Thursday, April 9, 2009

A SOLUTION TO MARITIME PIRACY

I must admit that I continue to be in awe of how handfuls of armed thugs with fast boats can virtually terrorize merchant mariners and disrupt billions of dollars of international commercial shipping with virtual impunity, as demonstrated by the fact that in less than a week we've seen five major acts of maritime piracy, the largest being the temporary takeover of the Maersk Alabama and the hostage taking of Captain Richard Phillips, who permitted the pirates to take him instead of his crew. Also taken in the Indian Ocean were two French couples who were quoted as saying, "The pirates can't destroy our dream." Other takeovers included and 30-crew members of a large French-registered luxury yacht seized in the Gulf of Aden, a British cargo ship and a German container ship and a Yemini tugboat.

If the collective international community were deviate from its confinement to being inside the "box," there may well be solutions that have not been explored. For example, although international law and insurance underwriters generally mandate that commercial vessels not be armed or carry firearms for protection, I believe that even a five-year-old child could conclude that we are in extraordinary circumstances. And often, extraordinary circumastances require extraordinary deterrents and solutions.

As a former Marine and one who enjoys reading Marine Corps history, I think back to the days 200 years ago when armed Marine seagoing detachments were assigned to large naval vessels.

Merchant ships are no different. If they are exposed to extraordinary risks that would jeopardize the lives of crews and risk the sabotage or theft of vessels (which has occurred in many cases), extraordinary solutions are warranted, hopefully with the help of international organizations and underwriters. As someone who has devoted his entire life to protecting others, first as a Marine, then as a Diplomatic Security agent and ultimately as a security consultant, there is always a solution to a problem, other than sitting on your hands.

Given the threat of maritime piracy we see today, there is a critical need for the international community, global law enforcment and shipping and cruise ship owners to figure out a way to do the following:

1. Embark on a multi-lateral program of air surveillance of high risk shipping lanes;
2. Utilization of security surveillance technology that can alert crews to the imminent presence of
hostile elements; and
3. Provide armed response teams aboard high-value ships traveling in high-risk areas who are
capable of neutralizing fast-moving, heavily armed pirates.

Admittedly, only high-value, large vessels can contemplate the three strategies described above. Small pleasure vessels that are 10-20 meters in length are simply not capable of countering the efforts of heavily armed pirates equipped with AK-47s and RPGs moving at sixty knots, so there options include the following:

a. Avoid waters where pirates have been active;
b. Consider ransom-kidnap insurance;
c. Maintain constant visual surveillance of boats and vessels that can be seen on the horizon;
d. Carry several flare guns for all contingencies;
e. Consider the use of equipment which can detect other vessels;
f. Have a marine radio that enables you to stay in touch with responsible Coast Guard and
maritime police;
g. Have the capability to notify family and friends quickly of your situation;
h. Be able to activate a hidden GPS-controlled beacon if engagement with hostile elements is
imminent; and
i. Have a personal crisis management plan with who you family can contact in the event your
boat is seized by pirates.

Surely, these proactive initiatives, all of which can work, would be far better than doing absolutely nothing.

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