.

Kennebec Captain's post "The (Unarmed) Defense of the Biscaglia" was the inspiration for this post.

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5 comments:

Belerophon said...

This is not the first time in history that Pirates have been a problem. Read about the First Barbary War during the time of President Jefferson. The Pirates stated their right to attack merchants in a message to Congress.
"It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise."
The piracy didn't end until Jefferson sent a fleet of ships to attack the pirates home base.

STASH said...

Why can't the US and other countries send out a few submarines to the area. If a pirate ship ventures out, sink it.
No warning, just sink em. Eventually they will get the idea.

Capt. Ken E. Beck said...

Good post, In principle I don't think arming ships is a good idea. Having said that the MGL looks like it would do the job. I need three, one aft and two on each wing....with operators.

Stash- one problem is that pirates are using recently hijacked ships as mother ships, nobody know what they look like. On my last transit of the Gulf of Aden the UKMTO requested any vessel that had encountered pirates to give a detailed description of the vessel if spotted.

Anonymous said...

How about running gear entanglement systems. Introduce a kind of Y gun to fire it in front of the pirate boat so he can run over it.

Running gear entanglement paravanes that are connected to the ship just above the waterline.

gCaptain.com said...

I've seen a bosun do a significant amount of damage by using a shackle and wire line in leu of a monkey's fist.