“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, April 13, 2009

An Instapundit Solution to Piracy Problem

Gun Control Works–for Pirates

A Common Sense Solution to the Piracy Problem
by Bill Levinson, Instapundit
published December 12, 2008
The recent terrorist rampage by Islamic supremacists in Mumbai shows that India’s strict gun control laws work–for vicious Islamic supremacist terrorists. Even many of India’s police were armed only with lathis, or bamboo sticks, and they learned the hard way that it is a bad idea to bring a bamboo stick to a gunfight.

The epidemic of piracy off the Somali has underscored the same lesson for the world’s merchant marines and passenger cruise lines: gun control works for pirates, corsairs, and buccaneers who freely ignore laws against the possession of destructive devices (like rocket launchers) to prey on unarmed shipping.

Piracy was apparently less of a problem during the age of traditional pirates (16th through early 19th centuries), even though merchant ships could not dial 911 or the equivalent for assistance from the nearest frigate. The reason was that dinghies, rubber boats, or their equivalent (e.g. rowboats) had no chance against even an unescorted merchant ship; the pirates needed a sloop or even a frigate to take, for example, an East Indiaman. This picture (The East Indiaman Repulse (1820) in the East India Dock Basin. Creator: Charles Henry Seaforth, October 1842) makes the reason obvious.

East Indiaman

Note the presence of at least ten gun ports (on the lower deck only), which means the ship is at least as well armed as a sloop of war. Portcities London, meanwhile, displays a picture of an East Indiaman of 1690, which carries more than sixty guns. The “weight of metal” per broadside, a typical measure of a ship’s fighting power, probably exceeded that of a contemporary frigate (counterpart of a modern heavy cruiser).

There were of course plenty of pirates during this era, but they did not operate from the equivalent of rubber dinghies or even mother ships because a merchantman of that era would have blown them to bits. A direct hit from a cannonball was not necessary, as the gun could be loaded with grapeshot to kill the exposed rowboat crew. Even if the rowboat managed to come alongside, the merchant seaman had the option of dropping cannon balls that would have gone right through the rowboat’s hull. The pirates therefore needed the counterparts of modern destroyers or cruisers to prey on merchant shipping on the high seas.

We can therefore recommend a simple, common sense solution to the epidemic of piracy off the African coast, and especially that of Somalia. It should be implemented as quickly as possible despite the bleatings of the political Left, Brady Campaign, Million Mom March, and various Kumbaya-singers. Arm merchant ships and passenger cruise ships with weapons ranging from the United States’ excellent 50 caliber machine gun to 35 or 40 millimeter (1-pounder) cannons, and train the crews to use them. (The U.S. could in fact probably earn some money by supplying the weapons and professional training from Navy instructors.)

A punk in a dinghy can menace an unarmed ship with a shoulder-fired rocket because, even though the rocket cannot possibly sink something that displaces 10,000 or more tons, he can continue to fire rockets with impunity. He won’t fire more than one rocket at someone who has a fifty-caliber machine gun, though, because the gun will blow him and his dinghy into unrecognizable fragments before he can reload. A 40-millimeter cannon could probably go further by putting down even the typical mother ship that many pirates use.

This would end the piracy problem quite quickly, because the pirates are unlikely to acquire actual warships that could take on armed merchant ships. The solution is common sense, and political correctness is the only barrier to its implementation.


  1. Those old ships were quite something to behold, I would imagine, really beautiful.

  2. (That's Israpundit, BTW. Not Instapundit.)

    Thorny, thorny, thorny.


    April 13, 2009
    Rescue Fuels Debate Over Arming Crews

    HONG KONG — A spate of attacks on ships off Somalia and the rescue Sunday of an American captain held hostage by pirates have reinvigorated a long-simmering debate over whether the crews of commercial vessels should be armed.

    While the arming of merchant vessels was commonplace for centuries, it faded in recent decades because of ship owners’ concerns about liability and the safety of their sailors.

    Despite repeated problems with pirates in the Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia and now in the waters of the Arabian Sea, ship owners worried that their crews would be killed instead of held for ransom if the crews tried to defend themselves and failed.

    But the expanding range and seafaring skills of Somali pirates are prompting some experts to start calling for changes. The killing by United States Navy sharpshooters of three Somali pirates during the rescue on Sunday of Richard Phillips, the American captain of the container ship Maersk Alabama, has further raised the stakes, with at least one Somali pirate on shore threatening vengeance on the next American seafarer captured.

    Barry Parker, a shipping consultant in New York and former ship broker, predicted that an international agreement would be drafted to allow captains to keep firearms and distribute them to crew members during times of potential danger from pirates. International rules pushed through by the United States after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, authorized captains to monitor maritime security in their vicinity and maintain their vessels at elevated levels of vigilance in response to dangers.

    If that antiterrorism system were expanded to include piracy and ships were armed, Mr. Parker said, captains could be authorized to take greater measures. “The captain declares there’s some elevated level and they open up the gun locker,” he said.

    But many ship owners, including those with vessels that regularly ply the waters off East Africa, remain deeply reluctant to allow any weapons on their ships, said Matthew Flynn, a shipping consultant in Hong Kong who works closely with ship owners in Asia and East Africa.

    “I’m not sure people are convinced at all it’s going to make ships or crews safer,” he said.

    Arthur Bowring, the managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, said that if ships carried weapons, they might draw attacks around the world from people seeking to steal the weapons.

    Ship owners also do not want crews to be armed because few merchant sailors have combat training and because pirates with deep pockets from ransom payments will always be able to buy larger weapons than ship owners in any maritime arms race, said Mr. Bowring, who is also the chairman of the labor affairs committee of the International Shipping Federation, a trade group representing employers.

    “If we arm our crews with light machine guns, they can probably buy heavy machine guns,” Mr. Bowring said. “And if we buy light rocket launchers, they can buy heavy ones.” The answer to piracy, he said, was better law enforcement ashore.

    Most ports severely restrict vessels from having weapons on board, and changing those regulations in each country would be difficult, Mr. Flynn said. The United States Coast Guard has been especially wary, fearing that the weapons could be used for terrorist attacks.

    Because a commercial vessel might stop in a dozen countries during a voyage, it would be hard for it to carry weapons if any port along the route forbade that, Mr. Flynn said.

    International regulation of shipping has shifted heavily away from the countries that register vessels and toward the local and national governments at the ships’ ports of call. This has made it even more complicated to come up with common international standards, because so many countries are involved.

    Protecting tankers from pirates is especially difficult. They are a favorite target in Asia and Africa because they are relatively slow moving and may carry valuable cargo like gasoline and diesel, which are easily unloaded and resold.

    Accidental fires are a constant worry for tanker crews, which train for them constantly. A tanker crew that is exchanging gunfire with pirates could run the risk of igniting vapors from the cargo, or the cargo itself, shipping executives have said.

    Several safety features that have become widespread during the past decade could help lessen the danger from pirate attacks, ship security experts said.

    For instance, large freighters are now required to carry devices that continuously transmit their position, a precaution that may reduce the risk of collision as well as make it easier for naval forces to keep track of the ships. Also, many commercial vessels are equipped with a panic button on the bridge that the officer on duty can hit at any time to start automatically broadcasting a distress call with the vessel’s location and description.

    Sailing through the Strait of Malacca on a moonless night aboard a small tanker six years ago, Fong Chung-chen, the tanker’s chief officer, recalled how he had hit the panic button and watched as pirates giving chase in a small boat left immediately, having heard the call on their radio. “All of them were squatting, coming very close in masks and full black body suits” until the distress call went out, he said.

    Because it is often easiest to board a vessel from the stern, where the wake provides relatively calm water for a pirate boat, crews in piracy-prone waters have also for many years sprayed water from fire hoses down the stern and kept fire axes at hand to sever any grappling hooks used by the pirates.

    John S. Burnett, who was himself attacked by pirates in 1992 and wrote the book “Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas,” said piracy currently poses an irresistible economic temptation to Somali fishermen, increasing their earnings from perhaps $50 a month to many thousands of dollars.

    “Poor fishermen know now that hijacking ships is far more lucrative than hauling up a half-empty fishing net,” Mr. Burnett said in a telephone interview from Zurich. The Internet, he said, has ensured that word of the success of some pirates in collecting large ransoms has spread to the entire fishing community, whose livelihood has already been threatened by overfishing.

    Preventing commercial shippers from paying ransoms is almost impossible, he said, because shipping officials are determined to avoid violence. “The ship companies don’t want blood on the decks, so they pay,” Mr. Burnett said.

    He said the rash of piracy in the strait near Indonesia in the 1990s had been ended by a combination of measures. They included increased patrols, partly by an Indonesian fleet modernized with American and Japanese financial support, a crackdown on piracy by the Indonesian government and the use of technology like radar and drones, he said.

    He said he hoped the attention given to Captain Phillips would cause more attention to be focused on piracy and other crew members being held, but warned against the use of military force. Because of Somalis’ resentment of foreign incursions, Mr. Burnett said, “any boots on the ground would be a fight to the death.”

    Scott Shane contributed reporting from Washington.

  3. It's one thing to have weapons on board, it's another thing to have a crew trained to use them. These "able bodied seaman" are from all over the world and it wouldn't surprise me if most of them had never even touched a gun. The shipping companies simply do not want to go there. The liability issues, the hazardous pay, higher insurance premiums.

    The sad reality is the sad reality. It's a cruel world with a thin veneer of civilization.

  4. Electrify the outside of the hull. Zap.

  5. Arm American ships. Any port that doesn't let them in, we "reciprocate" for their ships. We're the "Big Gorilla." That won't be a problem.

    Deuce is exactly right. A fifty, or 40 MM, party over. One trained 2 man crew on each ship.

    Fuck the rest of the world. Let them do what they want.

  6. I don't know to what degree an excess of political correctness has to do with the reluctance to arm crews. For example, as a merchant captain I have a 38 revolver locked in my safe for protection against the crew. If I have a 38 and someone proposes issuing the crew M-16s its my opposition is not an excess of political correctness but a desire not to get outgunned by my own crew. I believe that British Men of Wars had a Marine contingent on board at least partly for the same reason.