The Piracy Problem

Secure Waters CEO Corey Ranslem discusses intelligence and countermeasures for pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden


Back to the issue of armed teams -- there are certain vessels, that with other options exhausted, they would be candidates for an armed team. Cable ships might be one option. These are the ships that move very slowly, dropping communications cables along the bottom of the sea. They are very slow, and sometimes might have a max speed of 10 knots [approximately 11 miles per hour]. They might be a good candidate to embark with an armed security team.

Are there any technology applications which could have prevented or minimized these attacks?

Some of these attacks could have been prevented with an early warning from the crew if they had more surveillance. Navigation radar is not set up to see smaller vessels. What we want is early detection and warning of these vessels approaching. We recommend they look at infrared, night-capable, high-end zoom camera systems. If you can use a camera system to help out on your detection, then you might just have enough time to start your maneuvers, raise your speed and put up a piracy watch with your crew. We’re using technology from a company called IEC Infrared.

In access control, you could look at superstructure access once pirates are on board. Doors that are all locking from the inside. You could lock down the superstructure so they couldn’t get into controls, engine room, etc. This isn’t foolproof. If the pirates are on board, what’s to say they couldn’t climb up to the bridge or find access through a cargo hold.

Once a ship is hijacked, what can be done other than paying the ransoms? Can a team of tactical ops professionals be put aboard to retake the ship?

Do we have the ability to take the ship? Yes. Sure. 100 perent. These are former U.S. Coast Guard tactical guys and former special ops teams members and Navy Seals guys. But it still puts the crew at risk. We don’t know where the crew is located. Are they scattered? How many pirates are aboard? I think the costs far outweigh the benefits in terms of retaking one of these ships. These pirates use a lot of force. Some of these have 15-20 armed pirates aboard. Once they hijack a vessel, they bring them as close to shore as possible. They can raise alarm with other pirates. And being that they are aboard the ship, they have a tremendous advantage. So the answer to “Is it possible?” is “yes,” but I think the casualties would be too high.

So if use of force isn’t necessarily the answer here in most cases, what are we looking at?

From a historical perspective, piracy has been around since people first sailed the sea.When the first guy built a pirate shp, some other guy built a ship so he could board that ship and steal that cargo. I don’t think it’s something that will ever go away. I think piracy will continue to increase around the world because other groups are seeing what is happening in Somalia and thinking “Why couldn’t we do that?” Haiti could have that potential. We’ve already seen the propensity of violence in that area. We think they might go after mega-yachts.

We seem to be victims of history, and not students of it. There have been piracy warnings for this area of the world for the past three years. It’s not surprising that it’s happening. It is surprising that it is happening at the level it is, but it is not surprising that piracy is happenign there [in the Gulf of Aden]. It’s going to be a difficult problem to solve. It’s really a geopolitical problem that is going to involve multiple nations and involves quality of life issues and national stability issues. Sometimes we have to ask, is it a naval problem where countries need to bring in military vessels, or is it really a local law enforcement problem where these pirates live?