The problem of piracy cannot be solved with a “quick-fix” solution. The root cause extends further than just the failed state of Somalia. But, unless drastic, hard-hitting action is taken on both land and sea, the pirates will continue to flourish off the East African coastline and continue to intimidate and capture ships and their cargoes and crews. While the world watches and responds with shock and words, and does nothing, these simple operations by the pirates are simply fuelling more crime and filling the pirates’ coffers.
For some very strange reason the shipping companies believe that a few men armed with a water cannon and a noise-generating device can actually stop an armed assault on a ship. This attempt to stop armed crime with a quick-fix solution is both irresponsible and stupid. But, it is probably considered “humane” and unlikely to interfere with the pirates’ human rights.
I recently wrote a counter-piracy document for a very large shipping company. The gist was to stop the pirates before they even got close to the ship they were targeting. Whereas any such plan is only a temporary solution to a growing but more complex problem, the ideal plan will be to take the war to the land bases the pirates occupy and destroy them on the ground. But, no government or organisation has currently got the courage to do this. Besides, the UN would most probably condemn it and call for sanctions to be put in force on the “aggressors”.
My plan was also not what the shipping company was looking for as they apparently felt the plan was “too forceful” and besides, why harm these poor men who are simply trying to create a livelihood? Although this wasn’t directly said, it was clearly implied. Plus, they only want a very small group of between 3 and 4 men to protect their ship, the crews and the cargoes.
The Times of 29 November 2008 ran an article on the “British and Irish anti-piracy experts” who were forced to jump ship – the very ship they were contracted to protect. Whereas the article (see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article5253731.ece) pointed out that the men had, for 40 minutes, held the pirates at bay before jumping overboard, it does highlight some of the problems associated with a “quick-fix” solution. It also illustrates very clearly that 3 unarmed men aboard a ship cannot fend off an armed enemy. But, good money was paid by the shipping company and no positive result was forthcoming as the guards abandoned the ship - the Liberian-flagged tanker, Biscaglia with its cargo of palm oil - and its 27-member crew.
The Biscaglia is the 97th vessel to be attacked this year in the waters off Somalia. At least 15 ships, and more than 300 crew members, are currently being held for ransom. This will most certainly not be the last vessel to be captured by the pirates.
As the situation off the Somali coastline steadily develops into a high-risk zone, more and more PMCs (some with very little or no experience) are vying for contracts to protect ships sailing those waters. Some are trying to “economize” on manpower and maximise on profits. Others are looking at other “non-lethal” methods of stopping this high-sea crime. In many ways, this is akin to taking a knife to a gunfight – they are bound to lose. But, cheap solutions usually deliver cheap results – or in this instance, gave the shipping company a false sense of security but will cost, in the long run, a lot more than they bargained for.
A counter-piracy team must be able to give more to a shipping company than simply a warm, fuzzy feeling. These men need to be armed with real weapons, with real bullets and take every action possible to prevent the pirates even approaching the ship they are supposed to be protecting.
The concern that a trained guard will accidentally fire his weapon into some hazardous cargo does not hold much water. Real soldiers are used to carrying weapons on aircraft, submarines, inside vehicles, next to ammunition and so forth. Fire discipline is something every good soldier is taught. But, how many of these guards are well trained and sufficiently dedicated to honour their contracts?
International customs laws, in an effort to contain the illegal movement of arms and ammunition, provide an obstacle some shipping companies simply do not want to challenge or overcome. But, if a ship is not allowed to take whatever measures it needs to take to protect itself, then international law needs to be revisited and reviewed.
Well-trained, well-armed security teams on a ship must make life so unbearably dangerous to the pirates that they prefer to stay on land. Failure to respond to the IFF protocol should lead to an immediate sinking of the pirate vessel with no time being wasted on saving them for a court appearance. But, of course there are groups that will argue that such actions will infringe on the human rights of the pirates and that furthermore, such actions will be politically incorrect.
It is because of always trying to be politically correct that the world finds itself in the position it is in. Crime is rampant and will continue to flourish as long as everyone allows criminals such as these to operate with impunity.
Piracy can be stopped but it will require more than just words and water cannons.
Added on 3 December: Here is an interesting article on piracy for those who wish to read it: http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/12/piratemerc-late.html#more Also see http://feraljundi.com/ for Blackwater's approach to solving this mess.
Another update on 3 December 2008, 1500B: Finally, they have woken up….The United Nations Security Council has approved a law that allows countries to enter the troubled Somalia sea waters and use military force against the dangerous pirates who are hijacking commercial ships off the coast of the Horn of Africa.
The Security Council newly adopted resolution gives authority to any country to attack the pirates. The European Union says in six days time it will be there in Somalia with a massive air and naval offensive against the pirates. The Council's authorization of a military solution against piracy in Somalia will be for a period of one year.