Posted by: bkivey | 1 October 2010

A Primer for Somali Pirates

Usually when one wishes to engage in criminal activity one chooses one’s target based on a cost-benefit analysis. Most criminals don’t call it that, but that’s what it is. The idea is to get the greatest benefit, usually money, with the least amount of effort and the lowest exposure to negative results, such as incarceration or death. Of necessity this usually entails going after poorly defended, or ‘soft’ targets. Only the most intelligent and ambitious criminals attempt to compromise well-defended, or ‘hard’, targets. Based on the evidence, Somali pirates demonstrably do not fall into the latter category.

Maersk Alabama

On 9 April 2009 pirates boarded and attempted to capture this US-flagged container ship. The Wikipedia entry calls this “the first successful pirate seizure of a ship registered under the American flag since the early 19th century.” If the definition of ‘success’ is boarding the ship, having your own ship sunk through the actions of the target ship’s crew, getting your leader captured by that same crew, being forced to abandon your prize, and then getting yourself killed, then, yeah, I guess you could call it that. If you define success as commandeering a vessel and then sailing that vessel to port and collecting ransom from the ship’s owners, then not so much.

USS Nicholas

On 1 April 2010 Somali pirates attacked the US Navy frigate USS Nicholas off  the Seychelles. Pirates are usually armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) with indeterminate reloads. By comparison, the Nicholas mounts:

  • One 76 mm naval gun
  • Two Mark 32 triple-tube launchers for the Mk 46 torpedo
  • One Vulcan Phalanx CIWS
  • Four .50 machine guns
  • Numerous small arms

The action left the pirate’s boat burning and sinking and the capture of the assailants. There was no reported damage to the Nicholas or her crew.

USS Ashland

 Apparently not happy with their record against US-flagged ships in general and the US Navy in particular, the pirates decided to double down and on 10 April 2010 took on the  landing ship dock USS Ashland, with entirely predictable results. Score: USS Ashland – 1 killed, 6 captured, Pirates – 0. No damage to ship or crew.

Now, for any Somali pirates who are reading this, examine the pictures carefully. Note the characteristics of US Navy warships:

  • They are painted in what the Navy is pleased to call ‘haze grey’. Most people call this ‘battleship grey’, but unlike merchant vessels, naval ships are not designed to draw attention to themselves.
  • The ship’s number is painted in large white numerals on the bow.
  • The waterline is marked with black paint.
  • There are weapons emplacements on deck.
  • Most US Navy warships will have a helicopter hangar near the stern.

Characteristics common to all US-flagged vessels:

  • They all fly an American flag. The flag is usually flown at the stern on merchant vessels and from the mainmast on naval vessel.
  • The crews are not in any mood for you and your shit.

I hope this helps.


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