Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Somalia piracy and convoys

I recently heard the argument that not enough escorts are available to effectively establish convoys in the operational areas of the pirates off of Somalia. This argument was made once before.

In early 1942, the U.S. decided that convoys were unnecessary and much too defensive in nature. The argument was made that not enough escorts were available for convoy work, so the destroyers were sent out on offensive patrols to seek out the enemy. After several months of frustration in not finding any submarines during which time our merchant marine was being wiped out, the decision was made to institute a system of convoys. Once the convoys began, a relative lavish escort of 5 or 6 escorts for each convoy was common. The English had been able to provide far less per convoy in the North Atlantic for years. Sometimes only one sloop was all that was available to protect as many as 50 merchant ships. Yet England kept at it anyway, for two good reasons.

The two points that had been missed by the U.S. are that it is unnecessary to seek out the enemy when they are actively looking for you. In grouping the ships together, we forced the enemy to encounter our warships that have the capability of destroying them. The second point is that a convoy is NOT the sum of its ships. A group of ships is only slightly easier to locate on the surface of the ocean than an individual ship. Thus, even without the benefit of ANY escort, the ships travelling in-groups would be safer and suffer lower losses.

From what I understand, thirty thousand ships a year pass through the waters off the coast of Somalia. This equals about 100 ships a day. Figuring the ships are passing in both directions, this means about 50 ships are going in a single direction each day. Grouping these ships together into one, two or three groups would bring up all kinds of logistical problems, but I find it very difficult to believe that enough escorts would not be available. Even one warship would be able to stop these pirates. Particularly if that escort ship could operate helicopters.

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