Armed vs Unarmed Merchant Vessel Protection

There has been a lot of dialog about protection of merchant vessel’s with private security. Some companies are offering armed security on board and others offering non-lethal or less than lethal solutions. As a former Chief of Police, my first thought is always “LIABILITY” but this situation requires much more thought than liability alone. Besides the legalities of possessing firearms on the ship, I believe that having and displaying firearms on board automatically puts the crew and ship at much greater danger. this immediately upgrades the escalation of potential violence by the would be attacker. Even having security personnel in a tactical style uniform can automatically escalate the situation. Imagine the would be attacker, in his small speed boat observing the protection detail. This could deter his thought of attack, but more importantly, this could, in his mind, present a challenge. If he decides on the challenge option, he will just attack with greater force, or simply ‘hit and run’ to see your reaction. As professionals in the maritime industry, that would assume the liability of armed security, what are your thoughts? I am willing to share mine in more detail as discussion progresses.

I think these assholes off of Somalia as a bunch of cowards who would never actually be willing to fight to “take” a ship. I say, train the mariners on board to use full auto weapons, build defensive firing positions around the vessel’s decks, give them night vision equipment and arm the mariners with better than popguns and let them deter an attack with real force! Two 50cal’s on each ship should be all that is needed to make the whole problem go away.

There is no way you can tell me that men firing from a large stable merchant vessel can’t fire more accurately than a bunch of drugged up t-shirt wearing bums in a little boat.

As a master, I’d be ready to sound the general alarm to bring the crew out to fight but I’d need to know that they are trained, ready, willing and equipped to do so.

If there is too much opposition from the mariner’s unions against this then hire an armed guard to ride the vessel through the danger zone. They get off at one end and pick up a ship going the other way. I am sure there are planty of ex military guys who would take the job for the right $$. The cost of this will be peanuts compared to the cost of a ship being held for months by a bunch of cretins!

C.Captain you are absolutely correct in everything you said according to what I would personally agree with. However, I can’t see that happening for a lot of reasons. the fact is, a vessel can be protected properly without firearms. This is not to say that other “tools” are not needed, and I am talking in addition to what is already available on board. The most important being a well trained team that has a well defined, properly organized defense. These teams must work in a cohesive relationship with the ships crew to be effective. they are there to supplement the crew not be separated and take over. the actual physical defense is done by the team itself, but to make it work properly, defense starts well before the attack, and well before you even detect the aggressor. there are a lot of companies out there now for protection but only a few have planned and organized correctly. And maybe to your surprise, it is at less cost than just putting ex-soldiers with machine guns on board.

I tend to agree with you c.captain. After-all if the chinese can do it with a few Molotov Cocktails then I’d feel safe defending a ship with some real weapons.

That’s the point. If the Chinese could do it with Molotov Cocktails, How much better could it be done by a well organized defense with a properly trained team? With rare exception, firearms just are not needed. Therefore the elevated liability factor and all the legal issues of firearms on board just are not there.

Five days of training from MSC in their Small Arms course does not make a Marine. Anything short of a Marine Rifle squad or something similar will not get the job done.

Not particularly fond of the idea arming some of the crew I have sailed with either.

So whatever happened to the “Shores of Tripoli”? Why have a Navy anyways if they cannot defend merchant ships? Guess we are a kinder gentler people now. Pirates have rights you know.

The biggest reasons for not having armed personnel on board are the legal restrictions and of course, a huge liability that the shipping companies are not willing to accept. However, there is a lot more that goes into ship defense than firearms. there is an arsenal of things that can be done for proper defense and protection. Unfortunately I can not go into detail on most of those here. If your defense is well organized, properly planned and executed it is extremely effective.

Mad, I was thinking something similar, we had a squad of marines on the ammo ship I was on in '03. We get up to kuwait, and they take them off and give us ~2 squads of NG from Puerto Rico. I’ve heard other ships had good crews of the guardsmen, but we didn’t. Quality is almost more important than quantity.

I have sailed with many a shipmate, officer and crew alike, that I would not trust with a tazer let alone an M-16.

Seamarshal made a good point about uniformed security actually attracting attention. To be overt, they need to be such a show of force the pirates don’t want to mess with or covert and able to employ successful tactics at moments of weakness once the attack has started. I am pretty damn sure the somali pirates know enough, or have learned recently, that groups like the USMC and and the UK Royal Marines are NOT to be messed with. I guess you could say I’m borrowing the Reagan era concept of peace through superior firepower here.

Good topic Seamarshall, but as you said you are an ex police officer. If weapons were not necessary for good defense why are law enforcement armed? Weapons are needed and with out them organization only gets one so far.

As for fighting back… I manned a 50 cal at sea and waterborne ranges with SAW 249, 50 cal, Mark 19 grenade launcher or whatever you want a few guards with the benefit of Radar tracking an approaching unfriendly…

Flip side is that the pirates have a large target to hit along with RPG’s, lots of destruction and talk about staying calm while your ship is under fire. I guess that would be part of the excitement. I don’t want to welcome them aboard and then be held hostage.

Take away the weapons and you are one step closer to taking away the power. Proved though out history.

Survive, Escape, Resist, Evade

Good topic.

this topic is for discussion and I would actually prefer to be armed. I am just trying to get other opinions on the matter. the reality is that very few ship owners will allow the weapons on board so the need to have an operational plan that maximizes defense, without firearms is of utmost importance. I am not arguing the fact that firearms would be extremely effective, and of course in the right hands. It is not just the fact that most ship owners don’t want them on board, but it is nearly impossible from a logistical stand point for a team to supply the weapons, going from one country to another. I really am not that comfortable using someone’s second hand firearm that is not ‘battle proven’ before I get to use it. Anyway, this is just for discussion.

It is definitely a messed up legal scenario. I would think that providing an ideal boarding spot…if the pirates are going to board because the tactic did not work then make it easy for a boarding (entrapment) with 2nd line of defense awaiting there arrival… Let them tie up say right under a large object maybe 6 or 7 large objects (extra lifeboats) this will give a wider coverage area. Once the climbing begins bombs away. I am sure a direct hit would take out their chase vessel maybe a few people… Too many factors, it sure does suck to take a knife to a gun fight though.

You are catching on quick. Lets just note we can not possess firearms and get that issue out of the way. Our job is to protect the crew and the ship (in that order) however, protecting the ship protects the crew (it’s the attitude we have, crew comes first). If you research all the less than lethal weapons out there, exportable outside the U.S., there is an arsenal of weapons. I did not say we are unarmed, I stated we do not carry firearms. If you are schooled in tactics, you give a place for the attack, and you are prepared for the attack. In addition, in our scenario, you always give a pre-planned rout of escape. Now i say this because it is not our job to apprehend, it is our job to protect the crew and ship. I must say at this point, if you follow our procedures and recommendations, they will not get on the ship. This statement is made considering that the ship is not completely disabled and dead in the water, with more than 8 attack points.

Do I have my history correct the first American Navy ships were armed merchant ships? During WWII the US Navy Armed Guard manned the guns for US Merchant ships.
I move cargo point A to point B, have things digressed that I must arm and train the crew for a function formerly performed by a Navy? Why do we have Navies again?

Delivery service for Marines?

During WWII merchant mariners received weapons training at most all the Maritime Service schools. If one’s ship was under attack by the enemy, I don’t think too many seamen would hide inside the ship while the shooting was going on. I know that I would want to squeeze off a few rounds if the enemy was squeezing them off at me.

Today with the pirates off of the Horn of Africa, it would be great if the Navy would put an armed guard aboard to defend the vessels but mind you too most merchant vessels now fly the flags of nations that don’t have navies…is the USN going to put an armed guard on them as well.

Good point that most ships are flagged in countries without a navy. Even if we could put armed navy teams on all ships, that just would not be practical given the large number of merchant vessels. the are off of Nigeria is getting more active lately, and Madagascar should be watched closely. they are having some very big problems there and now more ships are passing the area due to diversion from the Gulf of Aden. Other groups may want the prosperous earnings the Somali’s are getting and copy cat’s could arise.

You are correct the civilian seaman many times took over the guns from Armed guard when they became incapacitated. (Brings up another subject which I will defer. Something about higher casualty rate than USMC.)

Taking a more personal approach, yours truly could be plying the waters around the Horn of Africa. Don’t give a hoot about some company that choose to fly a convenient flag.

So these other companies and countries cannot afford rifle teams or Navies. Why are they plying these waters? Are the nationalities of seaman they have aboard expendable?

Funny thing heard a rumor about some pirate bodies found in the area whose clothes were stuffed with money. In a calm sea! How could that happen?

You have to understand it is not that they can not afford rifle teams on board. current laws in many countries that you transit in do not allow rifle teams on board. If a ship were to be caught carrying weapons on board in certain countries, the ship will be seized and the crew charged with gun running. This is not a simple issue. All of us would love to be armed and have the ultimate resources to fight piracy. If all these countries would allow the weapons then we would have no problem.

If these countries will not allow armed security under the pretense of gun running, then they deserve that which they get.

Meanwhile- seamarshals is a very dubious user name for those of us that sailed commercially pre/post 9/11. Brings to mind seamarshals that could not find the ECR, steering engine room or steer but could find the coffee machine on bridge. The cell phone in their pocket on the bridgewing and newspaper pilot brought for the ship master.

Sound like you had ‘government’ employees on board with you, however, coffee is a necessity of life. Back to the point. If a foreign ship declares weapons and rifle teams on board entering U.S. waters, it will not be allowed to enter any port, and the Coast Guard will board you. Why should any other country be different?

Captmad, I agree with what you are saying in principal, however, we must abide by the laws of the various countries we operate in. when I say we do not use firearms, that does not mean we are not armed. We have our own Research and Development, which is important for any company engaged in Anti-Piracy operations. Trust me when I say, you do not want to be on the receiving end of what we have. Granted, we do not have the range of a 50-cal, but we do have about a 400 meter range. From there, we have measures in place to insure that you will not get on board. However with contingency plans in place (always tactically important) should a pirate get on board, he is going to wish he had stayed at home. Like I have mentioned before, we have an arsenal of “tools” available to us. I am not even talking about fire hoses and such. I am not a ships Master or Engineer. However, I have been in my line of work for 27 years, from the ground pounding grunt to the top level management. So I think I know something about what I do. I hold a Masters Degree, but I know nothing about operating a ship. I do know how to protect it.