Dec 212008

Some Somali pirates are in trouble today trying to explain to their paymasters how a bunch of unarmed seafarers beat them off a ship they already occupied. Even worse, they have to pay for the skiff sunk by the Malaysian navy, to one of the gangsters currently ruling Somalia, which is not necessarily the US-supported Transitional Federal Government.

Seven pirates out of nine pirates from three skiffs boarded the Chinese vessel Xhen Hua 4 on 17th December despite defensive manoeuvering by the ship’s master, Peng Wei Yuan. Then things went pear-shaped for the pirates. Very pear-shaped.

It started going wrong when Captain Peng alerted the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Report Centre. That alert quickly reached a Royal Malaysian Navy which scrambled a helicopter and set-off in pursuit.

Meanwhile, the Xhen Hua 4 crew, declining to become a takeaway, locked themselves in the accommodation and refused to surrender, despite threats from the happy folks with the big smiles and the the AK47s and RPGs. Then the crew fought back.

Using what is commonly, but wrongly, referred to as “Molotov Cocktails” the crew used empty beer bottles filled with petrol and with a piece of burning cloth as a fuse to bombard the besiegers and applied a high pressure hose while under fire.

For almost four hours the crew kept the pirates at bay before the Malaysian helicopter arrived and rattled off a few rounds, terrifying the pirates in the skiffs who panicked and managed to capsize one of their boats.

About then, the pirates decided they had somewhere to be but the Xhen Hua 4’s deck was littered with broken glass from the improvised fire-bombs and they were bare-footed. Afraid of injury, the brave demons of the sea begged the ship’s crew for pairs of shoes, which were thrown down at them from the top of the accommodation, and they went off.

Then they came back: Could they borrow some fuel from the Xhen Hua 4? These fearsome marauders didn’t have enough gas to get home. Being as hospitable as seafarers should be, the crew gave them some fuel and off they went, not so much Barbary Pirates as Pirates of Penzance.

A number of lessons arise from this action:

Accommodation blocks can be useful fortresses if used wisely, and Captain Peng used his wisely.

An early alert to appropriate authorities brings benefits.

The objective of defence is time-attrition. The more time the pirates have to spent trying to secure control of the vessel the better the chance of driving them off or help arriving.

Broken glass on deck can be a useful anti-personnel measures. Bare-foot pirates will be wary of hurting themselves and the rest won’t want to ruin their Nikes.

Pirate skiffs don’t carry much fuel so the longer they can be kept moving the sooner they’ll have to call off the chase.

Preparation works.

As always, there must be caution. The safety of seafarer’s lives and the vessel must come first.


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