Critics say US should attack Somali pirates' land bases
Is it time to replace bluewater policing with tactics of Jefferson, who defeated the Barbary pirates on land?
(Page 2 of 2)
Roger Middleton, an expert on piracy for Chatham House, notes in The Independent that increased naval presence in the Gulf of Aden since last year has reduced the number of attacks there. However, he notes that "the navies have fallen victim to their own success."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The effectiveness of the patrols in the Gulf of Aden seem[s] to have caused the pirates to refocus their attentions on the western Indian ocean. ...
Now hijackers are threatening an area of up to two million square miles, they are much harder to locate. European, US, and other navies are still overwhelmingly concentrated off Somalia's northern shore, hours or even days journey away from the recent attacks.
Although the pickings may be slimmer and the sea more dangerous in the ocean the pirates have found an easier place to work and the western Indian Ocean may soon be as notorious as the Gulf of Aden.
While national governments decide how to resolve the Somali pirate problem, sailors are left to consider their own measures to protect their vessels. The Christian Science Monitor reports that some US maritime academies are considering adding weapons and defensive training to their curriculums. The Monitor adds that shipping companies are also reviewing new ship defenses.
In November 2005, a cruise liner, the Seabourn Spirit, used a sonic blast from a "long-range acoustic device," or LRAD, to repel pirates who were trying to board.
Shocks from an "electric fence" have also been tried, along with night-vision systems to prevent pirates from being able to get close to the vessels. Indeed, outrunning pirates is still one of the best approaches. Although pirate boats are faster, a large ship moving at 16 knots or more creates an enormous wake that makes it hard to board. Razor wire ringing the ship is another technique.
The extra security isn't cheap. Sonic deterrent equipment and operators can cost $20,000 to $30,000 per trip, according to documents on the US Maritime Administration website.
Radio Netherlands notes that some companies are considering posting security personnel to their vessels. But they add that Pottengal Mukundan, director of the piracy watchdog International Maritime Bureau, believes that such an approach could make matters worse.
"We feel that arming merchant vessels is not really the answer. Given the current legal framework in which merchant shipping operates, we may be creating more problems than trying to solve them."
There are several reasons why arming merchant vessels may not be the best option. First, the presence of armed security agents would not guarantee that fewer ships would be hijacked. Second, the pirates have rarely harmed captives and arming these ships could increase the likelihood of injuries and deaths. Furthermore, if only some ships are armed and others are not, then the armed ships may remain safe while exposing the unarmed ships to increased violence.