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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anti-Piracy Tactics: Changing the Rulebook

The recent killing of four missionaries on the sailing yacht Quest raises some serious questions regarding anti-piracy tactics for ocean-going cruisers. This incident marks an apparent transition in the Somali pirates' own tactics, which until now have centered around keeping their hostages alive for ransom. Killing hostages means that pirates stand to gain almost nothing monetarily and also virtually guarantees a full military response. The pirates' message to the world's navies seems to be that military intervention will result in hostage deaths, ransom be damned.

In addition to escalating the conflict across the board, it also must fundamentally change the anti-piracy protocols used by ocean cruisers. Some of the protocols remain unchanged of course; sail in large groups, assist vessels in distress with extreme caution, don't display anything (or anyone) topside that another person might be willing to kill or die for.

Carrying firearms is still probably a bad idea; you are still more likely to lose your boat or your freedom to a Customs officer than you are to a pirate. However, we may see some of these laws around the world become more relaxed in response to the rise in piracy globally.

If the trend toward pirates killing hostages continues, the old protocol of cooperating with your captor goes immediately away. If it becomes standard practice for pirates to kill the crews of the boats they hijack (as happened in the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s) then you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by resisting boarding and capture by whatever means are available.

If the armed conflict between pirates and the world's navies intensifies, which seems inevitable at this point, it is critical that recreational vessels operating in known piracy areas fly the correct ensign of their flag state. Because in the heat of it, a naval frigate can cause you much more immediate harm than any pirate vessel, and you do not want to be mistaken for a pirate by them.

And the most sensible tactic is, still, stay the hell out of pirate-infested waters.

Here's a map, again, of where those might be.

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