As we all know, piracy on the high seas is alive and thriving out of Somalia. Also out of West Africa, and no doubt other places. I’m no expert, but I do wonder how a dozen pirates in a small boat can capture a big merchant ship. But before I explore this thread, let me explain, for those who don’t live in South Africa, that, like most countries, we have several popular radio talk show hosts, one of who is Redi Direko. Three years ago she interviewed Prof Paul Moorcroft who is a recognised expert about such things.
It was an illuminating chat. It was somewhat exasperating at the beginning, because, although Moorcroft explained the background and difficulties very well, he seemed to be dodging the obvious solution. He gave the clue to that solution when he referred to the legal difficulties of arming merchant ships. No doubt he meant the refusal of British Governments to allow British registered ships to carry arms, but no doubt most countries have the same attitude.
But I was pleasantly surprised when he said, near the end of the interview, that “it wouldn’t happen if they were armed.” Then he agreed with a listener who suggested that a couple of 50 Cal Brownings would be just the ticket. As far as I know that’s the first time anyone has had the balls to say it, and the really frightening thing is that such a simple and cheap solution is prevented by politics.
What politics ? The politics by which governments want such complete monopoly of force that they won’t even allow ships to defend themselves against pirates. Pof Moorcroft made it clear that a political solution would be first prize, but that there is no chance of that in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, as he also pointed out, the cost of sailing round the Cape is enormous. He also said that although the US and other navies are doing some patrolling, the area is just too big to patrol adequately, and the world’s navies have better things to do.
The 50 Cal Browning dates from 1918 but remains a formidable weapon. Its big cartridge firing a heavy bullet gives it a long effective range, and a few seconds burst at close range will sink a pirate boat and kill the crew. Cost would be minimal, loss of time a few minutes, and the only evidence an entry in the ship’s log.
Of course, what would work for a ship at sea should work for individuals on land. I carry a gun 24/7 precisely to fend off the pirates that would kill me for my car or cell phone. If it is agreed that ships should not have to surrender to pirates at sea, why should I have to surrender to them on land ? It is of course argued that I should not “take the law into my own hands” and that I should rely on the police or give criminals what they want rather than fight. Similarly, merchant ships are told that they must not take the law into their own hands (defend themselves against pirates) they must rely on the police (navy) or give pirates what they want (let themselves be captured for ransome).
If it is not OK for me to make a stand against criminals, why is it OK for ships to defend themselves ? As matters now stand, both we and the merchant ships are in the same position, we are under constant attack by criminals, the police and navies can’t protect us, but we are told that it is not acceptable to protect ourselves.