High-tech shipping sets up vessels for pirate attack
At the moment, most commercial vessels are required to use AIS, Automatic Identification System, as a collision avoidance measure. It radios the ship position, course and speed to any ships within receiving range. And to any pirates. The Washington Times reports AIS is a suspect in the recent hijacking of a mega-tanker 450 miles offshore. "The ability of the pirates to intercept this mega-tanker so far out in the Indian Ocean suggests they were able to obtain either track information from an outside source or they were electronically able to intercept the ship's Automatic Identification System (AIS). The AIS system is driven by Radio Frequencies (RD) that can be intercepted and tracked by any ship with an RF intercept capability"
That'd make sense. Picking off ships at choke points isn't that hard, but you'd not want to range out 450 miles, without radar, unless you knew where and when to intercept a big prize. Its captain changes course by a degree or two and you're going to spend a long time waiting for nothing.
AIS receivers are on the market (Google AIS receiver and you get prices as low as $189, more if you want a GPS unit to show your own location relative to the target), and if you qualify you can even get one for free.
But they don't need a radio receiver, just an internet connection. Go for a world map showing location of ships at sea, with different designations for cargo, passenger, tanker, etc.
Click on the "vessels" tab and you get a nice table of all vessels at sea, their type, last location and course (and when that was recorded, usually less than an hour ago) and destination. Click on the individual ship and you get its details. Admiral L is a tanker, weight 41,100 metric tons, ETA Houston on Jan. 11, reported at 24.2255 lat., -81.83988 long, 52 minutes ago. Click on its "track" and you get a nice map. It's heading around the Florida Keys right now.
I'd guess a hi-tech pirate would use both. Ship-to-ship AIS range is about 20 miles; if you have a receiver on a mountain, it can go to ten times that. So you'd have a guy ashore with an internet link up, to radio you on any course changes by the target. When you get close, you have your own receiver for the final approach. This would also suggest that radio monitoring might give advance word on pirate attacks. You'd be listening for someone ashore broadcasting locations and courses, maybe even naming the target. A bit of direction finding and you'd also have the pirates' transmitter's location, just in time for an air strike.
UPDATE: after pirates attacked a chemical tanker, British helicopters rescued three unarmed security personnel. Unarmed security personnel have never had a good track record against pirates. Blackbeard and the boys are not here for a wrestling match. What you need is a .50 caliber M2 and some guys who can use it. Or if you want it on a smaller scale, turn out the crew with M1As. Your opponents are bouncing around on a high-speed vessel, you've got a steady platform. Open fire at, say, 400 yards and I doubt anyone would need a second magazine.
Several hat tips to Don Hamrick...
they could triangulate the signal -- you don't even need to decode it. you know you're gonna find something you can steal, even if it's just the fuel you'll need to justify chasing RF around.
and, these guys have the same outboard RIB the navy uses, the zodiac hurricane.
Posted by: jon at November 29, 2008 03:13 PM
"... radio monitoring might give advance word on pirate attacks. You'd be listening for someone ashore broadcasting locations and courses, maybe even naming the target. A bit direction finding and you'd also have the pirates' transmitter's location, just in time for an air strike."
I doubt that confederates ashore doing the tracking via Internet sites are communicating with pirates at sea via radio. More likely they are doing it via satellite phones like Thuraya.
Much tougher problem to intercept. Probably within the ability of the NSA, but probably outside the ability of a Blackwater-type privateer.
Posted by: Bill at November 29, 2008 03:18 PM
Perhaps someone knows if merchant ships are allowed to be armed. Even light arms.
Posted by: age at November 30, 2008 02:31 AM
May I suggest 12 pounders loaded with grape?
Posted by: M. Simon at November 30, 2008 08:13 AM
Mount a minigun fore and aft. That should discourage pirates.
Posted by: Clyde at November 30, 2008 08:50 AM
Uh Canister is more effective at longer ranges. But a nice 12 lb Napoleon would certainly fill the bill.
Posted by: David at November 30, 2008 08:53 AM
I still don't understand what's wrong with hanging pirates from the yardarm and tossing their bodies overboard after. It may not be "the modern way" but its been highly effective in the past.
Posted by: John Steele at November 30, 2008 09:40 AM
Merchant ships, at least in international waters, are indeed permitted to be armed. I'm not sure if there are restrictions. A few .50-cal M2 might be rather handy.
Posted by: Henry Bowman at November 30, 2008 10:06 AM
John Steele writes: "I still don't understand what's wrong with hanging pirates from the yardarm and tossing their bodies overboard after."
Ah, but if you do that, it impairs facilitating dialog and understanding with those in the pirate community. Of course, if we kept doing it until we ran out of either rope or pirates, it would likely be effective. I am not aware of a rope shortage.
Posted by: KenB at November 30, 2008 10:07 AM
As I recall, these pirate attacks have often involved a veritable swarm of speedboats, so a freighter would need numerous machine guns providing full 360 coverage.
Posted by: pst314 at November 30, 2008 10:42 AM
"hanging pirates from the yardarm and tossing their bodies overboard"
Better to airdrop them on their home towns.
Posted by: pst314 at November 30, 2008 10:42 AM
There is something to be said for not killing all pirates immediately: Use drones to follow some to their home ports and identify those they do business with. Then kill all their business associates. Announce to the world that it is suicide to do business with pirates.
Posted by: pst314 at November 30, 2008 10:44 AM
Speaking from experience, AIS can sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing, at least for people looking to find a vessel. AIS can be set up to update itself automatically (every x seconds/minutes), or on-demand (whenever the operator pushes the button). All it takes is a quick switch of a setting, and the ship carrying its AIS transmitter basically disappears (or, at least, looks like it has not moved in days). That said, the technology is pretty much pervasive these days, with everything from intercontinental superfreighters down to little in-port tugs having the transceivers on them. Hell, Panama Canal just about requires the use of AIS on ships before you can even get in the Bay of Limon.
That said, unfortunately, the AIS technology is open-source, and there is basically no way to change that. Encryption would require more time on the already-clogged airwaves to transmit the packets of information, as well as a standardized encryption protocol across hundreds of different makes and models of transceivers. A good bet would be to turn off the "identification" portion of the AIS transmission (just about all the information it sends out can be omitted by the operator, if he or she knows what they are doing), and then the ship is just identified by its AIS ID string (an alphanumeric string kind of like MAC addresses). Granted, you can look up those strings... somewhere (I forget exactly)... but it adds more time and difficulty to the identification process.
Unfortunately, arming civilian ships is harder said than done... each individual country has different rules and regulations concerning what hardware is permitted onboard ships even tied up in their harbors, and most countries require some sort of on-ship inspection before they let vessels dock. Whether or not they will find your hardware is a problem, but facing steep fines or possible permanent eviction from a port is a more significant one when your livelihood depends on making port.
Posted by: Linoge at November 30, 2008 11:09 AM
Use the pirates home ports in Somalia for U.S. Navy target practice for a few weeks. Take away their place to return. Give the civilians a few weeks to get out of town and then open fire.
Posted by: DaveinPhoenix at November 30, 2008 11:12 AM
How about negotiating with Somali officials to get a Naval base and yard set up in Eyl.
Posted by: Light at November 30, 2008 12:48 PM
Thanks to David Hardy for conveying an accurate representation of the risk of pirate attacks on unarmed merchant ships.
I have been pushing my Second Amendment case for national open carry hand not only as a constitutional right for the last 6 years (current civil suit is Hamrick v. President Bush, U.S. District Court for DC, No. 08-CV-1698-EGS, filed October 6, 2008, but also as a human right under international human rights treaties for the last 2 years as Hamrick v. United States, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Petition No. 1142-06.
The Mumbai, India Massacre and the rise in piracy are undeniable evidence for the restoration of the international and national human right of armed personal self-defense with firearms.
In closing I add my political poem to convey the concern and despair that merchant seamen face while transiting pirate waters on the high seas. The threat of attack is no less different for people aboard ships at sea than it is for people on land.
American Merchant Seamen in Harm's Way
Pirates by sea, terrorists by land.
Through hostile waters we sailors dare steam,
Defensive weapons denied our hand.
Not the law of land or sea it would seem.
Without rhyme or reason,
September 11, a day of slaughter.
Security now a perpetual season.
Arm ourselves now! Sailors oughta!
Pirates and terrorists armed to the teeth,
With every blade and firepower within reach,
Against sailors defenseless as sheep.
For to arm sailors liberals would screech,
Would cause the Bill of Rights
To become our steering light.
Copyright ©2004 Don Hamrick
Posted by: Don Hamrick at November 30, 2008 02:51 PM
Mark Tushnet, Two Essays on District of Columbia v. Heller, Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-17 (forthcoming in the Ohio State Law Journal)
The first of these companion essays, "Heller and the New Originalism," forthcoming in the Ohio State Law Journal, argues that the new originalism, as exemplified in Heller, does not avoid the general kinds of difficulties associated with the old originalism, at least to the extent that the new originalism is defended as providing, in Justice Scalia's terms, a solid, rock-hard Constitution. It describes several difficulties with the new originalism as displayed in Heller, including the assumption that meanings are stable over long periods of time, the possibility that meanings of constitutional terms are contested at the time the terms are inserted into the Constitution, and the difficulty that meanings are necessarily indexed to the conditions under which words are used.
The second essay, "Heller and the Perils of Compromise," forthcoming in the Lewis & Clark Law Review, describes the ways in which the absolutist rhetoric about the appropriate method of constitutional interpretation that predominates in Justice Scalia's majority opinion in Heller is in tension with the asserted presumptive constitutionality of numerous gun regulations, and argues that "interest-balancing" of the sort Justice Scalia criticizes is inevitable in constitutional interpretation, even within Justice Scalia's assertedly non-balancing approach. It speculates that the compromises embedded in Heller make it likely that the decision will unravel, leading either to quite robust restrictions on gun regulation or, more likely, a quite weak Second Amendment. I suggest that the Heller decision may be for the Second Amendment what early decisions were for the so-called Federalism and Takings Revolutions: decisions that promised real change in prevailing constitutional doctrine, but that failed to deliver on the promise
Note the last sentence in Mark Tushnet's, Heller and the Perils of Compromise:
> "Culture wars produce repeated battles in the courts and symbolic victories and defeats there, but permanent victory comes from developments elsewhere, which then yield real rather than symbolic decisions by the courts."
A Regulatory War
What about a "Regulatory War" from a U.S. Merchant Seaman's point of view?
What about applying the Second Amendment to regulations for the supression of piracy such as 33 U.S.C. § 383. Resistance of Pirates by Merchant Vessels and 33 C.F.R. § 104.220 Company or Vessel Personnel with Security Duties and 33 C.F.R. § 104.230 Drill and exercise requirements.?
There is an argument that the U.S. Government regulations requiring seamen to perform security duties under Homeland Security directives yet denying seamen their Second Amendment rights to personal security and armed self-defense presents questions of government liability for personal injuries or deaths resulting from the performance of security duties. There is also an argument that such mandatory duties without proper recognition of Second Amendment or Ninth Amendment rights may stand as violations of the "involuntary servitude" clause of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition of slavery.
18 U.S.C. § 926A - INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF FIREARMS, (nearly identical in effect to the strickened DC gun control law), is now ready for such a judicial challenge.
33 C.F.R. § 104.220 Company or Vessel Personnel with Security Duties.
> Company and vessel personnel responsible for security duties must maintain a TWIC [Transportation Worker Identification Card], and must have knowledge, through training or equivalent job experience, in the following, as appropriate:
> (a) Knowledge of current security threats and patterns;
> (b) Recognition and detection of dangerous substances and devices;
> (c) Recognition of characteristics and behavioral patterns of persons who are likely to threaten security;
> (d) Techniques used to circumvent security measures;
> (e) Crowd management and control techniques;
> (f) Security related communications;
> (g) Knowledge of emergency procedures and contingency plans;
> (h) Operation of security equipment and systems;
> (i) Testing and calibration of security equipment and systems, and their maintenance while at sea;
> (j) Inspection, control, and monitoring techniques;
> (k) Relevant provisions of the Vessel Security Plan (VSP);
> (l) Methods of physical screening of persons, personal effects, baggage, cargo, and vessel stores; and
> (m) The meaning and the consequential requirements of the different Maritime Security (MARSEC) Levels.
> (n) Relevant aspects of the TWIC program and how to carry them out.
> [USCG–2003–14749, 68 FR 39302, July 1, 2003, as amended by USCG–2006–24196, 72 FR 3580, Jan. 25, 2007]
What is neglected in the above federal regulation are the consequences of an encounter with one or more armed hostiles whether they are pirates at sea in a speed boat attacking your vessel, an armed assailant at the gandway in port when the vessel personnel performing securities is unarmed. There must be a required for vessel personnel performing security duties to be armed at all times. After all what sense does it make for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to have general superintendence over the Merchant Marine if the role of the Merchant Marine is restricted to being nothing more than an unarmed security guard in situations requiring firearms?
Posted by: Don Hamrick at November 30, 2008 07:06 PM
ARMING AMERICAN VESSELS
10 U.S.C. § 351. During War or Threat to National Security
(a) The President, through any agency of the Department of Defense designated by him, may arm, have armed, or allow to be armed, any watercraft or aircraft that is capable of being used as a means of transportation on, over, or under water, and is documented, registered, or licensed under the laws of the United States.
(b) This section applies during a war and at any other time when the President determines that the security of the United States is threatened by the application, or the imminent danger of application, of physical force by any foreign government or agency against the United States, its citizens, the property of its citizens, or their commercial interests.
(c) Section 16 of the Act of March 4, 1909 (22 U.S.C. 463) does not apply to vessels armed under this section.
Posted by: Don Hamrick at November 30, 2008 07:51 PM
I noticed no ships in the Horn region on the map of shipping. Maybe they have stopped reporting there. But yeah, weapons are needed. Maybe a "Q Ship" with drop-down blinds (maybe designed to look like shipping containers) and something like Russian 23mm guns, 20mm gatlings, and .50 caliber MGs? Throw in some older model anti tank missiles. Sail it undercover and jump the pirates when they come out.
I also agree about going after the people who do business with with the pirates. No matter what country or business they come from.
Posted by: David Powell at November 30, 2008 08:24 PM
I see a real money making opportunity here. Start a protection service which contracts with shipping companies to provide armed escort through troubled waters such as those off Somalia. An armed party of men could board a ship while in transit and maintain a watch until it cleared the area and then be taken off by a small boat.
Posted by: John Dill at November 30, 2008 08:48 PM
To follow up on David Powell's comment: in addition the Horn, nothing appears in the Strait of Malacca, another choke point infested with pirates.
Posted by: Person of Choler at December 1, 2008 02:49 AM
I see a nice role for an attack sub. Watch the port, anything come out, once beyond the sight of land it is sunk. No hoopla, no announcements, just the pirate flotsam washing up on the beach. A nice training opportunity and a way to decommission torpedoes past their service life.
Posted by: Emil at December 1, 2008 07:27 AM
Nothing is going to change until deadly force is brought to bear on the pirates.
David Powell - "Q-ship": those were used very effectively during both WW I and II. The first one was used in 1915.
It does us little good to be combing international codes and conventions for the occasional "whereas", while the pirates have only one goal, and one code.
Thomas Jefferson dealt with them in 1815. In fact, it was the Barbary pirates that led to us founding the US Navy.
Posted by: ZZMike at December 1, 2008 12:57 PM
Use drones to follow some to their home ports and identify those they do business with. Then kill all their business associates. Announce to the world that it is suicide to do business with pirates.
Ah, yes. Introducing Secretary of State, Kaiser Soze.
from The Usual Suspects:
"He waits until his wife and kids are in the ground and then he goes after the rest of the mob. He kills their kids, he kills their wives, he kills their parents and their parents' friends. He burns down the houses they live in and the stores they work in, he kills people that owe them money."
(I never understood the part about killing the "people that owe them money"...)
Posted by: Jim D. at December 1, 2008 10:32 PM