Maersk Alabama Gives Lessons on How to Stop a Pirate Attack

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Do Somali pirates have a vendetta against the Maersk Alabama? They kidnapped the American ship's captain last April, and on Wednesday they went in for a second attack. This time, however, the Maersk sent the pirates running. So what changed? This time, the ship boasted a heavily-armed private security force. Despite this success, some experts contend that packing ships with arms increases the likelihood that standoffs with pirates — who are usually more interested in ransom than murder — could turn violent. But for the moment, the mood is celebratory:

  • Evidence of a New Strategy  Nathan Hodge of Wired's Danger Room blog says firepower should not be underestimated. "The Maersk Alabama incident forced a rethink of counter-piracy measures, including embarking armed security teams. Shipping companies and their insurers had in the past been reluctant to have armed security teams on board, but as recent incidents have shown, sometimes the combination of the LRAD, firehoses or evasive maneuvers is not enough."
  • Non-Lethal Weapons a Good Option  Ben Quinn of The Christian Science Monitor says the Maersk has more choices in weaponry than ever before, including the "pirate-busting 'stinger,'" lasers that cause temporary blindness, acoustic devices that make "unpleasant" noises, and a good old-fashioned tracking system to see pirates coming before they attack. Quinn says the anti-pirate industry is doing quite well. "While armed guards have been credited with repelling today's Somali pirate attack on the US-flagged Maersk Alabama, a separate industry based on the development of nonlethal weaponry to protect ships is booming."
  • Hiring Security Is Like Packing a Handgun  Don Surber draws an analogy. "The Navy SEALs are the police. Private security guards are the handguns. Hire them."
  • Armed Security Forces Could Be More Dangerous  At The Wall Street Journal, Sarah Childress says most shipping companies are concerned that the use of weaponry could end up putting their crews in more danger. "The shipping industry has so far stayed clear of endorsing the use of armed security," she writes. Still, Childress reports that "amid the recent surge in attacks, a few ship owners and operators have chosen to do so. Most shipping companies fear that armed personnel could increase liability and the possibility of violence."
  • Armed Ships Are an American Thing  At Fox News, Amy Kellogg reports that most ships are protected by navies, not private security details. But not the United States. Employing private security on ships is "a big change in tactic, and one that is much more readily embraced by Americans," Kellogg writes. "Europeans generally feel it is the responsibility of navies to protect merchants ships and are hesitant to employ armed guards aboard ships."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.