Feeds

Retro piracy - Should the Royal Navy kick arse?

Tackling the freebooters of the 'Gate of Tears'

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

This is actually a rather odd idea, when you look at it.

There is almost no British merchant fleet any more, so our ships and seamen aren't significantly affected. It's true that Blighty still depends on seaborne imports and exports, but by no means all of them move through the Bab el Mandeb - and even of those that do, carried almost entirely by foreign ships and foreign crews, very little gets pirated.

In fact, some 22,000 vessels pass the Gate of Tears annually - the odds of getting shipjacked are about one in a thousand. That's about the same, according to marine insurers' figures (Word doc), as the odds of any merchant vessel over 500 tons being lost in a wreck each year.

Those sort of accident rates wouldn't be tolerated if it were Western sailors drowning, of course, but it mostly isn't any more.

If we're happy to let mainly Third-World sailors run a serious risk of disastrous shipwreck to move our stuff more cheaply - and we are apparently quite happy with that, have been for a long time - it's difficult to see why we care about them running similar risks of being pirated. If we care about poor sailormen's safety, we might do at least as well to crack down on the shipowners' use of flags of convenience and poorly-paid, poorly-trained crews.

One might find a clue to the current UK press outcry in the fact that most of the world's shipping deals are still struck in London's financial centres, but arguably the majority of us who don't work in the City have no great reason to spend our money and our servicemen's time in order to make life easier for the Square Mile's many shipowners, brokers and insurers.

But let's ignore that - let's assume that even though our economic choices (and our financial industry in London) tend to send poorly-trained Third World sailors to sea in dangerous unseaworthy rustbuckets, we'd at least like to preserve them and their cargoes from the added danger of piracy.

If that's what we want, buying more frigates and destroyers is an extremely expensive and ineffective way of going about it. HMS Cumberland's success this week as a base for a Marine boarding team shouldn't obscure that fact - the ship herself played almost no role in the takedown.

What would actually be useful would be reaction forces of helicopters and Marines, based at sea (there are few safe shore bases in the area). Nice cheap helicopter-carrier vessels would be excellent for this job - the navy has just one, HMS Ocean, which cost less than half what a modern destroyer does. Or indeed, even cheaper civilian-manned fleet auxiliaries would be ideal.

Helicopters are necessary because surface warships struggle just to keep up with pirate speedboats, let alone overhaul them. You can also scan a much larger area of sea with a high-flying radar than you can with one on the mast of a ship. By the time a CTF 150 or NATO or EU frigate can get anywhere near a reported incident, the pirates can almost always flee into Somali territorial waters - perhaps taking a captive ship with them. Cumberland was unusually fortunate in being able to catch up with the pirates on Tuesday while they were still on the high seas, and she had to cooperate with a Russian warship to do so.

International warships generally have no rights to act against pirates inside someone else's 12-mile limit. Even if a special-powers deal could be negotiated in the case of Somalia, we certainly can't get into pursuing pirates and their prisoners ashore on a large scale. In any case there are other poorly-policed territorial waters in the region, for instance those of Yemen and Djibouti.

Western forces need to deal with pirates out at sea, where the merchant ships to be protected are, where the raiders are weak and the international forces are strong. Hence the need to react fast, by air.

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Next page: Bootnote

More from The Register

next story
WHY did Sunday Mirror stoop to slurping selfies for smut sting?
Tabloid splashes, MP resigns - but there's a BIG copyright issue here
Spies, avert eyes! Tim Berners-Lee demands a UK digital bill of rights
Lobbies tetchy MPs 'to end indiscriminate online surveillance'
How the FLAC do I tell MP3s from lossless audio?
Can you hear the difference? Can anyone?
Inequality increasing? BOLLOCKS! You heard me: 'Screw the 1%'
There's morality and then there's economics ...
Google hits back at 'Dear Rupert' over search dominance claims
Choc Factory sniffs: 'We're not pirate-lovers - also, you publish The Sun'
EU to accuse Ireland of giving Apple an overly peachy tax deal – report
Probe expected to say single-digit rate was unlawful
While you queued for an iPhone 6, Apple's Cook sold shares worth $35m
Right before the stock took a 3.8% dive amid bent and broken mobe drama
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.