Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Now they've gone and done it

Apparently, the American reputation for disproportionate reprisal (which *all* reprisals should be) just isn't what it used to be...

Somali Pirates hijack the Maersk Alabama, U.S. flagged with 20 American nationals on the crew.

That link takes you to EagleSpeak for the report, U.S. Navy statement, and some assessment.

One other report cites there being 21 crew.

Bet there is some serious "can we get authorization to try?" going on aboard the ships of the Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group right now.


It seems the tables have turned on the pirates.

FOXNews is now reporting that the crew has regained control of the vessel and one pirate is in custody.


Reports (various) say that indeed the general crew is safe, and one pirate captured, but that a group of the pirates (3?) are holding the ship's captain as a hostage. Negotiations are said to be underway.


KC-Fresno, Ca. said...

I know I am dense, but please, please, explain to me why in the world these tankers are not armed when they are in that area, knowing full well they may be hijacked at any given time. It just does not make sense to me. There surely must be some way they can protect themselves.

L.Douglas Garrett said...


Container ship, not tanker, in this case... but be that as it may.

First things first. Even with all the stories of hijackings, the number of vessels sailing the danger zone is very high... hundreds pass through in a few days... yet only a small number get attacked, and many times the target ship can escape.

Presuming one is not willing to accept those good odds of safe passage, why not arm them? Well...

The issue of *not* arming merchant shipping in the absence of a declared war is one of legal and financial obstructions. In short, there are serious legal challenges that could be made under current customary law of the sea if a non-warship fires upon another vessel, even in response to an attack.

The simple example (oversimplified, actually) based on American law is that it is far more questionable to defend one's home with a weapon against an assailant outside the structure. To be on certain legal grounds, it is almost necessary to wait until the intruder breaks into the home before engaging them with a weapon.

The second part of why not arm merchant ships in peacetime is one of financial necessity: the insurance on the ship would be treated as war-risk (much much more expensive) or perhaps not even written for a privately owned armed vessel.

Which leads to the final point: In modern day, there are clear limitations on possession of suitable armaments to "fight" a ship. They can (basically) only be owned by Nation States and their allowed agents.

The answer to these problems is to put an armed maritime security team from the flag nation of the ship. The French use small elements of their Marines for such duties. The U.S. has, in other circumstances, used armed Coast Guardsmen or Naval personel for such duty.

Why not put these on all the ships?

Because the "flag" nation has to be the one putting the law enforcement or military personnel on the ship, unless there is some alliance structure specifically allowing such.

Almost all merchant ships fly a "flag of convenience", registering the nationality of the ship in some tax-haven (like Panama or Liberia). There are, as a percentage of all ships transiting the dangerous area near Somalia, very few ships under U.S. flag or other major powers flag. So most ships could not even get legally acceptable protective forces on board.

I'll happily argue it *shouldn't* be that way, but under the current system, that is how it is.

Karl Reisman said...

So, Steven Segal was a crew member? So that's what happened?

As to the Law and the sea, how was it that nations had supressed Pirates for a century and now this? A lack of flag showing by the fleet then?

Sometimes I wish we could be a vicious bully as a coutry sometimes and carpet bomb the Pirate's port from B-53 Stations from Diego Garcia or something.

I have heard however, that the Pirate were very much at odds witht he Islamist factions tryong to get total control of Somalia,. what with their high living, and unclad women in their fancy cars. (and modern telecommunications gear.)


KC-Fresno, Ca. said...

Thank you so much for your explanation and I really do understand it, although, I must admit I do not agree with it. I heard on Fox this morning that these pirates collected 80 to 100 Million in ransoms last year which is insane and now they are holding the Captain for, I am sure, another large ransom. Something has got to be done to stop this. Any ideas??

Will said...


We could smash them with a pretty modest armed force, but the conditions that created the piracy problem will remain in Somalia unless someone (yeah, it would have to be the US) engages in hard-core nation building. I'm pretty sure that State, Defense and the White House all think we've got a full plate of that right now.

Not to mention our previous experience in Somalia...

L.Douglas Garrett said...


I'll basically go with Will's comment about what can be done, and why it isn't being done.

Here is one other thing to keep in mind (the pirates sure know this): The cost of taking a "preventative stance", putting lots of warships in the Gulf of Aden; trying to patrol and respond to threats all up and down the Somali coastline... This is all *much* more expensive in US$ terms than paying an occasional ransom, even in the millions of dollars.

Convoying would help, but for the same economic reasons the shipping companies are loathe to send ships to assembly areas, pick up an escort, and then progress through the high risk area... because the risk still is not in economic terms very high and the cost of delays is a known loss.

I would add that there is one other activity possible: The pursuit of the financial and political assests in other nations that support the pirate activities. Now this would have to be done covertly in places like Dubai and Yemen, and there would be political bad feelings all around if some countries were proven to be harboring the financial facilitators of piracy, and it might not have a big short-term payoff in reducing the acts of piracy (as the pirates often get their cut up front from the ransom drops), but it would take away some of the incentives for outside actors to aid and supply the pirates.

Mr. Bill said...


Why bother with B-52s? Why not just doll up a LNG carrier, drive it to their port as if it had been pirated, and detonate it in the harbor. Heck, in the 40s, an LNG tanker pretty much evaporated a square mile of Cleveland, OH. And that was a river vessel from 70 years ago. I'm sure the ocean-going ships built now carry a great deal more, and I'm sure, too, that all the safeguards can be bypassed.

Bombing is so...obvious. Sail a ship into the harbor where the world expects pirated ships to sail, and who's gonna notice? Sure, the pirates will, but who's gonna listen to their complaints? Heck, who'd they complain to, at any rate? And by the time someone got around to noticing, the ship would be vaporized along with a couple square miles of pirate turf, pirates, wenches, rum barrels, and parrots.