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Can you make a ship pirate proof?

January 12th, 2011
10:37 PM ET

"Best management practices." That's what crews use to ward off pirates as they sail through the danger zones on the high seas.  Captains of ships turn on water hoses, place barbed wire on ships, turn on lights, speed, to deter pirates from attacking.

I learned about what's called the citadel.  It's a small, strong room with a thick metal door, no windows.  It's stocked with food, water, communications equipment and a bathroom.  The idea is, if pirates get on board, it's over.  The best action a captain can order is to get into the safe room, the door is bullet proof and just wait it out, and call for help.

Sometimes there are just not enough crew to patrol the ships, so one laughable, but important technique is to take a mannequin out on the deck and have it pose as a guard.  You can't tell what's real or not, in the dead of night, on a boat far away, so the hope is that pirates will take off if they see what looks like an armed patrol.

There are some ships that hire private security guards who are armed.  There is a divided school of thought on this.  Maritime experts and NATO officials I've spoken to say that it's a bad idea because if you shoot at pirates, they will shoot back and the chances of getting crew killed are higher.

Also they worry about the chain of command. Who's going to order security to fire?  The captain?  Do armed guards to it themselves? Who takes responsibility?  What if they fire at genuine fisherman, who can be easily confused with pirates?   They add, pirates just want to take the hostages, not kill them.  On the other hand, some ship owners decide they need armed protection. There have been instances where private security guards have fired at pirates who were preparing to attack the ship, and they have successfully been fended off.

Everyone tells me that the bottom line solution to fighting piracy is not on the seas, but on the shore, on land.  Somalia needs to have a functioning government, stability, an economy.  It's currently a failed state, it's lawless and pirates can do what they want with no fear of consequences out on the Indian Ocean.

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Steve H

    I don't know if you could be more ignorant on the subject of pirates. You put armed, trained men on the boat with a 24/7 360 degree watch. Men trained in protection of navel vessels. Marines come to mind, ex-spec ops guys as well. THEY FIRE on skiffs that try to board or open fire on the the boat. They are not going to 'shoot fishermen' you idiot. Fishermen do NOT have guns are are not shooting at you first. Its pretty obvious who is a pirate and who is not when you have incoming fire. When the pirates present a threat, try to board, you see guns pointed at you or they open fire, then you shoot back with superior weapons from people who are professionally trained. You shoot back with something better than the medium caliber ak-47's they carry and you kill them. They just attempted high piracy on the open seas and tried to kill you or take you hostage. Lethal force is authorized. Let the sharks have them. Your comment about the 'pirates shooting back if you shoot at them' is equally un-informed. The pirates are non-trained, illiterate, high on kot, on a bouncing boat with AK-47's and your trained professional men are on a steady boat with .308 or higher caliber rifles. I don't think you have to worry about the pirates 'shooting back.' Dead men don't shoot back.

    ..and OH... the pirates just want 'hostages'...why don't you take your 'safe at home' eyes and go read some of the first hand stories of people who were held hostage for 8 months or more. 20-30 seamen on the bridge, the whole time, sitting on the floor, sleeping on the floor, being fed every other day. Lack of water, no medical attention, no even daily walks to stretch. 24 hours a day in one spot for weeks / months on end. Being beat and forced to make sat phone calls to the company and family to get the ransom to be paid. Go ask the Chandlers how well they feel about being a hostage on the land for over a year and almost dieing form the experience. Oh...they just want hostages...yeah right. You go first and volunteer to be a hostage and report back to us...now that might be a blog entry worth reading on cnn.com.

    January 13, 2011 at 12:26 am | Reply
  2. Rich

    Our modern, Western sensibilities have made us a bunch of wussies when it comes to this. But I am pretty sure we have more bullets than the entire population of 'Somalia' so just start shooting pirates until no more pirates come out. Simple.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:19 am | Reply
  3. axel

    Simple: Shoot first, ask questions later!
    It's time to show them who ist the BOSS.
    There IS a solution!

    January 13, 2011 at 7:39 am | Reply
  4. amberdine

    do those super ships really work? some ships from my country still got attacked by the pirates lol..

    January 13, 2011 at 8:05 am | Reply
  5. Nico

    It's a sign of our time: We treat pirates with kid gloves. International naval forces wastye a huge amount of money, just to make fools of themselves. If pirates are caught, they candump their weapons in full view, yet still have a good chance of being released on the spot. How about this : a naval ship detects what is clearly a pirate vessel (because there are no fishermen in speedboats hundreds of miles from shore) ; it calls for them to surrender. If they fail to do so, or, if weapons are dumped, the boat is blown out of the water. In previous times, pirates were hanged on the spot.Today, at worst they get a fancy trial in in a soft court.

    And, what about this simple alternative: why not blockade the few ports Somalia has. This ìs à failed state – normal sovereign rights should not apply! No ports for hijacked ships – no hijacking!

    January 13, 2011 at 8:19 am | Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Armed guards are a necessity, although not a panacea. Currently 17 of our people are being held hostage after one of our vessels was attacked just outside of a major East African trading port.

    Best management practice was being followed, but the evidence shows its simply is not enough – rather it's an absolute minimum.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:58 am | Reply
  7. TIm Henderson

    Hi CNN,

    I suggest putting a track that runs on the outside of the ship with a robotic turret on it that initially fires flares at any danger and then real bullets. This way the crew can act from a safe distance and the Pirates will no longer be threat. Radar can spot the on coming boats and give them a verbal warning, then flares, then bullets. This should solve the problem quickly.

    Tim.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:09 am | Reply
  8. Jeff Lin

    Copy editting mistake. "Also they worry about the chain of command. Who's going to order security to fire? The captain? Do armed guards to it themselves?"

    should be "Do armed guards do it themselves?"

    January 13, 2011 at 9:34 am | Reply
  9. emerson

    Of course shipping companies should use armed security, at least when navigating high crime areas. That we even have to debate this is a reflection of how indecisive the west has become.

    A shot over the bow may be all that is required to make a pirate think twice about attacking, or remind a potentially wayward fisherman that he is too close and needs to change course. If he is undeterred in his approach, then shoot to disable his boat. If he fires back, then shoot to kill.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply
  10. lolz

    just install a Phalanx CIWS in every ship that'll do the trick, you can just watch those pirates sink in seconds

    January 13, 2011 at 11:01 am | Reply
  11. concerned

    So is Israel!

    January 13, 2011 at 11:18 am | Reply
  12. Helen

    Governments have to do something about this plague. Since when is it not a reason for ships to be armed and to fight back? Genuine fishermen will not shoot at ships, what rubbish. So, if someone shoots at you, shoot back, and let's see if there's not a rapid drop in the amount of piracy going on.
    I hate guns, deplore violence, but there are times when if the other side can't for any reason see sense and not use violence, then the only way is to retaliate, and shoot, unfortunately, to maim and or kill. A dreadful way to go about it, but until some drastic legislation is brought in, this seems to be the only way out. And I don't like it.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:28 am | Reply
  13. Dallas Reid

    How nambsy pamsy. They should put well armed elite troops on a percentage of vessels. If pirates attack they should be blown out of the water with anti-tank weapons, riddled with machine gun fire and any survivors left to drown. Pirates would have no idea which boats may respond like that and so the balance of pros and cons swings heavily against being a pirate. At present the worst likely to happen to them is a dose of sea-sickness so of course they think it is a good career move.

    And the comment about "fisherman can be easily confused with pirates". Don;t make me laugh.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:59 am | Reply
  14. fanta

    Effortlessly...with today's hi-tech...give me a million bucks and an office for six months max...and read my words folks...NO more piurate worries...any takers ?

    January 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  15. kent siler

    Trained guards with 50 cal. Machine guns and automatic weapons will only shoot at boats aggresively approaching a ship. Fire only after
    warning and then shoot to kill. This will put an end to piracy. When the bad guys see that they are in a fight, they will run, they only want an easy target. Often times they are on small crafts and are certainly not trained.

    January 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Reply
  16. Randy Buist

    Too bad we haven't taken the lead on this issue. We allow soldiers to open fire when they are under attack. Why are we more concerned about making mistakes with 'fishing boats?"

    In reality, this is Africa so we give it less attention than the Middle East. Can we imagine if this were Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Israel who were hijacking ships by the handfuls?

    January 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  17. Ibraheem

    Zain, I was pleased to see you put a story on armed Maritime security escorts at Mombasa which our company, AFRICAN SHIPPING LINE do with private maritime security companies at Mombasa-Kenya.

    The whole issue of us providing armed maritime escorts is not even to shoot pirates but to ward off pirates by simply deterring them that the vessel is armed.

    The security teams we are working with at MOMBASA are quite from the naval forces be they Royal navy, US Navy and others.

    Why we are providing navy is because we in the Shipping fraternity can't be able to trade properly. Costs of goods are now high, Insurance has considerably gone high and so on. So the better we pay for armed maritime security, the better for our business.

    Ibrahim Ahmed
    AFRICAN SHIPPING LINES -MOMBASA, KENYA

    January 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  18. ZB

    >fishermen
    >easily confused with pirates

    I don't think so, Zain.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  19. David

    I don't understand why they would not have water cannons fore and aft...these are very powerful and the water is free and plentiful. Of course someone on the crew would have to keep a lookout for boats approaching the ship.....I think it is the best deterrent...

    Just my thoughts

    January 13, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Reply
  20. Stargoat

    Who makes the decision? The Captain. That's who. That's why he's the Captain. It's his job. If he doesn't want to make decisions, he shouldn't be Captain.

    This behavior is pathetic. The Royal Navy of the 18th and 19th centuries knew exactly how to deal with pirates. You don't need to arm merchants, though it helps. You follow pirates back to their home port and hang them. If more pirates take their place, you hang them as well. Keep hanging the pirates. They'll get the message and then you won't have a pirate problem any longer.

    January 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  21. capnmike

    Oh, dear, let's hide from the big bad pirates...If our governments had any guts, the pirates would be hanging at a rope's end, but we have become such a society of PC whimpoids that we prefer to cower under our beds in "safe rooms"...this is ridiculous.

    January 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  22. charlie

    A good sniper on board can shoot to warn,disable or kill if needed.

    January 13, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  23. drorbenami

    B 52s would stop the attacks....

    January 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  24. Derrick

    I still think putting armed guards on civilian boats is a bad idea. I think the world's navies should cooperate in setting up patrolled routes around the area that the transport ships can follow fully knowing that military support is close by.

    January 13, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  25. rmsbl4

    Why not install pipes around sides of the ships where scalding steam can be released. These could be triggered from multiple points on the ship. It will be a hot time in the old town tonight, and is eco friendly.

    January 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  26. Wolfhoundcop

    Most cargo ships have the capability to have a helicopter pad. Arm them with missles that can be fired out of range of the pirates and blow them out of the water. Force with force is all these people will understand. Shoot first ask questions later.

    January 13, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  27. Vic Lender

    Shot em, sink their boat, and just keep right a-long.

    January 13, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  28. eddie2010

    Yes, it's called a submarine.

    January 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  29. gramatikos

    Pussyfooting against piracy seems to be endemic.When are we going to see a blockade of Somali waters.That will preclude any pirates setting off from the coast of Haibo and pirate lairs.You simply anchor Nato ships off the known launching sites.The most important thing is to starve them of the laundered cash they deposit in London and other venues.Get rid of the lawyers ,middlemen suppliers of arms and logisics.
    Further follow them inland and bomb their villages and houses.
    Starve them of fuel and supplies.
    The whole thing is a joke like the above article.Ragamuffins in skiffs taking control of 200.000 ton ships???
    Arm the ships and shoot to kill!

    January 13, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Reply
  30. JimboBillyBob Justice

    I totally agree with Kent here.
    If after giving any approaching vessel a verbal warning,they do not turn away...fire one burst across the approaching vessels bow...if they still do not turn or look like they are carrying weaopns.
    Open fire in an attempt to sink the approaching vessel.
    Sooner or later one pirate will survive and warn the others...the rules have changed...then the amount of people willing to sacrifice themselves in futile attempts to capture armed vessels and get sunk in little dingys will slow and eventually cease.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  31. John R.

    The ONLY way to fight these pirate swine is to KILL them and leave their carcasses to rot in their boats.

    Fifty calibre heavy machineguns have more reach than the pirates RPG 2 and RPG 7 rocket launchers and good night sights and telescopic sights are readily available too.

    When a ship is approached by ANY suspicious small or other boats warning shots should be fired at maximum range.IF the boats still approach or speed up and attempt to close the distance fire for effect and REALLY shred them before you are in range of any of their light armament.

    Take NO prisoners as chances are that if you take them to say Kenya or Tanzania they will either br released OR given laughingly LIGHT sentances.IF at all possible land them in ANY of the Islamic States on the Arabian side of the Gulf as DEATH, usually by beheading is MANDATED for Piracy.

    Dead pirates bother NOBODY ever again and never mind the lieberal drivel about poor downtrodden fishermen etc.They CHOSE to become pirates so let them get their just desserts,Think about that old British Couple who were beaten and starved and held as hostages and nearly killed and then you won't have any sympathy for the pirate swine.Kill them all and sooner or later they'll go back to fishing.
    Another solution is to bomb and strafe their home ports EVERY TIME they take a ship hostage.Most coalition warships have ARMED helos who can hover off shore and out of range and just PLASTER docked boats and fancy homes with impunity.Sooner of later the locals will DEMAND that the pirates leave town as they are NOTHING BUT A DEADLY LIABILITY.
    Mind you it's only the WESTERN warships who have these conundrums vis a vis what to do with captured pirates.You NEVER hear about the Russian or Chinese warships EVER having prisoner problems OR prisoners either for that matter,Ever WONDER WHY ??

    I watched one video of what happened to a pirate "mother ship" that was taken over by Russian Naval Special Ops troops who found a LOT of small arms and RPG's.Let's just say the pirates were NOT treated with kid gloves and went DOWN with their burning ship after the Russians ventilated it with their version of a GAU-8 gatling cannon.One idiot pirate told a Russian Naval translator in Arabic that"we are just peaceful FISHERMEN so the Russian cold cocked him with an AK 47 that they found hidden in the wheelhouse and called him a" KASEB"(LIAR in Arabic)

    A little of this and NO MORE PIRATES ! Much cheaper than room and board for life in some US Bastille too !

    January 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  32. Don Canard

    twin 50s on the poop deck would be a start. Fo'csle too.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  33. Uwe Kochanneck

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
    a highly cost efficient and future oriented solution offers http://www.multiblock-world.com under IX-MB-Sea and Offshore Systems. Obviously, pirates are mainly interested in kidnapping people on board of the captured ships. However, MB-Sea and Offshore Systems offer the option to navigate every MB-Ship Unit without any personal on board, by means of MB-Satellite Controlled Autopilot Navigation. As such, piratery off this ship units would be unattractiv for the pirates and at the same time, all ship logistics more economical.
    Sincerely yours,
    Uwe Kochanneck

    January 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Reply
  34. Bob Johnson

    Acts of piracy inrceased because it was a relatively safe business. When piracy attempts are met with a meaningful deadly force, piracy on the Indian Ocean will no longer be a choice amongst deseparate thieves.

    January 13, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Reply
  35. William

    I dont know about the mission of the Navy but when I was a sailor I was thought that our mission was to keep the sea lanes open, whatever happened to that doctrine?

    January 13, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  36. Vernon

    I agree with Kent. You can get killed by fighting, but you may also get killed without fighting: If you do fight, at least it is YOUR choice.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  37. Flynfuzz

    One of tactics ship's crews use to prevent pirates from boarding their vessel is the use of high pressure fire hoses. But that tactic places the crew in harms way by exposing them to gunfire from the priates.

    It seems to me that most ships could be retrofitted with a system of high pressure piping along their sides. The piping would be connected to high pressure pumps that circulate sea water. On the outer edge of the piping, a series of holes or vents would direct high pressure jets of water downward, toward the sea, and at a slight outward angle.

    These jets of water would not only be of sufficient pressure to prevent anyone from climbing aboard, they would swamp any small boat that tried to come alongside. The pumps could be controlled from the bridge, or from the crew's "safe room." If a vessel owner wanted to be a bit more sophisticated, a series of electrically controlled valves could be used to allow the crew to direct the high pressure water to specific areas along the side of the vessel – depending on where the attack is coming from.

    On older ships, the piping would be exposed. But there are ways to protect it, somewhat, from damage due to normal docking, loading & unloading operations. Ships currently under construction could have this "anti-pirate plumbing" buried into the hull of the ship to further protect the system.

    The nice thing about this type of system is the limitless amount of "ammunition" it would have to combat pirates – as long as there's sea water and power to operate the pumps.

    Yes – it would cost money to retrofit each ship. But then, how much is vessel, its cargo and its crew worth ?

    January 21, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
  38. Colin

    The Somalian government supports the pirates, they wont even vote to make piracy illegal! The answer is simple the government of the Flag of the ship must protect it. In practice they must supply armed guards on board. Flags of convenience must pay an other country to supply them. No ransoms to be paid, punishable by vast fines, which can be used to pay for any investigations. No ship with guards has ever been hijacked. Pirating to be made an internationally outlawed activity , like air piracy, any pirate can be shot on sight! If possible their bodies returned to Somalia. Preferable left on sticks around the harbours! Job done!

    February 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Reply

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