American Morning

Tune in at 6am Eastern for all the news you need to start your day.
April 13th, 2009
01:43 PM ET

Arm civilian ships?

Vice Adm. William Gortney describes the rescue of a ship captain held hostage by pirates off the Somali coast.
Vice Adm. William Gortney describes the rescue of a ship captain held hostage by pirates off the Somali coast.

“Armed security detachments” to protect civilian ships at sea. That’s the recommendation of the admiral in charge of U.S. Naval operations off the coast of Somalia.

Vice Adm. William Gortney, appearing on American Morning today, left little question as to what he thinks shipping companies should do to fend off piracy.

The idea of sailors, or shipboard security personnel carrying weapons is a controversial one. Might it provoke shootouts on the high seas? Would it increase the likelihood that acts of piracy could have deadly consequences?

Adm. Gortney views the issue pragmatically. These companies hire armed security to “protect their property on the beach,” he says, so why not extend that to the oceans?

Civilian ships have used aggressive, but mostly non-lethal tactics to keep pirates at bay, such as dousing would-be hijackers with fire hoses, outrunning or outmaneuvering them.

While pirates have terrorized vessels, and continue to hold more than 200 sailors hostage, they haven’t – as a rule – gone around shooting their captives.

Could all that change if shipboard security details use deadly force to keep pirates from boarding? And will Sunday’s shooting of 3 pirates increase the likelihood that the hijackers will harm their victims? If we believe the threats that have been issued in the past 24 hours, it may.

Adm. Gortney advocates a wide range of non-lethal measures as well, including “something as simple as putting barbed wire around low approaches on the boats themselves.” He points out that “just last week, two vessels were unsuccessfully attacked because the crew had put barbed wire around the ship.”

But even with those countermeasures, pirates might still get aboard. Some crews, fearful that hijackers might sink their vessel with a few well-placed RPGs, have allowed the pirates to take control.

Could armed security details lie in wait for the hijackers then take them out when they hit the deck?

How well-armed would they have to be to overwhelm the invaders? Who best to serve as shipboard security – Pinkerton’s or Blackwater?

It is a provocative issue, but with piracy on the increase and the navies of some 17 nations unable to deter all hijackings, it’s an idea Adm. Gortney believes deserves frank consideration.

What do you think?

John Roberts

Filed under: Piracy
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. mary

    the companies obviousley know about the pirates why don't they have armed detailes on their ships?or since these pirates are so far out to sea why arn't jets just blowing them out of the water?

    April 15, 2009 at 8:19 am |
  2. Jan-OR

    First of all it's too easy for the pirates to get on board these ships and get away with their ransom money. This is an easy challenge that is working for the pirates so, why would they want to stop. The US Navy should only be involved unless it becomes an international effort to fight back with an iron fist and not be pansies about it.
    In order to protect these ships from getting pirated, maybe there should be international forces up & down 100 miles off Somalia coast line.

    These pirates will not stop this act unless preventive force is used.

    April 14, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  3. Michael

    It isn't rocket science..arm the ships so they can protect themselves.
    ( Just like you should arm the teachers to protect the children ) In fact why not just let people carry weapons so these cowards will stay in hiding.

    April 14, 2009 at 3:31 pm |
  4. Bill

    Instead of using private companies which could be construed as armed merchant ships with possible pirate intentions. Instead utilize a contingent of U.S. Marine guards armed with the proper missiles and firearms required to prevent any highjacking including intrusion by large armed vessels. Since they are federal troops there would not be any question as to their intentions of only protecting American Citizens and property. Additionally, the cost would be far less than what was just spent on the recent incident. The Israeli government protects their flagged merchant ships and they are rarely attacked because the pirates know they are armed. As long as companies continue to negotiate with the pirates this mess will continue. We need to make their business model unprofitable for this to cease.

    April 14, 2009 at 2:49 pm |
  5. lordcase

    Isaac Asimov said "An armed society is a polite society." I don't know many people I respect enough to argue with Isaac, even though he has passed away.
    The punishment for piracy was always hanging or walking the plank. In short, pirates were not rewarded they were killed. That was the law of the high seas since time immemorial and should be the standard to be used in these cases. Pirates are not the romantic Johnny Depp figures Holywood portrays but thieves and killers and they sould be executed upon capture or better yet, shot before capture.

    April 14, 2009 at 10:13 am |
  6. michael armstrong sr.

    the united states should not put troops into somolia it would turne into another vietnam we should have learned our lessons from black hawk down not any of those people want us there we can gain our objective from the sea and air it dont take an einstien to realize that if you sink there boats then theres no more sea pirates all it would take is two aircraft carriers one on each end of the coast blowing holes into the hules of vessels using jet fighters and just drop bombs on there munishions dumps on land a land invasion is foolish and unnesasary.

    April 14, 2009 at 8:23 am |
  7. nadia

    Pirates 101 : Do not mess with Americans

    April 13, 2009 at 11:03 pm |
  8. George Pasdirtz

    Is there a reason why the World navies cannot convoy ships around Somalia and other areas where pirates are active (shipping delays, no reasonable assembly points, lack of coordination, naval strategy, sea lane protection strategy, naval resources, etc.)?

    April 13, 2009 at 7:23 pm |
  9. Simon

    If you arm ships you have to do it in a way that the guns are only accessible in dire emergency (maybe a remote locking system.) there is a reason the ships are unarmed. being on a ship is very stressful for these guys and they are out to sea for weeks on end, you don't need an argument between the crew to turn deadly because there is now access to weapons... First maybe we should remove the ladders on the sides of the boats... remember less than 1/2 percent of all ships moving through the Gulf of Aden get captured by pirates, let's not blow this out of proportion and get all gun crazy!

    Just my thoughts.

    April 13, 2009 at 3:41 pm |
  10. Keith

    If you arm merchant ships, how do you tell who is a merchant and who is a pirate? The golden days of piracy were the days when pirates preyed on well armed merchant ships while masquerading as merchants themselves. Arming merchant ships will only result in an escalating arms race on the high seas and a growing difficulty in distinguishing pirate from prey.

    April 13, 2009 at 2:59 pm |
  11. Rick Indiana

    Now days its not only ships that should be harmed, even law abiding citizens in everyday life should be able to if they want. Yes armed security on ships would work. Cheaper than the high cost of insurance. I'm sure Blackwater could use some new contracts.

    April 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm |