" commercial ships are better prepared" - Perhaps, but very slowly. There are many things that one would think could be done - especially on commercial ships which have been / are the main focus. Many governments are part of the problem as they make it difficult for the traditional counter to piracy - arming the merchant vessels. A few tactics that come to mind are:
Assuming that one has a large multi-million dollar ship with a significant number of crew members; the pirates are lightly armed with AK-47s, RPGs, and the occasional LMG and attack in small numbers from relatively small open boats with large outboard
motors and carry boarding ladders with grapnels attached. One wonders how many loaded AK magazines the pirates are carrying and how many RPGs. The more ammunition they carry, the harder it is to impersonate fishermen, but carrying less ammunition limits their ability to resist effectively.
attempts have been made to make it more difficult for the pirates to board using passive measures without consistent success. Maneuvering the larger ship has not been a proven countermeasure either, although large fast ships can use both of these techniques with some success. Since the pirates operate in a large area of ocean surface, the best strategy is to wait until they find your ship (which may not happen).
A commercial ship is made of steel
which will resist small arms fire – as the pirates approach it should be possible to engage them at long range – perhaps 500 meters – with 1) a Barretts .50 cal
BMG sniper rifle equipped with a suitable scope
(day) or night vision device (night) – up to 2,000 meters; and/or 2) a .30 cal
sniper rifle (Winchester 300 magnum, civilian M-14, etc) also suitably equipped with the appropriate day or night scopes – up to 1,000 meters. The ammunition used should be API and the marksmen should target the engine
and or fuel
on-board the small open boats as the pirates make more difficult targets until they are closer. A hit on the engine
will likely abort a pirate attack. Shooting from the larger ship provides a much more stable platform than trying to shoot from a small boat moving at high speed and being tossed around by the waves – the superior elevation is also an advantage. A few sandbags should give protection for the marksmen.
Should this layer of defense fail and the pirates get along side the ship, the crew should have the option to use grenades to drop into the open boats – 1) if the ship is not carrying a flammable cargo then the best choice is likely a white phosphorous grenade which won’t do much damage to the side of a steel
ship but will definitely discourage the occupants of an open boat, 2) a antipersonnel fragmentation grenade would be the second choice, and 3) a concussion grenade would also be a viable option – and 4) tear gas would disable the pirates still in the boat while 5) smoke grenades would interfere with the pirates being able to see well to provide covering fire. It should be simple for the crew to practice getting the timing right. Grenades typically come with five second fuses
and it is likely to take less time for a grenade to reach the small boat. The crew could practice tossing rocks over the rail while out of sight below the rail and timing how long the rock takes to hit the water
. Once the proper timing is known, the person tossing the grenade over the side merely releases the spoon but doesn’t toss the grenade for a second or two. Properly done this insures that the grenade is detonating as it reaches the small pirate boat and the pirates do not have time to pick it up and drop it in the water
(even trying to deflect the grenade is problematical). One could also use bottles of gasoline in thin walled bottles with the outside dipped in something like potassium permanganate and put a bit of sulfuric acid in the bottle for ignition – or use the military TEA which ignites on contact with air.
Since a main pirate tactic is to board at night and run to the bridge to gain control of the ship and take hostages, a defense to this would be various traps: sharp caltrops which would disable a person in bare feet or light tennis shoes or flip-flops (or small ‘spike strips’ with sharp nails pounded through thin wood slats); thin wires invisible in the dark at neck height strung across selected passages; searchlights used to destroy (night) vision set in restricted corridors; and other such impediments.
To keep the crew from becoming hostages, they should have a safe location in which to hide with water, food
, and communications
available. All watertight collision
doors should not only be shut but locked – from the inside if possible (simple padlocks with a welded on hasp would likely suffice) – to make it more difficult for the pirates to find the crew location and to slow them down (time is against the pirates until they have hostages under their control); and additional chain link fence gates can also be locked to make it difficult to use RPGs inside the ship. Given an unobtrusive location it should take the pirates some time to locate the position and if it is lightly armored and set up properly it will be difficult for the pirates to gain entry given their limited equipment
and training. The entry can be further protected with remote
controlled firearms which can cover the approaches without exposing the crew – like the steel ball with a machinegun as seen on the front of WW II era tanks
or more recently on armored cars. Covering an internal corridor, this would make the use of explosives – the only viable way the pirates have of forcing entry – very difficult, and the use of an RPG likewise difficult as they do not shoot around corners and the back blast in an enclosed space may do more damage to the pirates that the protected crew – especially if the corridor has several locked chain link fences in the corridor that would likely stop an RPG in flight without setting it off.
One possible option is to put the entrance to the crew safe area at the bottom of a deep vertical well which has no natural light and the lights are controlled from inside the safe area. The shaft should have a steel baffle which will trap any dropped explosive charge and roll it away from the safe area – this will also prevent direct vision to the bottom of the shaft and slow down anyone descending. Once in the safe area, the crew will flood the vertical shaft with 20%+ carbon dioxide (or Halon? Etc) displacing the air so when a pirate climbs down to check out the shaft they pass out and suffocate, ending up on the bottom of the shaft dead where they cannot be seen from above – so another pirate will have to physically investigate and suffer the same fate. This should eliminate at least two pirates and possibly more and keep the entrance to the crew safe area hidden longer.
With the crew protected, at least for a while, the ship’s navigation
system could be set to head
away from likely pirate havens on a set and locked course – or, if the ship is sufficiently far from such pirate havens, the engines and navigation/electrical systems are shut down and locked in their disabled state so the pirates cannot move the ship to an area where they have assistance. Given the number of military ships in the vicinity which are likely to respond to an automated distress
signal/GPS, if the crew is safe then military personnel can effectively engage the pirates. It is likely that the crew need only hold out for three days before the pirates will have to abort or the military arrive.
Imagine the difficulty facing a limited number of pirates (perhaps 4-8 per boat) on board an unfamiliar medium sized cargo ship where the captain
and crew have retreated into a hidden and secured location. The ship is broadcasting an automatic distress
signal with GPS
location from a battery
powered hidden and locked location, and the ship is either 1) on a locked course away from pirate havens; or 2) the engines have been shut down and the ship is without power and drifting. All electrical
power on board has been shut down and locked off so the ship is dark – all water tight collision
doors have been closed and locked, as have all doors throughout the ship (including any added chain link fencing barriers). It is night and the armed pirates are on board – where do they go? Standard pirate procedure would be to immediately head for the bridge by the fastest route
possible – and knowing this, the obvious main route
to the bridge has been trapped (since entering pirate waters the crew uses more obscure alternate routes).
When they reach the bridge, the entry is locked and they pile up outside the entrance – an entrance that can be covered by simple but lethal protective fire initiated either by pirate activity breaking into the bridge or command from the safe area. These could be simple set shotguns, essentially a 12 gauge shotgun shell fixed in a short steel pipe with an electric
firing pin. They need not be left armed all the time but loaded and armed when danger
of attack is immanent. Likewise, it can be assumed that the pirates will try to gain access to the engine room in order to control the propulsion
and restore electrical
power – notably lights – and again the entry area is trapped.
It is likely that the pirates will try to gain entry to the quarters of the ship’s officers and crew – and again the entry can be trapped. Inside they would find a small corner table with an attractive jewelry box on it where valuables might be kept – on the front of the box is a small hasp with a locked lock. The small lock is to keep curious crew from opening it as the box contains a shotgun trap which fires when the lid is opened about forty five degrees. Since the box is welded to the steel table and is in a corner the pirate will be standing directly in front of the box when the 12 gauge shot shell goes off and probably the pirate will be struck with all nine (twelve if magnum) .32 cal 00 buckshot discharged. It is likely that the pirate will be thrown backward and killed releasing the lid of the box to fall back into position and arming another shot shell – four altogether, incase the pirates are persistent (or greedy - they are pirates). If the pirate was alone in the room as might be typical, a fellow pirate will hear a gunshot and upon entering the room to assist, will find a dead pirate and no sign of the assailant – but there will be an unlocked jewelry case in the corner waiting to be looted.
Long corridors can also be protected by microwave emitters which beam a concentrated stream of energy down the corridor to the detriment of any pirates attempting to transverse the area. So a limited number of pirates will have to search an unfamiliar ship while running into numerous traps knowing that their time is limited to find and take hostages before armed assistance arrives. The other areas that one might expect the pirates to explore would be the galley
where they could find expensive removable food
and drink items which naturally will be under lock and key (doesn’t stop pirates) – the only problem being that these items are poisoned with a delayed agent which acts quickly and fatally perhaps an hour after ingestion – a binary perhaps, or something non-contagious like anthrax.
Setting traps on a ship should be relatively simple: 1) the areas in which people move around are relatively restricted; 2) the places to which pirates want to go are limited; 3) the ship areas are accessed by relatively few people – officers, crew, and security
team – and they can be trained to avoid trapped areas.
The technology of trapping is mostly simple and low technology: 1) use a standard 12 gauge shotgun barrel with a single
shot shell containing ‘00’ buck shot – each a .32 cal soft lead ball (2.75”=9 balls, 3”=12 balls, 3.5”=15 balls). The barrel lengths can be swivel mounted on powerful magnets making placement on a steel ship very easy. After the shot shell is inserted the cocked striker (firing pin) is screwed on and then can be connected to various types of release: 1) electric
solenoid for command trigger; 2) trip wire; 3) tension release; and, 4) combo tension release and pull. The security
team can quickly place and arm the units as needed covering the appropriate target areas. The expended lead balls should do minimal collateral damage to the steel ship (perhaps a bit of repainting). Light weight covers for the set guns
could also be easily provided using smaller magnets to hold them in place so the set guns
A two person security team should be sufficient – ex snipers with one using the .50 and the other using a .30 sniper rifles; each stands a twelve hour watch. The security team and optionally the crew should be armed with high capacity 9mm pistols equipped with silencers, laser sight (comes on when the slack is taken out of the trigger), and loaded with frangible ammunition (to reduce collateral damage). These are easy to use and the security can train the crew using paint
ball guns (pistols). To use the command trigger the set guns can be deployed with simple cameras that work in visible and infrared light – the captain
would have a console in the safe room where he could monitor
pirate activity and trigger the weapons. The security team may be in the same safe room as the officers and crew or they may have their own hideouts from which they can operate against the pirates. There is no reason to burden the security team with bullet proof vests as the weapons typically used by the pirates will defeat them anyway and they are hot and cumbersome.
A semi passive defensive measure would be to develop a rope
launcher – a ‘V’ shaped projector on the fantail which would launch two dark spheres with a half inch black polypropylene rope
fixed between them (optionally the rope could have a mild steel wire core
coated in plastic). If the projector could launch the sphere a hundred meters in each direction, this would place a two hundred meter length of rope on the sea surface (polypropylene rope floats). With some judicious maneuvering following the launch it should be possible to get the pirate boat to run over the rope at high speed and foul their propellers. This should end the attack which could be followed up by using the larger ship to run over the pirate craft or leave them to be taken care of by military forces. To avoid creating a permanent hazard to navigation
, the steel spheres could have a corrodible plug
which will sink the rope after some days.
An inexpensive way to arm a commercial ship would be to use a 106mm recoil-less rifle on the highest part of the ship – since one would be shooting down at pirate craft the back blast will to up and be relatively harmless. Because of the nature of their open boats, the pirates are most likely to be out in relatively good weather
and the large ship will be a relatively stable firing platform. The ideal ammunition is likely to be a form of canister for a shotgun like effect covering the vicinity of a small fast moving boat, or perhaps shrapnel. The new generation of fuses
that set range by counting shell revolutions could be used with a standard laser rangefinder – there are several light weapon systems that use this technology. The USMC used the 106mm RR some years ago with a slaved .50 caliber single
shot M2 Browning heavy machine gun – and an especially loaded round that matched the shell ballistics of the 106mm RR. Note that and the Barretts .50 sniper rifle chambered for BMG would likely be cheaper and work as well (especially with a detachable box magazine). The weapon system would be relatively light weight and the technology is known. Training is minimal for the crew as they only need to plink at the pirate boat until on target – triggering the main gun will then put the canister on target and the fuse will explode the shell at the appropriate time. The ranging shots from the .50 would serve as a ‘warning’ shot and may be enough to abort a pirate attack. Certainly if some ‘honest fishermen’ are maneuvering against a commercial vessel on the high seas, this would be a strong disincentive. Use of a video gun camera
would reduce or eliminate misuse if that is a concern. Night vision would be a useful addition. A shaped steel plate welded to the gun mount could keep the gun from being trained on any part of the ship being defended (and prevent accidents).
A more aggressive countermeasure might be to use a small remote
control boat/jet ski with 100 kg of explosive that can be guided to the pirate craft and detonated – an older model that is used is probably sufficient. This should be relatively easy since the pirates are trying to get close to the ship. Even easier and probably less expensive would to launch a small drone aircraft that the military use in the front line. The remotely piloted drone should have a camera
for flight and observation - and optionally be fitted with an M-18 Claymore antipersonnel mine on the belly rigged to shoot down. The drone could be used to check out suspicious boats and take them out if necessary. Such a drone can be launched using powerful elastic bands and be retrieved by flying into a net (although it might be safer to just detonate an armed drone rather than trying to retrieve it).
A more active but temporary defense might be to setup an automatic cannon (20mm - 30mm chain gun used on attack helicopters, the old 40mm Bofors, ‘duster’ for example) in a modified steel container. With the container closed up it blends in with all the others and can be locked and sealed. Lower the sides and the cannon is ready for action, with the ammunition co-located with the gun. Minimal crew training should be all that is necessary as the target will be on the surface and at relatively close range – just use all tracer and sensitive impact sensitive fuses. Closed and sealed the container can be handled like any other container and only placed on the ship when it is going to traverse dangerous areas – a security crew can also be added.
None of this is typically available to a cruiser - but then the problem didn't start out with cruisers as a target. Perhaps if the majority of the pirate criminal enterprises can be disrupted, cruising will again become relatively safe as it was for some considerable period of time.