Sunday, April 12, 2009

Yo, Ho, Ho and a Bottle of Rum

So, the captured ship's captain was rescued off the African coast a few hours ago, three of the four Somali pirates who had him have gone to Davy Jones's locker, and at least some order has been restored. Temporarily.

Probably SEALs, though the U.S. Navy isn't being forthcoming, nor should they.

Happy Easter for one family, for sure.

I saw in the newspaper when this all got rolling -- read those while you can, they seem to be vanishing fast -- that while everybody and his kid sister all know the waters are thick with pirates there off the Horn, nobody is adopting the obvious solution: Arming the hell out of any vessel that plies those seas and giving them leave to chatter the suckers if they get too close.

A firehose against an AK-47 isn't the way I'd want to do the dance. Maybe a couple .50 BMG rifles used for blowing up ordance at a distance could be put to good use.

The reason shippers aren't arming their crews? Liability. What if somebody accidentally shot somebody they weren't supposed to shoot? Or maybe a stray round hit a volatile cargo? Why, that could dangerous! The actuaries shake their heads and figure the risks of a ship being captured and held for ten million in ransom isn't worth it.

Cap'n' Jack Sparrow and Keif must be laughing themselves silly over this one. Guns? Ick!

As opposed to being boarded by pirates blasting away with their machineguns, which obviously is no more dangerous than a walk home from Sunday school, hey?

What is gonna happen when some bright pirate gets the idea to take over a big oil tanker, rig it with explosives, and then sail it to a tourist coast and threaten to blow it up unless somebody gives him real money and not just a piddly ten or fifteen million, hmm? (I was gonna write that novel with George Guthridge, but our agent talked us out of it. Why give the bad guys a blueprint on how to do it?) 

Back to the ships off the Horn. A little training, fifteen or twenty guys with assault rifles sending a hail of jacketed ammo at a small boat trying to get a grappling ladder over the rail? I think it would make the would-be boarders think twice.

Keep the guns locked away unless they were needed, pull them out if hostile company comes to call.

Too simple, huh?

As long as these clowns can do this and make money at it, they are going to keep doing it. If half of 'em get killed every time they try -- and fail -- you think that might discourage them? 


ush said...

Carrying firearms might also cause them problems when it comes to sailing through various territorial waters or ports, I'd imagine. Why they aren't hiring armed escort vessels to circumvent the insurance problem is beyond me though

Anonymous said...

What ush said, but also the fact that there just aren't enough people on a typical container ship to run the ship and stand off pirates. See Yo Ho Yo Ho, It’s The Risk Management Life For Thee.

But you might also want to check out You are being lied to about pirates by Johann Hari in The Independent, which points out that our media presents a slanted if not wholly incorrect idea of exactly who the "pirates" are and why they're doing what they do.

Dan Gambiera said...

And a couple other things...

1) Training. The crew on this ship was all Merchant-Marine trained and highly motivated. That isn't typical. Many (most?) merchant sailors are less-educated, paid lousy wages and might be worse than useless in a boarding situation.

2) Theft. Guns disappear from police evidence lockers all the time. How many would walk away if a sailor needed some quick extra cash?

3) Risk. Pirate attacks are up, but the actuaries have probably calculated the dollars lost due to piracy compared to the risks of the alternatives down to the third decimal place.

Armed escorts are expensive. The cost of fuel a trained professional crew, communications, the ship itself and so on would eat the already thin profit margins.

Dan Gambiera said...

I'm guessing this was the Navy's plan all along. Get them pinned down in one place. Talk until the snipers are in place. Save the one (terrified) pirate you need for interrogation.

Don Weiss said...

liability and insurance are the big issues for the commercial shippers. For the yachties, its following the laws of the countries they are going to visit. And the 'I hate guns' attitude of many of the owners of yachts.
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Steve Perry said...

Here, the argument for guns in a microcosm. if you need it and don't have it, it can be bad.

Last night, Sixty Minutes did a story on gun sales in the U.S. They are up, for various reasons. There is a worry that a real crash could happen, where food itself becomes scarce. A worry that the D's in power will result in bans and heavy taxes on ammo. And even the quaint notion that defending yourself when some whacko pulls out his piece and starts blasting in a crowded room might be, you know, a good idea.

The part I thought telling was this: nine years ago, sixty percent of Americans thought more gun control control was a good idea. Now, that number has dropped to forty-nine percent.

Less than half doesn't win you an election.

Politicians look at these numbers. Last time there was a gun ban, the R's took over, and D's remember that, too.

I don't think Americans should be allowed to carry bazookas in their pick-up trucks. But I think the 2nd Amendment still has relevance, given the loons out there, and if a nutjob stands up in a lecture hall to do mass murder, having people there who can shoot back seems like a better idea than not.

Dan Gambiera said...

I agree with you absolutely on an individual level, Steve. But corporations live in a different world where the color of the ink and the number of figures at the bottom of the balance sheets are the only concerns.

That's not a good thing. But it's the way they think, and it's why the Captain doesn't usually have an arms locker.

I'm thinking the Sacred and Holy Free Market (Laaaa!!!) might be useful. Bring back Letters of Marque and Reprisal. A pirate whose head is worth more to someone else than it is to himself will not sleep soundly.

William Adams said...

Billions for defense, not a penny in tribute.

Countries which don't feel that way have no one but themselves to blame for what happens to their vessels and their sailors.


William Adams said...

And of course, for those whose navy doesn't have the force projection capabilities, there's always the mercenary option (if the State Department approves):


Anonymous said...

In addition to the aforementioned liability issues, my understanding is that in most ports, at the very least, weapons have to be declared to customs, even if they remain on the ship. This raises the risk of either not being allowed into some ports, or having those weapons confiscated.

In addition, there is the issue of training. There is a reason the military spends a lot of time and money teaching how to kill. Beyond the obvious need to be familiar and proficient with one's weapon systems, there is also the need to make sure the crew would have the proper mindset to deploy them. It's not as easy as many think to pull the trigger on another human being. More so when taking small arms and RPG fire (remember, these guys are armed with more than AKs). On top of that, add the special considerations of ship-borne combat (of which I know nothing other than how to run off of one and hit a beach). I'm not sure who I'd be more scared of - the pirates or a bunch of untrained yahoos with automatic weapons trying to fight the pirates.

Just my two cents on the topic - would certainly be interested from hearing the opinion of someone that actually has experience providing armed security on a vessel.

James said...

I pass on this advice from my FTO in 1978. He was a real old-time cop and I asked him about off-duty guns. He leaned back in the passenger's seat with the Stetson that he perpetually wore (and I couldn't stand) cocked low across his eyes and said " well, Steve, it's easier to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it".

Anonymous said...

We already have people who trained to fill the repeling boarders role... we call them Marines...

William Adams said...

Thought people might find this account of interest: