Stopping Piracy With Armed Citizens

This article on how armed security are helping fight piracy off the coast of Somalia hits on many themes, such as the police (or navy, in this case) can’t be everywhere at once, and how difficult it is to distinguish between fisherman and pirates (the ones shooting at you are the pirates, but by then you’re already under attack):

That means the warships can only react to attempted hijackings, racing to intervene after the sea bandits attack. It isn’t enough. Apparently harmless vessels can turn hostile in mere minutes. With more than 2 million square miles of ocean to patrol and 25,000 commercial ships a year to protect, the 30 warships are spread thin — and are usually too far away to respond in time. No wonder successful hijackings of large vessels held steady at around 50 per year for three years, despite the escalating naval patrols. “These guys [pirates] are making more money, we’re spending more money,” lamented piracy expert Martin Murphy.

In addition to pursuing a doomed military strategy, the world’s governments dragged their heels on what seemed like the common-sense approach to beating pirates. A few armed guards should be sufficient to defeat a pirate attack, but allowing weapons on board civilian ships requires new regulations, which governments were slow to write.

And surprise, surprise, it’s worked. Read the whole thing, as the article is quite good. The problem is most world governments are more concerned about the pirates human rights than they are about stopping them. Ships under attack can actually start making piracy hazardous for the pirates, by killing them in self-defense. Piracy was stamped out in the 19th Century, as it previously was Royal Navy practice to hang pirates. As the article concludes “Self-defense succeeded where the world’s navies failed.”

The evidence continues to pile up that our opponents are completely wrong about the utility of armed self-defense as a deterrent to crime.

Hat tip to Chris from AK for the story.

10 thoughts on “Stopping Piracy With Armed Citizens”

  1. Things that would end piracy if you have the stomach:

    1) Armed merchantmen have always worked well
    2) Airstrikes on nearby ports in retaliation for any piracy
    3) Drones to sink small vessels that leave territorial waters
    4) Captured pirates hung publicly and denied proper burial
    5) All governments make ransoms illegal to dry up revenue

    The Somalis do it because it is profitable. Make it a very, very dangerous and unprofitable affair and it goes away.

  2. Drones to sink small vessels that leave territorial waters

    That sounds great for fisherman trying to make a living or feed their families.

    All governments make ransoms illegal to dry up revenue

    Then you give them an incentive to just kill the crew, since they aren’t worth anything. You also probably sacrifice the cargo, and the ship, in that instance.

    Other than that, sounds good.

  3. The secret to successful piracy is to “think small.” Piracy works as long as they don’t get greedy. Most big tankers at sea operate with skeleton crews so putting enough men on board to both run the ship and defend it costs more than paying a few hundred grand now and then to a ragtag crew of locals. As long as the risk of piracy or the expected ransom is low, it’s not worth it to the vessel owners to arm the ships or pay extra salaries for guards. But once it becomes a significant risk to approach the Suez Canal, the situation changes. The pirates have simply taken too many ships and are, as they have been throughout history, victims of their own success.

    But from what I’ve seen, it wouldn’t take much to sufficiently arm the ships to take on a couple boatloads of guys with small arms; especially if the ship owners get real smart and start using the convoy strategy. The pirates can only up the ante so far.

  4. I know active measures are exciting, but are there passive measures that would help as well? It strikes me that making it difficult to physically board the vessel while it’s under way would pay to do as well; in conjunction with private marines.

  5. @Sebastian

    You’re absolutely right. I offered radical solutions. The problem is in the anarchy state of Somalia there is basically no law and order and little means of fixing the situation internally.

    The sinking of small vessels outside of coastal waters is part of the retaliation aspect. The message is stay close to shore and away from shipping lanes and you can still fish. I’m sure this policy would kill innocent people, but it would help end piracy.

    The lack of ransoms means that innocent sailors might indeed be killed, actually that is likely. I think that funding them just invites more of the same (which was our policy at the start of this great nation). That’s why the retaliation of port strikes to destroy seaworthy vessels needs to be used, along with the hunting down and the killing/execution of pirates. Perhaps the dropping of leaflets on the population of these ports that they will suffer grief if they do not tell where hostages are kept and who the pirates are, might, just might, get results.

    So, options #2, #3, and #5 are all EXTREME, but they could be used if all else fails.

    More seriously though, as smarter people than I above note, and I also agree with them…the best, most humane, most reasonable and most effective measure is to arm the crews.

    Having to put up with pirates in this day and age, definitely brought out some of my more crazy thoughts on this.

  6. @Sage Thrasher

    Laughed so hard at the video that you noted that internal organs were damaged. Got a spare spleen you can give me?

    Seriously though, we have had hundreds of sailors captured, tortured, and killed and cargos lost. Meanwhile, fortunes have been paid to recover crews, cargos, and ships, but this has to stop. Arming all ships in the area will go a long way to ending this scourge.

  7. Packetman, that solution for US-flagged ships would work for what — 25 ships? I thought most merchant ships in the world were Liberian-or Panamanian-flagged.

    Arming the cargo ships and putting together convoys worked in WW2, too.

  8. Arming the crews of merchant ships, or better yet, just paying small, dedicated groups of armed responders that go from ship to ship as they enter and leave the areas where piracy is a problem is an economical solution.

    Convoying is unlikely to happen, though, because that means that ships will be idle. It was estimated that during WWII, convoying alone cut the available imports into Britain by about a third, due to lost time from ships waiting for a convoy to form so that they could sail. That is separate from the actual losses due to u-boats, merchant raiders, Condor aircraft, and losses due to bad weather.

    In fact, convoying itself reduced the available imports by more than all the other losses combined, but it was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of situation.

    In the end, I can’t see companies willingly forming up convoys, except perhaps for small ad hoc groups of ships that just happen to be in the area. The cost in real dollar terms from idling the ships while waiting for a convoy to form, not to mention the increased risk of things like collisions, and who would be in charge of the formation make it unlikely to happen.

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