Sea-based Piracy Responses and Proportionality

This weekend has seen successful special forces raids to re-take seized ships and rescue crews conducted by both South Korea and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that Samsung Heavy Industries, South Korea’s third largest shipbuilder, has rolled out a new anti-piracy system that

. . .  detects smaller boats in the vicinity often undetected under existing marine radar systems and issues an automatic alert when approached.

“The alert is issued when an approaching vessel does not respond to usual ship-to-ship radio communications or shows unusual navigating patterns and speed,” the company spokesman told AFP.

The system allows sailors in a navigation room to remotely control water cannons on the ship’s deck that can up to 70 metres (230 feet) when pirates attempt to climb aboard.

“That way, crew will be safe from potential shooting attacks from pirates when firing the water cannons,” said the spokesman, adding the system is applicable to most existing ships.

“We believe more of our clients want ships armed with such a system, considering what has been happening near Somalia recent years,” he said.

H/T Watershed Legal Somali News Magazine on Twitter.

In an AP story today from the Los Angeles Times:

The European Union‘s naval force refuses to raid hijacked ships out of concern for the safety of hostages, but frustration is rising. Despite patrols by an international flotilla of modern warships, drones patrolling the Indian Ocean off the east African coast and Arabian Gulf and diverse strategies employed including the sinking of pirate boats, Somali pirates have been relentless.

They captured a record 1,016 hostages in 2010 and currently hold 32 vessels and 746 crew members of various nationalities after hijacking another six ships so far this year, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau.

Eight crew members died and 13 were wounded in Somali pirate incidents in 2010, up from four dead and 10 wounded in 2009. There were no pirate killings elsewhere in the world in 2010.

Alan Cole, the head of the U.N.’s anti-piracy program at the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said the South Korean and Malaysian navies may have resorted to using the commando raids out of frustration that other strategies employed to tackle piracy were not working.

“There is a good chance that navies will increase the numbers of patrols and step up military activity to try and deal with this problem,” he said.

.  .  .  .

The maritime bureau says there was drop in the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden, leading to the Suez Canal, because of patrols by the international flotilla warships. Attacks in that area fell more than 50 percent, from 117 in 2009 to 53 in 2010.

At some point it seems clear to me that piracy continues to grow because it is so lucrative to the pirates and their sponsors while the costs are born disproportionately by national taxpayers as well as by crew members who are generally not paid much anyway.  The cheapest way to deal with piracy for vessel owners appears to be to risk an occasional ransom as a cost of doing business.  It might be cheaper, if a bit humiliating, for the taxpayers to buy systems like those developed by Samsung to defend vessels and give them to the vessel owners?

I am a long way from convinced that fighting a ground war in Somalia, whether using military or mercenary forces, is a rational way to address piracy–to the point of being highly skeptical of the actual motives of anyone claiming to undertake such a thing.

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