There’s a whole slew of measures to deal with the problem of Somali pirates hijacking merchant ships and holding crew and cargo hostage for ransom. It makes you wonder sometimes why the attacks continue to rise. Is the shipping world becoming helpless? We’ve taken note of the various strategies that are actually being implemented or have been proposed. Some items on the menu are more appealing than others. All come at a certain cost.

Best Management Practice (BMP3)

Definitely helpful – to a certain extent. Now on its third edition, the anti-piracy bible of sorts (a copy can be downloaded from here) has prevented more ships from being attacked and successfully taken by pirates. The pirates, however, probably have their own counter-BMP judging from the way the attacks are carried out. They have planning, coordination and an intelligence network to boot.

Multinational naval patrols

Unlikely to fix the problem in the long run. Increased allied naval presence in the Gulf of Aden has prompted the pirates to expand their operations to the Indian Ocean. Since the area to be patrolled is now much larger, the cat has a harder time finding and catching the mice.

Shipboard security teams

Gaining wider acceptance as naval ship escorts aren’t always available. Proponents say the mere presence of armed guards is enough to deter an attack. Aside from the cost (around $5,700 – $6,500 per day for a four-man team, according to one estimate), shipowners will have to consider the integrity of maritime security companies and the rules of engagement. No one wants the Blackwater abuses in Iraq repeated on the high seas.

Shooting pirates on sight

Bad idea. How can one be sure if the pirate skiff is not in fact a fishing boat? Imagine what will become of the civilised world were it to disregard the rule of law and start playing Dirty Harry with confirmed or suspected pirates.

Prosecution and imprisonment

Should be a given. But how many of the estimated 2,000 Somali pirates have been or will be caught? Only a few countries have demonstrated their readiness to prosecute the brigands. Some hate the thought of having to spend taxpayers’ money to feed the pirates and provide medical care to those who get sick in the slammer.

Bombing pirate bases to oblivion

A quick solution but contentious and politically distasteful to many. Any planned military action to destroy the Somali piracy infrastructure is fraught with danger. Even the gung-ho Americans will not want to get militarily involved. Anyone who has watched the 2001 film ‘Black Hawk Down‘ about the infamous Battle of Mogadishu will understand why.

Naval blockade of Somali coast

Another strategy that’s easier said than done.

Going after pirate ‘mother’ ships

Seemingly mandatory as the hijacked ‘mother’ ships enable the pirates to increase their reach and firepower. Pirates place captured seafarers on board, which means attempts to re-take the vessels could result in collateral damage. Question: how much collateral damage is acceptable?

Dousing with water cannons

Non-lethal way to prevent pirates from getting on board the ship. The force of the water ejected from cannons strategically positioned on the ship rails like sprinklers on a golf course might work. If not, the pirates get a free bath courtesy of the ship’s crew.

Blazing away with laser guns

Also non-lethal yet more high-tech. Laser guns are billed as powerful enough to incapacitate pirates up to 1,000 yards (914.4m) away without killing them. Efficacy will obviously depend on accuracy. And what if the pirates reply with their AK-47s and RPGs?

Comfort in the ‘citadel’

On the face of it, a good way to keep pirates from getting at the crew. But how long can the fellows stay inside the citadel (aka, safety room) before a warship arrives to rescue them? Can they radio or email for help in the first place? What if the pirates use a blow-torch to break down the door or threaten to sink the ship?

Alternate routeing of ships

Could have a dramatic effect on transport costs and delivery times. Avoiding the Gulf of Aden and the middle of the Arabian Sea is also no guarantee that the ship won’t be attacked in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere the pirates may choose to operate in future.

Seafarer boycott of piracy areas

An option the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) says is under consideration. Whether it is practicable is another matter. For many seafarers, the choice is between the risk of being held captive by pirates and the prospect of their families going hungry. Isn’t Life just unfair to those who man the ships?

These are really all contingency measures. Almost everyone agrees that the real solution can be found on shore – that is, the rehabilitation of Somalia’s economy and the establishment of a stable Somali government to help bring it about and to enforce the law. In the meantime, there’s a good deal of disagreement on just what to do with the unending pirate attacks. The pirates must be laughing. ~Barista Uno

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