Should merchant ships transiting high risk areas carry small arms for defense against pirates?

Selected crew should be trained and have guns available
Professional armed security teams should be hired
No guns on merchant ships, ever

June 10, 2009

Warning: Pirates trying new tactics

Seeing changes in the pattern of attacks by Somali pirates, the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) has issued an updated Special Maritime Advisory message.

The advisory provides several new recommendations in light of recent changes in tactics used by pirates operating in the region and reiterates fundamental lessons learned as a result of the CMF's counter-piracy efforts.

Merchant ships are urged to use the weather to their advantage, planning new routing off the east coast of Somalia due to the start of the southwest monsoon season. The message further details the pirates' extended range of operations off the Eastern Somali coast, stretching all the way to and beyond The Seychelles, with the use of "mother ships." These larger vessels allow them to operate further out from shore, providing an afloat staging platform for their attacks.

Another new tactic highlighted in the advisory is the potential move into the southern Red Sea. A confirmed pirate attack took place in late May, at the Northern end of the Bab Al Mendeb. As a result, all vessels transiting the Red Sea approaching or departing the Gulf of Aden should continue to employ the recommended actions to deter and evade attack.

Finally, pirates have also recently increased their number of attacks during the hours of darkness, highlighting the need for heightened vigilance of merchant mariners during both day and night time transits through the high risk areas.

"The prior preparation and vigilance of merchant mariners at all times of day and night is more important now than ever" said Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, the Commander of the Combined Maritime Forces. "CTF 151, along with the other multi national maritime forces deployed to the region are successfully coordinating the counter piracy effort. While our ability to deter and disrupt attacks has improved over time, we are constantly adapting the way we do our business as the pirates adapt and modify their tactics."

The majority of attacks during 2008 and early 2009 took place during the day time in the Gulf of Aden. However, recently pirates have attacked vessels at night and have conducted attacks far off the eastern coast of Somalia. However, a combination of adverse weather conditions in the Somali Basin, coupled with increased presence by international navies has led to the changes in the pirates' tactics.

The advisory provides routing advice to minimize the risk of attack during the southwest monsoon, noting that the sea conditions off the East coast of Africa during the period from end of May to early September will reduce the likelihood of successful attack. Mariners are encouraged to take advantage of areas of heightened sea state but should continue to remain at a high state of alert.

Ships and aircraft of the CMF's counter piracy Task Force 151, the European Union, NATO and a number of international navies continue to coordinate their activities in the region, but the fact remains that the closest military ship or aircraft may not be close enough to render assistance to a vessel under attack.

As a result, the advisory, like previous editions, provides detailed recommendations that have proved extremely effective measures that can be taken by the crews of merchant vessels.

"In this environment, the importance of merchant mariners as first line defenders against pirates is absolutely vital" said Commodore Tim Lowe, Deputy Commander Combined Maritime Forces "the crews of those merchant vessels that have employed evasive maneuvering and other defensive measures to protect their ships and their cargoes have proven to be more successful at evading attack."

The analysis of successful attacks continues to indicate certain vulnerabilities that are successfully exploited by pirates. These include vessels travelling at low speed, with a low freeboard and who have failed to employ adequate lookouts particularly during periods of heightened risk such as low sea state and good visibility.

marine log logo