Sunday, April 12, 2009


Historically, piracy has been and still is, very profitable. This was the driving force behind the act. The crews were made up of people who had no other way of making a decent living or way of being amply rewarded for their abilities. Throughout history, when captured, pirates were able to avoid being punished by paying people off. This was very inconsistent. Many times the arrangements were made well in advance. Sometimes the bribes were refused and the pirate hung from the gallows. Other times, they were even entertained by government officials. Part of the problem stemmed from the fine line between a privateer and a pirate.

A government waging war against another government licensed a privateer to seize enemy shipping. The privateer was a ship that was then armed and began to interdict and seize other ships. Many times the target ship surrendered without violence, other times it was seized by force of arms. The U.S. employed this concept during the War of 1812. This was not uncommon and had been practiced for centuries. One problem with this was that many of the privateers did not discriminate between the flags of the ships they came across. They attacked and seized the ships that they could get away with. Oversight was limited, if any at all. The immense profits tended to silence anyone who was not victimized.

In today’s situation off the coast of Somalia, we have a similar situation. Somalia is a failed nation-state with very little opportunity to make a living. Piracy is a risky business, but it is making large amounts of money. There are actions that can and have been taken in the past to deal with this type of problem.

An acquaintance mentioned the idea of the Q-ship. During World War I, international law dictated that combatants were to search ships for contraband before sinking them. England began arming merchant ships and hid the guns. The Q-ships would allow the submarine to approach the vessel and then open fire. These Q-ships sank many submarines during that war.

The idea here would be to arm at least some of the ships that pass by Somalia with 20mm or 40mm rapid-fire weapons. I do not know if this is very practical. It would be expensive to install and train the men. Supply of munitions can be dangerous. However, it is something that could be done.

I prefer the practice of convoy. The convoy would need only a very minimal escort, probably only one destroyer per convoy. (If any at all) The greatest asset of the convoy is not its escort, but the smaller profile. The ocean is a vast place. If you took 15 ships travelling together, they would present only a marginally larger target than one ship. A convoy of 15 ships is nowhere near 15 times as visible. Just finding them has proved to be much more difficult. The U.S. and British navies have dealt with far more organized and well-equipped enemies than what is being faced today. ANY type of armed escort (Many destroyers carry helicopters) would be able to deal with the limited and hand held weapons that these pirates are using.

Piracy has been around since man has gone to sea. Sailing in groups for mutual protection has been around since piracy began. The reason is that convoys are effective.

1 comment: