MAC has mentioned Q-ships before, now Bill Redmond gives the low-down
Piracy in East African and Middle Eastern waters has reached such alarming levels that if effective action is not taken soon many countries in the region will suffer serious economic consequences. Moreover, shippers themselves and their customers are already struggling as charter rates crash at an unprecedented rate and ships re-route via the Cape of Good Hope rather than risk a Suez Canal transit. Such a diversion could raise commodity transport fees by more than 30 per cent, claims General Ahmed Fadel, head of the Suez Canal Authority.
The latest outrages include five attacks on five ships in 24 hours, one of them British. Egypt could be a major loser as fewer ships transit its canal and there are already signs that its canal charges are falling in response to the piracy problem. In its latest fiscal year, Egypt earned $5 billion from canal dues, its third biggest revenue source, and so can ill afford to lose a large slice of this income in a country where 20% of its 76 million population live on $2 a day.
Almost as disturbing are the doubtless huge sums paid to pirates and their Somali war lords for the release of ships and their crews, some of which could be used to buy sophisticated weapons like hand-held guided missiles, the mere threat of their use being enough to make even the biggest and fastest ships heave to. Some of the ransom money could also be used to finance international terrorism.
So far the authorities’ response to the problem, involving warships, has met with only marginal success, partly for the obvious reason that warships stand out like sore thumbs, and their positions are almost certainly reported by innocent-looking fishing vessels to their piratical colleagues planning attacks.
One possible solution worth consideration is to send in Q-ships, a successful ruse first used in WW1 in response to the U-boat menace. These wolves in sheep’s clothing were responsible for sinking about 10% of all U-boats sunk in that war but they damaged many more.
Innocent-looking tramp steamers travelling alone, Q-ships were typically armed with four-inch guns hidden by drop-down flaps but there is no suggestion that such heavy armament should be fitted to today’s merchant ships.
Instead, as a modern variation of the Q-ship concept, heavy machine guns and other weapons could be installed and disguised on slow-moving ships travelling alone and seemingly easy meat for prowling pirates. The weapons could me manned by naval personnel masquerading as ordinary merchant seamen. This would be a much cheaper solution than using many warships to patrol a vast sea space, and it would keep the pirates guessing.
Adapted from Shipping Times
Somalia and Gulf of Aden