Crews of high-risk vessels cannot always repel the pirates by themselves. Licensed mariners in general are not trained and ready to successfully fight off pirate attacks using deadly force and should not be involved in that highly dangerous process.
Employment of properly screened, trained, and certified maritime protection agents (MPAs) is a successfully demonstrated countermeasure, advisable until permanent nation-building solutions can be put in place to eliminate the shore-side support infrastructure used by the pirates.
Risk-averse shippers with adequate means have hired armed security contractors to be on board, among them former naval commandos like ex-U.S. Navy SEALs. Outside former military personnel with clear, specialized qualifications, at present the maritime sector lacks legitimate frameworks for specialized training and certification of shipboard security personnel. That’s expected to change next year when the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s Global Maritime and Transportation School (GMATS) plans to launch a multi-week course covering the range of issues unique for MPAs, including intelligence collection, assessments, firearm qualifications, tactical operations, use of force issues, criminal and civil liability, first aid, and abandon-ship procedures.
If MPAs are used, in addition to the rigorous selection, training, and qualification process, vessel crew and security team integration training will be required so that a coordinated and balanced security program exists prior to the employment of any deadly force in repelling and defeating the pirate attacks.
Separate, integrated training for both crew and MPAs should occur before high-risk voyages for maximum readiness. It should involve additional worst-case scenario training based on current hostage survival and escape techniques, hostile environment captor interaction behavior and basic firefighting, first aid, abandon-ship, and water-survival procedures, most of which are covered by the standards of training and watchkeeping required for international mariner licensing.
Twice daily meetings between the vessel Master and security team leader are required at a minimum, and security team members should participate in the regularly scheduled security training and drills which are part of the vessel security plan.
Rules of engagement. The rules of engagement in piracy attacks require clear identification and warning by the vessel being attacked that it has deadly force capability. The attacking pirates’ hostile intent must be clearly identified using visual recording equipment, and they must be warned off repeatedly with all communications means available including radio and loud hailers. If warnings are ignored, weapons fire should be directed near, but not directly at, the attacking vessel in an attempt to turn back or ward off the attack. If the attacking vessel does not turn away, a vessel-disabling barrage may be next mounted in order to avoid loss of human life. If this attempt fails to turn the attacking pirates away and they continue to close in and maintain the attack, use of deadly force is necessary.
The trade of maritime piracy is believed to be as old as that of legitimate seamanship, and is not expected to abate at any time in the future. Complacency and high-risk tolerances have cost shippers millions and put thousands of mariners in harm’s way. Yet shippers that build a strong foundation of risk management, observe best practices, and seek expert help will have the best chance of leaving that threat in their wake.
John Tomoney is principal of Maritime Security Solutions.