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Analysis of “Are Weapons the Answer to Counter Ship Piracy?” Part 1 of 2 June 14, 2011

Posted by Chris Mark in Piracy & Maritime Security, Risk & Risk Management, weapons and tactics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Recently I was reading an article on Maritime Executive and a few of the comments gave me pause which, I believe, requires a response.  This post will attempt to objectively analyze the underlying issues outlined in the article.  Brevity precludes a comprehensive critique of the article so only the major identified issues will be addressed in this post

Notice that the term objectively is italicized in the first paragraph.  The first aspect of the article that raises issues is the assertion that it is ‘objective’.  As defined by Webster’s dictionary:

“a : expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations “ 

Simply saying that an article is ‘objective’ does not make it so.  It is impossible for any position paper to be ‘objective’ in that the author is attempting to make an argument to support their conclusion.

In reading the article, the author clearly has an agenda as articulated in the final sentence of the conclusion where he definitively states:

The potential means of reducing the commercial return for pirates and of imposing considerable financial pressures on them currently exists within the power of the industry, without resort to arms.”

Furthermore, in an attempt to assuage the readers’ fears that the author is not being objective, a disclaimer is provided in which the author acknowledges “…his interest through its support to GAC Solutions in the provision of maritime security services and support to maritime clients.”

With the conclusion clearly articulated and the author’s position within the industry identified for the readers,  it is now possible to review some of the premises, which ostensibly support the conclusion.

In the background section of the article, the author editorializes while making several strong claims.  Namely he asserts that:

“..the debate (about arming ships) currently seems to be driven more by the following: fear induced pressure on the stakeholders; the questionable authority of some proponents of arming ships; frustration throughout the industry at the apparent ease with which pirates can gain access and control of ships.”

This author would suggest that “the apparent ease” of gaining access and control of ships is a legitimate concern for ship owners and does not suggest an environment of pressure born out of fear.  A disturbing aspect of the article is the imperious attitude of the author when he suggests that some proponents of arming ships are of ‘questionable authority’.   Many proponents of arming ships (this author included) have experience and education that would likely merit some level of respect of their positions.

He further states that:

“The effect of an over-dramatic media creates a perception of the frequency and impact of piracy attacks that is not borne out by statistics. Also, the argument for arming ships increasingly relies on the use of the strap line “No ship with armed escorts has been taken.” There are many equally true statements such as, “ships with particular funnel markings have not been taken””.

While this blog post is not intended to dissect the statistical aspects of the argument, when discussing risk there are two primary components; probability and impact.  While the probability of a ship being taken is, in fact small, it is suggested that the impact is anything but trivial.  In fact, yesterday it was acknowledged that pirates received a ‘double-figure million US dollar” ransom.  When evaluating the risk from an annualized loss expectancy perspective, it is suggested that arming ships does in fact, make financial sense.  The last statement related to ships being taken merits no further response as any college freshman statistics student would rightly identify that the funnel markings would be considered a spurious relationship while the armed escorts would be considered statistically relevant. To read more about risk and risk analysis please read this post.

The last section that stands out is the one titled Weapons and effects.  I was apoplectic when I read the author’s assertion that:

“Hollywood and the media have greatly exaggerated the destructive power of such weapons as the RPG7, while the AK47 has an iconic status. The RPG7 is a rocket propelled grenade, with very limited capability and effect. The AK47 is a superb close quarter battle weapon, ideal for insurgents, pirates and many others, because of its simplicity and functionality. However, it is a very inaccurate weapon, with little penetration capability. Both can, and do, create a situation of panic and fear in those with no understanding because of the noise effect and peoples unrealistic image of their capabilities”

Once again the author attempts to assert authority on the subject by demeaning readers who lack the same experience as the author.  He clearly intimates that the reason people are afraid of the RPG 7 and AK 47 is because they lack understanding of the weapons, the weapons are loud, and people have unrealistic images of their capabilities.  While certainly shows like Rambo and the A-Team portrait unrealistic capabilities of weapons, this author also has experience with such weapons and can state definitively that RPG 7’s and AK 47’s deserve respect.  To suggest otherwise is irresponsible to those who may not have the requisite experience to understand the destructive capabilities of such weapons.  More information can be found in the post titled: “Whitpaper on Weapons and Tactics”

Part 2 will continue the analysis.


1. Col. Robert McKenzie, USMC (Ret) - June 15, 2011

Weapons onboard ships is only one aspect of essential protocols to effectively defend vessels from piracy. To prevent illegal boarding attempts a combination of techniques and counter measures are required. It begins with intelligence, Saber Teams uses a combination of factors that reveal the likelyhood of such attempts and with an average of 96% consistently determines the probability of the number of vessels that will sustain boarding attempts. Using our predictive analysis in combination with deployable RIB’s with armed security personnel as well as other vessel modifications, pirates can be easily kept a minimum of 1000 meters. That is the effective range of an RPG-7 which will cause substantial & costly damage to any vessel. Without the ability to distance pirates, they will successfully extort payments from shipping companies through the threat of repeated damage. Armed security onboard without the ability to deploy a RIB or the use of escort vessels will quite simply be inneffective. As for the establishment of standards for private contractors, don’t waste the time or pay into companies offering certifications. There are and have been very strict standards for private contractors in place with criminal and civil penalties for those who violate them. If any one desires additional information to further substantiate these comments, contact Saber Teams via e-mail chance@saberteams.com

Chris Mark - June 15, 2011

Thanks for the close read and excellent comments. Very informed and educational. Semper Fi!

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