Saturday, April 11, 2009

Shoot First - Ask Questions Later

I, like so many others, have been following the latest Somali Pirates episode. The media is bombarding us with the most current pirate attack. We hardly heard anything about the other 5 ships that they have commandeered during the past week or so.

Now it’s a different ballgame. This time the Somali pirates attacked a ship flying a United States flag with an American crew. As my Dad would have said “They really pulled a boner.”

For years the pirates have been seizing ships in the Gulf of Aden and holding them and their crews for ransom. Most of the pirates are militarily trained and have a good arsenal of weaponry. It’s not like the days of yore with just cannons and swords.

To prevent them from taking ships from the heavily traveled Gulf of Aden a joint naval task force was established in the Gulf and surrounding waters. This curtailed the piracy for a few months. Now the pirates have to go elsewhere to collect their booty. This is a more costly endeavor for them, therefore ransom amounts must increase.

Freighters and other ships have been avoiding the Somalia coastline and have ventured farther out into the Indian Ocean for this reason. Realizing this, the pirates have also gone farther offshore into the Indian Ocean.

Now here’s what I don’t understand about this entire situation!

I would assume that all of the captured ships had radar plus a GPS navigational system, and in most cases they are linked together. They also have a radio (VHF) of some kind which includes a Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS). Many sailboats and smoke pots on Lake Michigan are so equipped (it’s great to have these electronic devices if you are in the middle of the lake and caught in fog; listening to the fog horns emanating from one of the ore barges traversing the lake).

Small craft radar units and linking GPS units sell for $2000 or less. The radar has a range of about 24 nautical miles. I would imagine that the larger sea going ships have a much more sophisticated system. Or at least I hope they do. But let’s say they don’t.

Let’s assume that I am the Captain on a heavy laden freighter, 300 miles off shore, in the Indian Ocean, moving at approximately 12 nautical miles per hour. My low cost 24 mile radar/GPS system detects a ship coming at me doing about 36 knots per hour. There is a simple mathematical formula used to calculate how long it will be before I am overtaken by this ship. But I don’t need to use the formula because my GPS system informs me that I will be overtaken in roughly 48 minutes.

Being the astute Captain that I am, I assume that any ship traveling towards me at that speed, in pirate infested waters, must, in fact, be a pirate ship. Therefore I send out a distress signal. But there is no help available within 500 miles of my location. I now have only 45 minutes to plan my strategy. What to do, what to do, what to do?

I could pull a MacGuyver by making a few Molotov Cocktails to greet my attackers or heat up cooking oil to 500 degrees and dump it on them as the attempt to board my ship. I also have several rescue flares that could be used to ignite the flammable materials that I have just used to fend off my attackers.

But the pirates have threatened to sink the ship and kill my crew if I don’t comply with their demands. I’m no hero and I don’t want to risk the lives of my crew.

So let’s get back to reality and replay the scenario.

Now I have a 60 nautical mile radar system with a GPS interface. This system advises me that there is ship heading towards me at high speed. Again, I assume that it is a pirate ship. No warships in the vicinity will arrive before it overtakes my vessel. But now I have a lot more time before the pirates arrive. So I get on the horn (VHF).

I know that both the Ethiopian and Yemeni Air Force have bases within 400 miles of my position. I also know that both Air Forces have fully armed MIG aircraft capable of exceeding 600 knots per hour. Twenty minutes before the pirates reach my ship, they are blown out of the water. The country responsible for the kill would be handsomely rewarded for their effort. They have now become bounty hunters, so to speak.

At least this is my simple solution to the Somali Pirate problem.

The Beach Bum

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Anonymous Hardware Bob said...

You made the right analysis,shoot and scoot. You could move from the shed to the cabinet.

Mon Apr 13, 07:52:00 AM  
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