A cargo ship packed with missiles?

Interesting article!

A cargo ship packed with missiles? Really?

“The Navy should acquire and arm merchant ships, outfitting them with modular weapons and systems to take advantage of improving technology and shipping market conditions while providing capability more rapidly and less expensively than traditional acquisition efforts.”

Since pirates are able to board and take over the civilian ships because the crews are not allowed to defend themselves with a shovel, is this really possible?

When I was in the Swedish Royal Navy 1965/70 my job was to transform Swedish merchant ships to mine layers in a short time. These war ships would then fill the Baltic, the Sound and Kattegatt with mines to prevent the enemy to land. Swedish submarines would at the same time mine the enemy ports. I was in fact in charge of such a transformation October 1970. WP, NATO and Finland were invited to watch the work, i.e. welding rails on the deck for the mines. It was quickly done and WP was impressed. NATO (a US Marine colonel) wondered where the mines were going to be placed. Below the surface of the water, I told him.

Don’t know! Anything seems possible though. I found this.

The Right of Self Defense Under International Law

Under international law, merchant vessels and their crews have the right to carry arms for self-defense if that is required for the vessel to exercise its freedom of navigation. Self-defense measures include providing weapons and training to the crew and/or hiring armed guards to allow the vessel to navigate. The self-defense measures and their employment should be proportionate to the threat.

The right of freely navigating the ocean, and of self-defense, of repelling force by force was common to both vessels [warship and armed merchant vessel]2; but every hostile attack in a time of peace is not necessarily practical. It may be by mistake or in necessary self-defense or to repel a supposed meditated attack by pirates. It may be justifiable, and then no blame attaches to the attack…3

This customary international law has been codified in the United States for US vessels and crews in 33 USCS § 383 “Resistance of pirates by merchant’s vessels”:

The commander and crew of any merchant vessel of the United States, owned wholly, or in part, by a citizen thereof, may oppose and defend against any aggression, search, restraint, depredation, or seizure, which shall be attempted upon such vessel, or upon any other vessel so owned, by the commander or crew of any armed vessel whatsoever, not being a public armed vessel of some nation in amity with the United States, and may subdue and capture the same, and may also retake any vessel so owned which may have been captured by the commander or crew of any such armed vessel, and send the same into any port of the United States.4

The basic freedom of navigation is a cornerstone of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (1982). UNCLOS includes 158 state parties. The United States, a UNCLOS signatory, has affirmed that it is customary international law to which the United States adheres.5

UNCLOS provides that all states and the vessels that fly their flags enjoy the freedom of navigation in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and on the high seas. Within territorial seas, up to 12 NM from the coastal baseline, vessels enjoy the right of innocent passage. UNCLOS also requires all states to cooperate in the suppression of piracy.6

If pirates attempt to deprive vessels of their right to exercise the freedom of navigation, the shipowner and the crew may take reasonable steps to defend the vessel and the crew while in the exercise of freedom of navigation.7 These measures, as part of the vessel’s legally required vessel security plan,8 may involve security guards and outfitting lethal and nonlethal weapons, fittings such as razor wire and armor, and equipment, as well as training crew members in the use of lethal and nonlethal measures in self-defense.

Under international law, warning shots do not constitute a use of force.9 A failure of the vessel to heed warning shots or other oral warnings justifies firing into the vessel’s rudder or propeller area/outboard engine if warning shots and oral warnings go unheeded.10

While these measures are not restricted outside of territorial seas, within territorial seas, to enjoy the right of innocent passage, the merchant vessel should not exercise or practice with weapons of any kind or undertake any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal state.11

Why so many pirate kidnappings if the crew is entitled to defend themselves?

Merchant mariners are not armed and aren’t trained to fight armed attackers. Ships that hire contractors for that purpose are 100% successful in discouraging pirates.

Mariners could possess weapons and defend themselves at sea, but a big problem is having weapons onboard in most foreign ports.

A Convention is needed that specifically authorizes merchant ships to be well armed for self-defense, and to defend themselves vigorously against pirate or terrorist attacks.

Why am I picturing some fresh 3rd Mate in the dark panicking and hitting the wrong button to silence the BNWAS alarm?



Basically they don’t want all these 3rd world FOC ships sailing around with a locker full of AK47s.

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What in the world ever made you think the crews could not defend themselves with a shovel? The problem is that shovels do very little good against AK47’s. When you are within the territorial waters of a country those laws apply. Ships have to abide or run the risk of being arrested and fined. That is why piracy is more prevalent in some areas than others.


I don’t know how it works in other ports, but in Singapore a ship carrying guns of any kind has to declare that in advance of arrival.

The guns will be carried ashore and stored in a safe storage and brought back to the ship on departure.
All expenses for this, incl. guards during transport, storage and paperwork to be charged to the ship-s local Agent and onwards to the ship’s account.

Failing to declare arms belonging to the ship may result in heavy fines. Any private guns found on board, or on a person ashore, MAY be subject to death penalty as per Singapore Law.


A Master Mariner friend of mine became a Master of a yacht when he retired, because the yacht spent most time in port where he lived. But the yacht owner wanted to travel and the owner brought his body guard armed with guns and ammunition along. I assume the body guard had declared it to the authorities when boarding. So they arrived in a foreign port and my friend the Master declared yes, the ship has guns and ammunition aboard. Result? The Master was arrested and jailed ashore. It took a few days to sort out the matter.

Why the very large numbers of pirate activity, as in actual boardings, in the Singapore Straight:

Piracy Map 2019 (icc-ccs.org)

Because mariners with the means to defend themselves are subject to a judicial death sentence in addition to being murdered by armed pirates.

That map is the IMB Piracy & Armed Robbery Map 2019. Not all organizations make a distinction between piracy and armed robbery but it does make a difference from a mariner’s point of view.

As far as why so many in that area, probably similar to the reason Willie Sutton robed banks, being that’s where the money was. Singapore and Malacca Straits is where the ships are.


One of the reasons are obviously the large number of ships that use Singapore Strait.
The majority of the incidents happens in the East bound lane and in Indonesian waters. Most involve theft of spare parts, paints etc. Actual violence against crew are rare and in most cases the “Pirates” leave empty handed if detected.
Barges carrying scrap are frequently boarded and scrap stolen

Piracy Surges in Gulf of Mexico, Prompting U.S. Warning - The New York TimesPiracy Surges in the Gulf of Mexico

Just not being widely reported.

Although the man was a criminal, it’s hard to find fault with his logic or his style. If only all high seas highjackers were this polite.

Willie Sutton acquired two nicknames, “The Actor” and “Slick Willie,” for his ingenuity in executing robberies in various disguises. Fond of expensive clothes, Sutton was described as being an immaculate dresser. Although he was a bank robber, Sutton had the reputation of a gentleman; in fact, people present at his robberies stated he was quite polite. One victim said witnessing one of Sutton’s robberies was like being at the movies, except the usher had a gun. When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

It seems this topic has gotten a bit off track. Did anyone else read the cited article in Sandboxx? It is breathtakingly stupid.

Better tell that to the Chinese government. They don’t seem to think it’s a stupid idea.