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Modern Piracy

Understanding & Addressing the Threat

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Contrary to media reports, modern pirates are not simply rag-tag bands of stateless brigands. The men who scramble up the side of the ship may be dressed in ragged clothing, but the operations are composed of large, cooperative gangs, financed by wealthy criminal patrons, and supported by complex, high-tech intelligence groups.

Modern piracy groups have flexibility of movement, more than ample funding, continuously upgrade their equipment and weaponry, can appear and disappear at will, control many corrupt officials, and use large numbers of operatives to gather information on profitable targets.

These gangs also act in concert, based upon solid intelligence, and with extreme speed. The total time required to identify, surround, board and take control of a ship can be less than 15 minutes.

Modern ships are not prepared to face their onslaughts and are easily overcome. Piracy is highly profitable at present.  Ransoms run from several hundred thousand dollars to several million.


The rigidity of the law makes dealing with piracy especially difficult. Security forces are not permitted to carry firearms through Customs and onto vessels in most of the world. Transporting weapons from country to country requires special permissions and cannot always be accomplished on a moment’s notice. And, on top of this, the legal right to attack foreign vessels is a very difficult area of international law. For example, UK naval forces are presently forbidden to attack pirates, even if they are mounting a hijack. Neither can captured pirates be tried in Britain.

So, once a ship reaches international waters, they are on their own, and the people who might protect them are restrained in their activities. This is a difficult situation and one that will probably not change quickly, since demands to protect national sovereignty at all costs prevent adaptation.

Another problem is that of jurisdiction. According to Brad Kieserman, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard's operations law group: “Prosecuting can be difficult because the effort often exceeds the benefit. You get flags from one country, witnesses from another, suspects from another—how do you put that all together in court?”


Following are several possible options for shipping firms, along with considerations:

Do Nothing:

Re-route via the Cape. This results in increased cost and longer transit time.

Re-route via the Suez Canal. This results in increased insurance costs, threats to both crew and ship, and possible loss of the ship, cargo and crew.

Sailing in a convoy:

All vessels must comply with convoy timings and sail with other independent vessels for mutual support.

These are slow vessels, traveling at less than 14 knots; making them easy targets.

On board security team:

Minimum four-man team is required.

Most likely limited to a non-lethal response, if so:

Fire hoses work at extremely short-range.

LRAD (long-Range Acoustic Device) fires laser-like beams of excruciatingly painful sound at attackers, but range is limited to 600 meters, and the strategy is limited with multiple boats, some of whom are certain to fire RPGs at the operator.

Machine guns are limited to 1000 meters and are also vulnerable to multiple attackers.

PRC’S Conditional Solution


#1: Convince the Pirate Intel operations that ours is a hard target: Publicize security operations through the mainstream local media and international broadcasters by reporting commencement of contracts between PRC and the shipping firm. Show heavily armed security personal boarding vessels.

#2: Employ small, shipboard, remotely controlled planes and Helicopters equipped with infrared as well as heat-sensing cameras for the purpose of day & night investigation and surveillance as well as collecting evidence of armed approach by hostile speedboats.

Engage and immobilize hostile vessels well before reaching the effective range of a .50 calibre machinegun to avoid possible damage to the ship, its crew and cargo.

#3: Create a Maritime Research Unit (MRU)

The Work of the Maritime Research Unit (MRU)

The general goal of the MRU is to collate, analyze, utilize, enable and disseminate up-to-date information, from ground zero, which will be relayed to all cooperative security teams, whilst they are passing through high risk areas that are prone to acts of piracy and maritime terrorism. Specific work-items follow:

  • Coordinate intelligence gathering via cooperation agreements with other security providers.
  • Work to obtain legislated immunity from prosecution for security personnel engaging pirates on and in the vicinity of targeted vessels.
  • Work on a legislated “No Approach Zone” of a one half-mile radius around any ship carrying combustible or volatile cargo.
  • Obtain and publicize authorization and acceptance of a Shoot First, Ask Questions Later philosophy by governments, security companies and shipping owners.
  • Find, identify, and trace potential information leaks at client base.
  • Deploy on ground four man intelligence team in areas in which the vessel will eventually pass through.
  • Utilize the hearts & minds concept.
  • Seek out indicators to potentially predict a possible attack.
  • Gather further intelligence on the ground & provide continued updates to vessel.
  • Use of covert surveillance techniques.
  • Gather evidence for client.
  • Transmit continuous intelligence to the client and the vessel.
  • Establish a source network.
  • Establish a cell system of informants for continual use.


Visit: www.prcassociates.com        Write to Paul Rosenberg: ceo@prcassociates.com

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