Sunday, April 26, 2009

Italian Cruise Ship Repels Pirates with Gunfire

That’s what the NYT headline to this Reuters wire says. Now it quotes Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Sea Farers Assistance Programme, whoever and whatever that is:
”Having weapons on a passenger or merchant ship is dangerous. They should have used other means to shake off the pirates, like a loud acoustic device," said Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Sea Farers Assistance Programme.”

“Only military ships should have weapons on board.”
Perhaps. But wasn’t that so...Italian? And before you have time to second-guess the captain’s decision, NYT goes on to note:
It is not the first time that pirates have tried to seize a cruise ship, but they have always been fended off.
It works. So who needs GeorgeStephen Seagal?

The real question, of course, is: What the hell are these cruise ships and private yachts doing here? This isn’t a Disneyland theme park.


Jan Moren said...

"It is not the first time that pirates have tried to seize a cruise ship, but they have always been fended off."

"It works. So who needs George Segal?"

Not sure about your referent here, so I may be contradicting or agreeing with you, but:

Nowhere does it say that all those other cruise ships used guns to fend off the attacks. In fact, while unclear, the tone and the placement of the passage seems to imply that they did not. Not sure though.

And to be sure, I'm not actually opposed to allowing vessels to have weaponry as long as they don't have any use-exemptions but follow the same laws, with the same consequences, they'd have on land.

"The real question, of course, is: What the hell are these cruise ships and private yachts doing here? "

They were 320km from the Seychelles, a major vacation spot. Somalia was 960km away, more than three times the distance. The question is rather what were the Somali pirates doing so very far away from their waters?

Jun Okumura said...

Well then, Janne, was the Force with them or what? Actually, I think that cruise ships are armed for a reason that has nothing to do with pirates. I’ll try to write about that in a separate post.

As for why the pirates were there, they have been expanding their area of operations, again for good reasons. Moreover, the incident took place 320 kilometers north of the Seychelles, which would put it much closer than 960 kilometers to Kismayu and Marka, two of the four pirate strongholds on the Somali coast. Since we don’t know exactly where the cruiser was, let’s give it a little leeway and assume that the pirates had to travel 700 kilometers at a cruising speed of, say, a relatively modest 30 kph. That’s a little bit less than a two-day round-trip, not an unreasonable voyage for an offshore fishermen, don’t you think, especially when they are equipped with the latest navigation equipment that money—which they have increasingly more of—can buy?

Jun Okumura said...

Sorry, Janne, wrong Segal.

Jan Moren said...

As I said, I agree with ships being armed, and I agree completely with the need for crowd control - with a police station and reinforcements possibly days away it's of course important and necessary.

What I'm leery of is the "sliding priorities" at work, like we can see happening in the UK, where "terrorism" is the motivator for a land-grab of individual rights abuses by the police. You motivate some extraordinary rules by extraordinary events, but then those rules get broader and broader in scope until you end up with a state of affairs you would never ever have willingly accepted if stated outright.

If 48 hours is too close, then anywhere is too close. European fishermen go to south-east Africa at times, or across the Atlantic. If "reachable by fishermen" is the criterion, then operating a cruise vessel at all would be irresponsible.

Durf said...

The real question, of course, is: What the hell are these cruise ships and private yachts doing here? This isn’t a Disneyland theme park.My guess is something like "running a route from the Mediterranean to Dubai without going thousands of kilometers out of their way." No, it's not a particularly friendly bit of water, but it's certainly a handy one to use when you don't feel like working South Africa into your itinerary.

LB said...

I have been on one cruise ship, in safe waters, true, but the entire ship's security department was ex-Gurkhas. Every one of them. That alone made me feel safer. ;-)

If cruise ships elsewhere had such security detachments, the ship wouldn't even need to worry about using gunfire to repel pirates. Just let the Gurkhas carry their Kukri on deck in plain view. ;-)

Jun Okumura said...

Janne: I agree with you 100% about the dangers of “sliding priorities”. (You’re probably thinking more of “mission creep”, though I understand your point.) That’s what Japan’s war in China and the rest of Asia was all about. Then there’s the U.S. in Vietnam…But it’s something to be on the lookout for, not in itself the reason for a ban on aggressive defense.

A 48-hour round (not one-way) trip doesn’t mean “anywhere”. And of course they have to bring the booty back, which, since we’re not talking about the Swedish Bikini Team (old guy reference), will usually take a little longer (cargo ships are slow), which raises the costs as well as the risks of the operation. There are only so many places on this planet that has the location (proximity to active sea lanes), the infrastructure (convenient ports), and the socio-political conditions (“supportive” communities and police and politicians who are willing to look the other way) that make pirate bases economically viable. I think that’s why the problem has been mainly limited to the Malacca Straits and its environs and now the Somali neighborhood. The Somali pirates have to be careful not to be the victims of their own success though. The point may come where the economic (and possibly human) costs become too big relative to the political (and human) costs of direct intervention not to strike at the base.

Durf: Yeah, if a cruise ship is going through the Suez Canal (Cairo! Alexandria!) to Dubai, I can see a problem there. And going around Africa would add weeks. But do they get that business anymore? Hey, you know what? If I were a cruise operator, I’d cut a deal with the pirates. Say, for a $200,000 fee, pirates will attack your 40,000-ton ship holding 1,000 passengers under a prearranged scenario, where the ship’s security successfully repels the attack. This will add $200 to each ticket, but it’ll be worth it because a) you’ll be perfectly safe, and b) you get the thrill of a real (well, sort of), live pirate attack. Say, for an extra $500, they’ll take you hostage and wine and dine you for couple of days. And for an extra $50,000, they’ll take your wife hostage for…HAHA, kidding, folks.

LB: Lucky you. I’m sure cruise ships have generally good security crews. In fact, my guess is that there are private security firms, one of whose functions is to train and equip such teams with former military personnel.

Jan Moren said...

"If I were a cruise operator, I’d cut a deal with the pirates. "

How about they maybe _are_ cutting a deal with the pirates; a lump sum per ship not to get any unwanted attention. The reason the attacks are easily repelled is because they're reminders to late payers or stingy negotiators, not any actual attack meant to succeed. There is booty, sure, but delivered via a discreet money transfer, not bags of passenger valuables.

Or maybe it's just me having a cynical day.

Jun Okumura said...

Janne, in Japan, we call it mikajime-ryo; Americans call it protection money. What’s it called in Sweden?

I don’t know one way or the other, but it’s certainly possible. The question: Is there someone you can rely on to keep the pirates in line if you pay him off?

cruise ship jobs said...

Even how good the crews are trained in cruise ship security or how advanced facilities on board are, I think there will still be pirate attacks. The people of the country where most pirates are needs to offer more stable jobs to the people so as to not attract more poor people to do it.

Jun Okumura said...

Depends, cruise ship jobs guy. I think it's possible to make it too expensive for pirates to attack these ships so that they turn to safer, steadier work, like smuggling drugs, guns...

cruise ship jobs said...

Even though those with cruise ship jobs are trained for emergencies on board cruise ships, it is still dangerous and scary to be attacked by pirate ships and getting away from it is not easy at all.

Darwin said...


The last few years have witnessed record number of hostages and tonnage detained for ransom at east Somali coast.

Cruise ships hire contracted armed guards to travel on board while operating in the gulf of aden. Cruise ship jobs on these superliners can prove to be much more than just a job and the work can actually be great fun. There are lots of fellow crew members onboard, modern amenities, extra services and creature comforts.