The business case for high-seas piracy

November 26, 2008

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

As far as illicit businesses with low risk and high rewards go, it doesn’t get much better than piracy on the high seas. The profit margins can easily surpass those of the cocaine trade. The risks?

“There is no reason not to be a pirate,” according to U.S. Vice Admiral William Gortney, who commands the U.S. navy’s Fifth Fleet. “The vessel I’m trying to pirate, they won’t shoot at me. I’m going to get my money.”

Even pirates who are intercepted have little to fear. “They won’t arrest me because there’s no place to try me.”

Gortney’s assessment of piracy’s low risk came in a radio interview that focused on the Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates this month capped a string of increasingly brazen hijackings by seizing a Saudi supertanker carrying $100 million worth of U.S.-bound crude. But although attention is focused on the Horn of Africa, piracy is a global phenomenon (see map), relative impunity applies in many places, and a thick legal fog hangs over effective action.

Among questions to keep lawyers busy: Can a naval vessel fire on a suspected pirate ship? It depends. Who would be held accountable for someone killed in an exchange of fire between pirates and private security personnel traveling aboard a merchant ship? Which country’s jurisdiction applies, for example, to a Somali arrested on the high seas and taken aboard a Danish vessel?piracy1

“One of the challenges that we have…in piracy clearly is if you are intervening and you capture pirates, is there a path to prosecute them?” Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained at a recent Pentagon briefing.

A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the operation to hijack the Saudi tanker, the Sirius Star, cost no more than $25,000 assuming that the pirates bought new equipment and weapons ($450 apiece for an AK-47 Kalashnikov, $5,000 for an RPG 7 grenade launcher, $15,000 for a speedboat). That contrasts with an initial ransom demand from the tanker’s owner, Saudi Aramco, of $25 million.

“Piracy is an excellent business model if you operate from an impoverished, lawless place like Somalia,” says Patrick Cullen, a security expert at the London School of Economics who has been researching piracy. “The risk-reward ratio is just huge.”

One way to shrink that ratio would be to place private security guards on vessels that ply shipping routes prone to pirate attack, from the waters off Nigeria to the Molucca Straits and the Horn of Africa. That’s the solution recommended by the commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, whose area of responsibility covers 7.5 million square miles, including the waters off Somalia. Its warships can’t be everywhere.

Even with the additional deployment of warships from France, Britain, Denmark, Russia, India, Japan, Korea, and Malaysia, the navies are looking for needles in a haystack. The pirates launch speedboats from mother ships hundreds of miles off the coast.


Carrying armed guards aboard ships sounds a simple, straightforward solution. They stand watch; they fire warnings flares at an approaching speedboat manned by what looks like pirates. If the vessel doesn’t turn away, they blow it out of the water. End of story.

Except if the incident somehow turned into a court case and the ship’s crew and guards had to prove that the men in the approaching speedboat were driven by criminal intent. By some definitions, an act of piracy doesn’t begin until the grappling hooks are thrown over the side and the pirates start clambering up.

In the past, shipping companies, by and large, have been reluctant to add armed personnel to their crews, partly for reasons of cost – a security team can add $30,000 to $60,000 and more to a voyage – and partly because the statistical chance of having their ships hijacked or attacked are relatively small.

The International Maritime Organization puts the world trading fleet at 50,525 ships. In the first nine months of this year, the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur recorded 199 attacks on ships, including 36 hijackings. In percentage terms, this is not much.

But the targets, and the ransom demands, have been getting bigger. The Sirius Star was taken less than two months after the hijacking of a Ukrainian freighter, the Fainu, which carried some 30 T-72 tanks, crates of rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. That capture made world headlines and raised fresh questions over existing anti-piracy tactics.

Private security firms see new markets and new opportunities. Several British firms have begun teaming up with insurance companies that offer lower rates for ships carrying security teams.

Anti-pirate devices now coming into use range from razor wire strung along the side of ships to sound cannon – a weapon that beams ear-splitting noise at suspected attackers.

One U.S. company, Blackwater Worldwide, is offering maritime escort services with  a 183-foot vessel that carries two helicopters, a crew of 15 and 35 guards. Blackwater says 13 shipping companies have expressed interest.

To make pirates think twice about the risk-reward ratio, nothing is likely to be as effective as brute force. But those who warn that 18th century methods can be problematic in the 21st can now point to the example set by the Indian frigate Tabar on November 18.

According to the Indian navy, the Tabar had come under fire from a suspected pirate mother ship that had failed to obey a command to stop.

The Indian frigate returned fire, “in self defense.” The ship blew up in a ball of fire and sank.

A week later, it turned out that the suspected mothership was a Thai freighter that was being taken over by pirates when the frigate approached.

(You can contact the author at

(Pictured above: pirates on a speedboat approach one of their mother boats docked near Eyl, Somalia, in a framegrab from November 24, 2008 TV footage. REUTERS/Reuters TV)


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If the Thai freighter had been taken over by pirates, and was shot at when it didn’t stop approaching the Tabar, I would think the Tabar’s sinking it was in self-defence.

Posted by BabW | Report as abusive

Three cheers for the Indian navy. Even if there was collateral damage in the INS Tabar incident, the action acted as a deterrent. The pirates no doubt have taken note of what happened and they know there can be a high price to pay if they run into an adversary that does not tie itself into legal knots and shackles itself with restrictive rules of engagement. What good does it do to have the world’s mightiest navy – that of the U.S. — and one of its commanders suggests it’s a bad idea to confront the pirates because they don’t know what to do with them if they are captured?

It’s worth noting that the latest weekly piracy report (Nov. 18-24) from the International Maritime Bureau shows that three out of seven pirate attacks occurred in the Gulf of Aden. The preceding week listed 11 pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden or off Somalia, out of a total of 15. Any connection, perhaps, with the no-nonsense action taken by the commander of the INS Tabar?

As to the point raised by the column about 18th century methods: what, exactly, is wrong with them? They worked then, reducing piracy considerably. They would work now. Hanging them from the yardarm would indeed make them think twice. Bringing in Blackwater operators would be a good thing, too. Everybody has dumped on the company for incidents in Iraq. But they never lost a client and they wouldn’t lose time consulting a bunch of lawyers if they ran into a speedboat packed with “fishermen” carrying RPG-7s. Piracy has got to stop and kid’s gloves don’t work.

Posted by Gregorio | Report as abusive

I’m rooting for the pirates. Piracy is capitalism in its purest form.

Posted by Kellen | Report as abusive

The Somali pirates are former fisherment whose livelihoods have beenn destroyed as fishstock collapsed after illegal fleets from Europe and Asia invaded the waters. The first targets for the pirates were in fact these illegal trawles and seiners. Now they are moving on to bigger fish. Why not? The wealthy of this world haev destroyed the economy the governance structure and the foundation of civil society in Somalia. Our appetite for luxuries has then caused the destruction of the resources that the coastal community was dependent on. And now we complain that they in return grab a tiny part of the very foundation of our wealth — oil — that is daily passing by their shore.

Posted by Dima | Report as abusive

I am still looking for the Mulucca Straits on my charts. In my day surely it was Malacca Straits? International law would presume the law applies from the countries flag the ship is flying. Those cheap tax havens don’t look so convienent know do they? Monrovian navy anyone?

Posted by Ernie Goody | Report as abusive

“I’m rooting for the pirates. Piracy is capitalism in its purest form.”

Sorry I had to bite I just couldn’t let your comment go. If you’re rooting for the pirates i guess that means you’re a fan of capitalism. If so may god save capitalism from it’s fan club (to quote umm somebody I can’t remember).

Capitalism is the freedom to make voluntary exchanges, whatever its flaws it has in its foundations the right to private property and as a corollary it requires institutions to protect property. True capitalism is antithetical to all forceful dispossessions, including piracy, in contrast socialism may allow governments to take property without consent i.e. either by force or by threatening to use force. In some sense governments engage in piracy when they take private property without the owner’s consent; I think Kelo v City of New London is evidence that the use of eminent domain in some instances is little more than judicially sanctioned piracy.

Posted by sam | Report as abusive

Piracy occurs at different levels these days. I am surprised this old-fashion approach is still effective in this day and age. Conspiracy enthusiasts suggest that the 911 bombings were carried out by domestic special forces to increase military funding. The same can be said of these recent bombings in India – that it might be some kind of Swordfish scenario. When an illegitimate force assumes control over legitimate resources for financial gain, that is piracy. I personally find it hard not to sympathize with pirates given that oil prices have been hijacked and since governments have stepped into the market-manipulation business. I kind of wonder if a person can get a fairer deal from a biker gang or the mob.

Posted by Don | Report as abusive

Pompey eliminated the pirate threat in the Eastern Mediterranean within three months. in 67 B.C. Surely, we can do better now, can’t we :-)

Posted by GE | Report as abusive

Piracy is not capitalism in any form, even if the pirates wear Armani suits and worked for Wall Street. It is simply theft or maybe in this case retribution.

Until recently, the west has had access to an abundance of cheap goods that have come mostly from developing yet impoverished countries. Such economic arrangements have done little to uplift the people producing these products. The current economic and environmental crisis’ have only worsened the plight of the worlds poor.

I have concluded that acts of piracy and terrorism, are largely a response to what many of the worlds poor believe to be economic oppression enforced by gun boat diplomacy. Poverty in itself is a form of violence. Often there is no way out. One can only understand this truth if one must live through it.

I believe there is only one race, the human race. Who are our brothers, and are we their keepers?

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

It’s clear, from both story and comments, that

there are, at least, two crucial issues that need

to be addressed. The first is the great sense of

urgency, to protect ourselves from such violent

attacks. Many methods would solve or

mitigate ongoing, and relevant immediate

problems, in the short term. This

approach would do little, to impact the deeper,

underlying issues of social injustice that have

been ‘growing’ since the beginning of

‘civilization’. The problem, here, is that these

have, now, ‘fermented’, sufficiently, to take on

new ‘forms\'; and shapes…problems too big to

‘handle’ easily!

As we have always done, and will continue to

do (so long as we are able); we will, quickly, defend

ourselves. But, just exactly, ‘what’ are we

fighting, here. Every successful army, in

history, has had, at least, a ‘minimal’

understanding of the ‘foe’. All of us who enjoy

benefits of ‘civilization\'; from ‘family and

security’, to ‘communication and freedom’…must

learn to appreciate the needs of all others.

We’re in this, together.

Posted by William Ritter | Report as abusive

Kellen: Re “I’m rooting for the pirates.”

So do many people, thanks to literature (such as Robert Louis Stevenson)and Hollywood films portraying pirates as eyepatch-wearing, hook-armed Robin Hoods of the seas, robbing the rich. There’s obviously not much sympathy for Saudi Aramco, which can well afford to pay a few million in ransom.

But the romanticized image of pirates is just plain wrong. They are common criminals. What’s the difference between pirates and robbers who storm into a bank, take customers and employees hostage, clean out the vaults, demand (and get)ransom for releasing the hostages and then getting safe passage to some place where they can spend their ill-gotten gains without fear of retribution.

In the end, everybody pays for piracy. The increased cost of goods (because of longer voyages, higher insurance rates, expensive security)will be passed on to the consumer. That includes those who glorify piracy.

Posted by Gregorio | Report as abusive

Pirates, even suspected ones, should be dealt with harshly at the sea. Commercial ships, by definition, are not armed and yet transport goods of significant value, representing an easy target for a gang of armed pirates.

Indian Navy demonstrated right attitude in dealing with pirates. The question of “where should we try pirates” is entirely misplaced. Pirates should not be tried, they should be eliminated as soon as they are recognized.

Posted by SamG | Report as abusive

a few issues raised:

I have not seen any information proving that the owners of the saudi tanker and the owners of her cargo had taken measures to avoid this incident ALTHOUGH they were very well aware of the increased piracy risks.

all vessels carry equipment (SSAS) which gives their position either at set intervals (minimum twice daily as per IMO requirements) and it is Cheap/easy to add/hide additional equipment (in case pirates disable the “official” one). The point is: it is EASY for the authorities and the “prudent” owners to track vessels “constantly” when navigating in high risk areas and alter their route to lower their risks.

The pirates cannot hide the “pirated” ship.
We have witnessed US forces attacking Libya, Serbia, Iraq even terrorists camps in Syrian, Pakistan territory. Why cant we attack a pirate base in Somalia or Malacca straits????? Whats the difference between a suspected terrorist base and a pirate base from an ethical point of view? We can sacrifice a few Lybians, Iraqis, Serbs but we cannot afford to attack pirates?

If things are so out of control why dont they form convoys for the vessels crossing the most dangers routes around Aden escorted by military vessels? At least the ones carrying expensive cargoes? (the oil cargo has made the difference with the 25mio asked – nobody had raised similar issues in the past for a few hundred thousands paid. Only such big amounts of money justify “investing” in Piracy

Not very long ago (Lebanon crisis) the US Navy was informing ALL commercial ships navigating in E.Mediterranean that unless they follow a given procedure the US Navy could/would attack them. What forbids the U.N/US/NATO forces to attack any vessel/craft failing to do so in Somalia?

Piracy incidents in Somalia/Malacca straits are a different animal than the ones in Nigeria,Brasil, North Coast South America,Angola. By mixing them the real image may be distorted.

I feel that the very recent high profile/publicity cases and the publicity is a good excuse to create a lucrative new business for very few companies. Companies run by people which may be related one way or the other with the army/navy of a few countries. (guns, trained armed personnel cannot be found in the open market, i believe)

O.K we failed to create a secure environment in Iraq. Private company offer protection and they earn millions. The same happens in Mexico. YES YES YES lets make more money from shipping.

A different approach:
Shipping has been dealing with piracy incidents for many years. Insurance policies cover ship owners+cargo owners acting prudently as if they were uninsured. The saudi tanker+cargo owner and a few others were not acting as prudent uninsured and they may have additionally failed to follow their security plan and/or their security plan/policies were inadequate. Exemplify them and all others will think twice before taking any risks.

Ok. Assume they pay the 25 mio ransom. Not for the cargo – for the crew. How can they move the money afterwards???
“CLOSE” any bank which allows them to move around/use the funds. Confiscate/Freeze the money of the owners of such banks world-wide.

I guess the authorities can always use any such funds to pay the 50b due to the executives of the financial institutions instead of using the tax-payers 700b :)

Posted by tyanneas | Report as abusive

I have read the article just posted, with great interest.

Our company has had its CEC Future kidnapped in Gulf of Aden on November 7th, and she has been held hostage ever since.

It has been an incredibly frustrating experience. We have worked with all major embassies representing naval forces in the area. We have been on the news trying to high light the problem and have to admit it is an
uphill battle, however we have been making some progress.

There is in our opinion plenty of resources in the area, but NOBODY has so far taken up the task of trying to make a coordinated effort in getting rid of this menace.

In our opinion then there are two short term options:

– Go after the mother ships

– Escort vulnerable vessel through the area.

The long term solution, ofcourse lies in Somalia.

We have had some luck with the Russian navy who has been escorting our CEC Commander through the danger zone on 10-12 November. It seems that the Russian take a more pragmatic approach to these things.

The Danes (and I’m one) is the only country who has a dedicated navy vessel in the area with a mandate to pursue pirates, however as you point out, all they can do is to disarm the bandits, give them new clothes and put them back ashore.

The EU is sending a task force to the area, but so far has not said a word about the mandate, rules of engagement, strategy etc. Thus knowing the EU one can only fear that it will be more waste of tax payers money and then a bit of grandstanding now and then.

The world need to wake up to the fact that this is a major threat to free enterprise and that it will affect us all if eventually all merchant vessels will have to be routed via South Africa. From a shipowners point of view, however this will be a good business scenario
as it will effectively change the supply/demand balance in the freight market, i.e. rates will go up, however as a world citizen this is little consolation.

To those who root for the pirate, I can only say that this is a sad disregard for the seafares who are at the front line or rather at the end of a gun barrel, but ofcourse it is an easy comment to make for those sitting safely behind the key board.

Best regards

Per Gullestrup

Posted by Per Gullestrup | Report as abusive

Under martial law looters are typically shot on sight. Why should we treat pirates any differently?

It’s true the Somali pirates have generally, but not always, refrained from killing their victims. How does “generally” distinguish them from looters?

Caesar rid the eastern Mediteranean of pirates as a very young man by crucifying them all.

Why not?

Posted by mdx552 | Report as abusive

Hmm.. . Fresh targets. Better than a video game. Pirates at that! What fun, mate! Keep your power dry and shoot center by Jove.

Posted by Hans Gruber | Report as abusive

With such an attractive business model, what is the possibility that these increasingly rash and numerous high-seas piracy operations are not funded by major international players?

Posted by wakerobyn | Report as abusive

Good for the Indian Navy…unafraid to do what is necessary. Realistically, it would take a serious committment from some powerful navies throughout the world to have the desired impact, but unfortunately this won’t happen until ships/sailors from those countries are threatened (Saying this as an American who realizes we won’t get involved until there is a threat to our way of life). More to the point it would take some type of land war/campaign in Somalia itself to help stem the threat that finds safety within those borders.

Posted by Steven | Report as abusive

The first thing to remember is that the US was the catalyst which set this whole thing off. Our destabilization of Somalia by destroying their emergent (Muslim) government left no real way for the Somali people to earn a living. Piracy became very, very attractive.
That said, the piracy is inexcusable. As for dealing with the pirates, two things leap to mind.
First, there are very old, established rules for dealing with pirates at sea. They work. Use them.
Second, rather then spend $25 million on a ransom, spend it on building Somali infrastructure & business in the port areas. Even if they are only paying Somali’s to move rocks around and plant shrubbery, taking desperation out of the equation will dramatically reduce the problem.

Posted by Catskinner | Report as abusive

I think that the pirates should eat the capitalist pigs, show them a lesson. Oh yeh.

Posted by Shizzoomo | Report as abusive

Why do we spend hundreds of billions for ships and planes? It’s needed to keep the seas safe- isn’t that the rationale? Yet when honest to goodness pirate show up and commit acts of clear piracy what do we see? A U.S. Navy admiral saying ” find your own security, ship owners, and remember not to hurt any pirates because golly gosh, we don’t know where we can take them to court and we wouldn’t want to get anybody mad and saying mean things about us…”

If we’d had this grade of “leadership” in 1803, the USA would still be paying tribute to the Barbary pirates. Makes me sick to see how far we’ve fallen.

Posted by Martin Owens | Report as abusive

Dear Bernd,

An excellent story with some broadly applicable observations about Piracy. We come away from this knowing first and foremost is the Location of Somalia offering ease and opportunity for Piracy, Piracy that within the context of Lawlessness is an appropriate manifestation of human nature seeking to maximize their environment. Penalty of course reduces the incremental benefit yielded from Piracy, though adding Private Security Contractors or Non-State Actors, might re-enforce a lawless conduct in what can be determined to be an ‘ungoverned’ reaction mechanism.

Many of the fundementals of Somalia’s urge to Piracy exist in the US Internet Economy where an unregulated business controlling traffic has opportunistically siezed others Treasure without TIMELY governmental response.

As we see vessels now seeing appropriate to take Law into their own hands in Somalia Waters with private security contractors. A Rule of Law defines a state and where there is no Law a Vigilantism fills the Vacuum.

Ultimately it is a great story about why we have Governments and what type of Lawless Conduct exposes their weaknesses or inability for Self-Governance.

Piracy is an excellent example of a failure of Government or a situation of No Government or Anarchy, like Somalia.

Looking at the Financial Crisis and the many moving parts causing it, I think a little about Anarchy and the component of Private Security Contractors adding to an Environment of Anarchy.

Somalia Piracy is clear Evidence Anarchy is not a Good form of Governance, yet in our Public Markets we have not had proper Prosecution of Piracy which has left a state of Anarchy.

I must be Crazy to think Piracy is Wrong when it is so Profitable but that would be a judgment of Minimalist Morality that is established by a personal code of conduct that if widely accepted becomes something called a Law. That would make Somalia a good example of why we need Law and a great commentary on why Enforcement of Law is needed in Timely Manner where extreme profits are quickly gained through acts of PIRACY.

Now if the SEC and DOJ would just ponder such things, maybe – just maybe they would start doing their JOB of protecting people and property in the Domestic United States.

O the Lesson’s we can Learn from Somali Pirates!

Posted by James Harris | Report as abusive


Posted by bob | Report as abusive

On the Battery in Charleston SC is a marker where Pirates were hanged. This practice has ended piracy for the last two hundred years.

Posted by JIm Miller | Report as abusive

Only a few news sourcs have so far indicated exactly why Somalia has turned to piracy. Europe and the US have been disposing of waste in Somalia’s seas for decades now at a cost of around $1.70 a ton, compared to $600 to get it properly disposed in the US or Europe.
The Tsunami dislodged a lot of this waste (including nuclear) and the UN has done precious little in their investigations. Add to this the constant thievery of fish in Somalia’s territorial waters and this makes for angry fishermen teaming up with opportunist criminals. All of them wih nothing to lose.

It’s one thing devising ever more methods to deal with pirates, but less money could be spent on preventing the rise of pirates in the first place. Or could it? It’s too easy to dump waste in someone else’s backyard,especially if it is profitable.

Posted by Marc | Report as abusive

Very interesting indeed. So how exactly do I get started with this piracy business?

Posted by Gary | Report as abusive

Legal loopholes always seem to be found in military actions, so why not let one of the navies form their OWN pirate units, i.e., commerce raiding, like they used to do during the Elizabethan Age, WWI and WWII? A quasi-military outfit that robs the robbers. Hit the pirates with their own medicine.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

I can see a new role for GITMO! A pirate prison beyond the reach of the courts.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Your lead in was “As far as illicit businesses with low risk and high rewards go, it doesn’t get much better than piracy on the high seas”

WRONG.. you could be member of the Gang of 535, in Congress of DC or State Capitals. Much safer and pays better and great benefits, even well paying jobs for family and “friends”. So let’s not praise pirates to highly, our politicians can and do “Out pirate” them any day. Doubt whom is worse, history records of reformed honest pirates,but never of politicians.

Posted by chuck | Report as abusive

How about that: install on commercial ships some self-defense weapons. A handful of small caliber automatic cannons, remotely controlled from the bridge, will be sufficient to provide necessary deterrent. And if the pirates are not deterred by the looks of these – too bad for the bad guys. A cannon like that can slice and dice a speedboat or even sink their mother ship from a distance well beyond the range of AK-47 and RPG – the usual weapons of the pirates. Yet it’s a purely defensive thing and would not change the ship’s commercial status – a few small guns will not turn a cruise liner into a naval cruiser. It should not be expensive either. To tackle a ship that is armed with these cannons, the pirates would need something as big, armored, and well-armed as a naval frigate, and they don’t seem to get any of these easily. Even if they manage to illegally purchase an old decommissioned warship from a scrap yard, or convert a trawler or a freighter to resemble one, that thing would be too big and too conspicuous to go unnoticed by the legitimate navies that patrol the seas – with all the consequences to follow. The pirates will be toast – by the way, “TOAST” is the anti-spam word. And as for legal issues – guys in a speed boat wielding assault rifles are not, and should not be assumed to be peaceful fishermen. A photo or video of the target right before it was blown to smithereens should be enough of the evidence relieving the crew from any and all legal consequences.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

I wonder if the shipping companies have considered collaborating to form escorted convoys through these areas.

Posted by Dennis | Report as abusive

This case differs from our historical memories of then. In this now, they hold, and tightly we are led to believe, hold quite a number of hostages. Depending upon the welfare of the hostages or NOT we probably don’t want to add to their terrible situation by killing them ourselves in faulty rescue attempts.

There may be ways of coordinating the spray of Nemutol, heroin, or other soporifics with the prevailing winds in order to knock them all unconscious as commandos, much better than India’s, free the hostages and take the pirates out to the mariner’s court that you all seem to have forgotten: the judgement and the gang plank and, of course, the hungry sharks..

Posted by E.J. Pearcy | Report as abusive

From the mid 19th century to the end of the Nixon administration, piracy was a crime tried under military law – a capital crime – as was slavery. In the 1960s the number of reported incidents in the Caribbean was about 12 a year: after we stopped enforcing the law USCG statistics jumped to over 500 a year (just in that one area). Military trials were fast and fair – to separate wheat from chaff – and let those accidentally in the net go free. I say – return to the historical practice. [Former Navy petty officer]

Posted by Sid Trevethan | Report as abusive

Well would this mean going back to the days when merchant ships sailed as a fleet and hence be protected en masse?

Posted by Rabin Stephen | Report as abusive

Keep a flare gun and a rocket launcher on each ship. You don’t need to spend 60k on security, just fire a warning shot, give it a minute, and let it rip. There is no way to deter them with anything else.

Posted by Josh Lampe | Report as abusive

First of all, Blackwater Worldwide SUX.

Second, the biggest, baddest pirate was under the hand of the queen, sir francis drake, so that begs the question,

Who is footing the bill for all the guns, bullets, boats and food for these pirates?

If anyone really cared to stop these actions they could send the RIAA after the guys.
Never ever assume that this romanticized view of pirates “low risk, high reward” is accurate.
From this article it seems as if the millitary has the most to gain since “their warships cant be everywhere” perhapse they want more funding so they can police the high seas, more billion dollar ships so we can police the world is the answer I guess.

I dont doubt our little pirates are praying for that shipment of twinkies to fall in their laps, but it looks to me like every time a pirate goes yarrr, a general gets more funding.

Besides, everybody knows where the skull and crossbones comes from,, and where it ended up, even our president is a bonesmen, and by the looks of it our ship of state is taking on water. Things could be worse, we could be a service economy in a country rich in natural resources that doesnt make anything and thus has to import everything from far off lands…..oh….nevermind :(

Posted by LadyCaritas | Report as abusive

Is it not simple to look the other way . On this matter as both sides have intrinsic right to the sea. Though they do not have such rights to each other. They are guest of the ocean. But mind you what is in someones possession and not protected can be taken. Protection seems to be the issue here. Do said boats have rights to protect themselves. Maritime Law says no ? Or do simple matters of business preclude and subordinate Maritime statues. Matters of business meaning the given right to conduct it(business) anywhere in the world with some degree of safe conduct afforded and expected. The ocean w is an entity and has law and conduct. Perhaps rules of safety will prevail and piracy will be brought under the safety codes for prosecution. Is it not unlawful to unsafely operate a vessel. Perhaps with magnification for high seas travel.

Posted by john wade | Report as abusive

How is it that a pirate outfit that would cost a mere $25k to outfit from scratch requires a $30k-$60k security force to repel?

These aren’t crack commandos committing piracy from well fortified warships, they’re poorly trained thugs attacking from civilian speedboats.

Forget Blackwater, just keep a few AKs and RPGs on the boat and have them open fire while the pirates are approaching, or even trying to climb the grappling hooks. They’ll have height, cover, and numerical advantage even if they aren’t better trained and equipped (which wouldn’t really be that difficult to achieve).

And on the off-chance that an unidentified speedboat full of armed men just happens to be cruising around the East African shipping lanes and heads toward a freighter without any sort of ill intent, well, I just don’t see that happening.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

so many absurd comments, so little time.

Three cheers for the commenter admonishing those who chose the Monrovian flag (and their amazingly well trained but itty bitty Navy).

Three jeers for the guy who just had to capitalize the first letter of every third word. I didn’t try it…was it a code? Is he being held hostage right now?

Cruise ships (many of them, at least) now carry sound guns and VERY high powered water cannon which make for great defense. Even a accurately fired RPG will do little to these behemoths. Ditto for our supertanker.

Have no sympathy for these pirates…these are not out of work fisherman, displaced by nuclear radiation and Liechtensteiner’s surplus toxic waste–these are people who used to attack and kill those in line for UN food handouts. Since those are gone, like good members of society they’ve decided to seek employment instead of collecting another 17 weeks of unemployment insurance. Insurance…segue to…

…convoys are expensive. I know I know, but they are. Many of the largest oil and bulk freighters are now transiting the Horn instead of the straits. I would love to know what that added expense is?

Ironic that the pirates first asked for 10, then 15, then 25 and now…? In the meantime, oil has dropped precipitously–I wonder if that delivery price is still good!

Yeah, we should just kill the pirates when they get too close. And then lets start killing pirates in the Carib again, and while we’re at it, lets start treating drug traffickers like pirates…until we shoot down some VFR Cessna’s and a small powerboat belonging to a clergyman’s daughter. Then we’ll all recoil a la ‘what have we become’ and give it another…oh, 10 years to get here again. Or we could put 6 armed guards on every vessel. Either way.

Posted by tim randle | Report as abusive

To see what damage pirates do and how to handle them, read up on the Roman empire and Pompey ( And it is no defence to sit far away in the US for example and argue cleverly. Violent chaos like piracy eventually reaches everyone – as the US learned so tragically in 2001. Piracy is no business model, for Pete’s sake. Neither is bank robbery or car hijacking. A business model operates in the commonly agreed laws of a civilised society/world. Piracy has as an object the destruction of those laws.

Posted by Koos | Report as abusive

Tim Randle – If so many of these comments are “absurd”, why add to the fray with ever more absurd, sheer nonsense? No sane person on here believes your suggestions come even close to understanding what is going on in Somalia at present. The difference between you and me is not ideology, but the fact that I’ve been there and seen it, you are evidently just another ‘send in the forces’ blowhard far away in America or wherever.

Posted by Marc | Report as abusive

Wow… Tim Randle is a moron…
Stick to wikipedia with your comments.

The only thing that can possibly work is making piracy unprofitable. Raise the risks by placing weapons in the hands of the crew and and the benefits are no longer worth it. Perhaps a shipping company cannot afford Blackwater or a sound cannon. But they certainly can afford a few automatic weapons, a few boxes of ammo and some kevlar or perhaps a couple extra crew with adjustable morals carrying some of their own weapons.

Posted by me | Report as abusive

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Posted by confidential conversions scam | Report as abusive