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Piracy bleg:

The VC discussions on anti-piracy policy in the last several days have raised the question of whether it would be a good idea for crews to be armed to resist the pirates. I invite commenters to supply specific answers to any of the following questions:

1. Which particular ports have rules against entry by a ship with firearms on board? Do these rules apply in territorial waters, so that a ship would not be allowed to enter a nation's waters while carrying firearms, and then transfer the firearms to a storage ship before proceeding into port?

2. Which specific shipping companies or maritime organizations have rules forbidding sailors to possess defensive arms? Are their other rules which generally forbid or restrict resistance to hijackers?

3. Which international laws, if any, might restrict or prohibit armed resistance to pirates? Does the legal analysis change if the pirates have a credible and well-known policy of not killing their captives?

3.5. What about the Law of the Sea Treaty, particularly articles 107 and 110?

4. What is the historical record about armed resistance to piracy by commercial ships?

5. In the past, when some arms have been allowed on ships, what kind of policies have been adopted to prevent mutinies or other misuse of arms? For example, having the guns locked in storage, with the only key in the possession of the captain? Were these policies generally successful?

Laws regarding military ships owned by a government are different; I am not asking about such ships. Only about ships engaged in commerce, or other non-government ships, such as private yachts.

Kevin P. (mail):
Typos in questions 3 and 5.
4.14.2009 2:23pm
QA (mail):
What about differentiation on which of these events and which are legitimate defense of territorial waters?
4.14.2009 2:24pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Erronously posted on the Cuba thread:

Ordered in 1716, to the design of a Maratha Ghurab, captured by the British in 1706. Built of Malabar Teak at the Bombay Dockyard under Lowjee Nusserwanjee Wadia, and manned by 4 officers and 60 seamen, this 90-footer, 24-gun ship, the East India Company's HCS Bombay was the second largest in the Bombay Marine.
4.14.2009 2:27pm
ohwilleke:
Before even addressing the questions posed, it is worth noting that the crews of ships off Somolia generally do not arm themselves unless they hire expensive private security contractors to do so. Whatever the reason, that is the status quo. (Notably, most U.S. banks make it their policy to have ordinary employees give up money and comply with armed robber demands, leaving security to specialist employees.)

Also, while piracy has become more prominent lately, the involvement of international maritime insurers has meant that it has been very well documented going back half a millenium or so (more so than almost any crime but capital murder), and there have been incidents on an annual basis at least since then creating a continuous stream of precedents. So, the uncertainty around these issues is surprising.

Until recently, however, most piracy incidents involved armed robbery from the crews rather than theft of the ship or its cargo.

Finally, one big change from earlier eras is crew size. It takes something on the order of twenty people to run a big cargo ship the size of an aircraft carrier now. This means that there are few people available to repel pirate boarding parties, relative to prior years when crews were larger.
4.14.2009 2:27pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
You forgot to invite answers to questions about insurance and liability.

1. Which insurance companies charge higher premiums if the crew is armed.

2. What is the premium increase (or decrease)?

3. What is the liability to the insurance company and the ship owner with regard to the use of firearms by the crew?

4. Do the insurance companies securitize the their policy risks and sell them to other parties. In order words who is really assuming the liability risks the shipper insures against.

5. Who pay the ransom? The shipper or the shipper's insurance company?

6. Is the ransom risk securitized and sold off to third parties.

I think these are important questions. When we know the answers we will better understand the motives and actions of the shipper, the crew, the insurance companies and perhaps even the ports.
4.14.2009 2:32pm
martinned (mail) (www):

1. Which particular ports have rules against entry by a ship with firearms on board? Do these rules apply in territorial waters, so that a ship would not be allowed to enter a nation's waters while carrying firearms, and then transfer the firearms to a storage ship before proceeding into port?

Off the top of my head, I'd say the law for ships coming in or going out of port (i.e. ships within territorial waters other than those exercising their right of innocent passage) is the same as on land. So in any country that criminalises the private ownership of fire arms (like mine), that law would equally apply to ships in port. Then again, I could be wrong...
4.14.2009 2:38pm
Adam J:
Aren't questions 2 and 5 issues for private companies to hash out for themselves, not governments? The only real reason I could see for preventing ships from carrying guns for self defense is it could make it easier for arms smugglers. Otherwise, ships should have every right to be armed -t's not like they can rely on a state to defend them when they spend most of their time outside any state's jurisdiction. As to issue 3, I don't see why crews shouldn't be allowed to prevent pirates (even if the pirates have non-violence policies) from boarding their ship, at the point of a gun if necessary. Plus, armed crews would increase the costs and risks of piracy.
4.14.2009 2:44pm
Abdul Abulbul Amir (mail):

Does the legal analysis change if the pirates have a credible and well-known policy of not killing their captives?



No. Because there is no way to if the next pirate that shows up is one of those "good" ones.
4.14.2009 2:46pm
Chris99 (mail):
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3736239.ece

Pirates can claim UK asylum
THE Royal Navy, once the scourge of brigands on the high seas, has been told by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights.
4.14.2009 2:47pm
James Gibson (mail):
I think a more important question would be when (as in what time period) were all the merchant ships disarmed. Through out the pirate era (from before the revolution to a decade after the Napoleonic wars) merchants had small cannons and arms for the crew to use to repell an attack. I am not sure whether merchants ships had arms by the time of the civil war and its obvious by the time of World War 1 merchant ships were completely disarmed. Was it by international action (Law of the Sea) or was it the advent of steam power, allowing the merchants to out run pirates in small sailing ships? Thus again, I think the real question is not why are merchants ships prevented from having arms, but when the merchant ships were disarmed.
4.14.2009 2:48pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@James Gibson: I suspect it has less to do with the advent of steam technology, and more with the demise of pirates. There used to be a legendary pirates' nest at Dunkirk, which all Dutch merchant ships had to pass unless they wanted to go the other way around the British Isles. Just like they got taken care of by the Dutch and the French, the navies of all seafaring nations, particularly the British, generally took care of the pirate threat, so that it was no longer necessary to arm merchant ships.
4.14.2009 2:54pm
martinned (mail) (www):

Pirates can claim UK asylum
THE Royal Navy, once the scourge of brigands on the high seas, has been told by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights.

Of course they can claim asylum. They're from one of the most backward and dangerous places in the world. Normally, though, the fact that they committed various felonies would block asylum, but that assumes those can be proven.
4.14.2009 2:56pm
countertop (mail):
Regarding question #1 -

It is generally the same as the law in any other port. There was a fascinating book on piracy in the Mallaca Straights written a few years ago that discussed this somewhere.

Off the top of my head though - ports in England, Japan, Australia, etc wouldn't allow a boat carrying arms. Or, they would arrest the crew. Domestically, the Port of Elizabeth, in Elizabeth, NJ the nation's busiest port and basically serving NY Harbor wouldn't allow it (either under NY law or NJ law) nor does the Port of Baltimore (under Maryland law)
4.14.2009 2:59pm
ohwilleke:
On the high seas, and even in territorial waters where there is no impact on the country in whose territory a ship is afloat, the general rule is that the criminal and civil liability of the crew is governed by the laws of the country under whose flag the ship is sailing. So, flag state criminal and civil law (possibly including specialized admiralty law) governs. This means that the laws of countries like Panama, Liberia, and Greece are of great importance to the question.

While the right to seize pirate ships is reserved to state actors, under the law of the sea (from any state when on the high seas); armed resistance to piracy does not appear to be prohibited by treaty. Nothing in the treaty appears to supply a right to a pirate, although rights are afforded even against state actors for wrongful seizures in the name of piracy suppression.
4.14.2009 3:00pm
Harry Schell (mail):
I suspect arming crews would expose them to lawsuits and trouble from port officials (as noted) where individual ownership of firearms or other arms is prohibited, even if weapons are secured onboard and not taken ashore.

That said, where does the human right of effective self-defense fit into this issue? Do the sheep always have to tolerate the shearing and risk to life?
4.14.2009 3:01pm
martinned (mail) (www):

3. Which international laws, if any, might restrict or prohibit armed resistance to pirates? Does the legal analysis change if the pirates have a credible and well-known policy of not killing their captives?

That depends on your definition of "resistance". A whole stack of treaties would prohibit summarily executing them.
4.14.2009 3:04pm
pintler:

Which particular ports have rules against entry by a ship with firearms on board?


Do any ports allow arms(that wouldn't allow possession on land)? Does NYC allow arms on ships moored in NYC?

Perhaps we need an international convention that ships can arrive carrying arms, if declared upon entry, subject to whatever in port storage requirements the host country wants.
4.14.2009 3:08pm
agesilaus:
I know that sail boats entering foreign ports are often searched and firearms are either removed for storage ashore or the storage locker must be sealed by the customs people. Some ports/countries ban weapons all togther.
4.14.2009 3:10pm
zuch (mail) (www):
This may answer question 1 in part.

Cheers,
4.14.2009 3:12pm
pintler:

4. What is the historical record about armed resistance to piracy by commercial ships?

Certainly it was common at one time, e.g. East Indiamen.

This may answer question 1 in part.

You gotta love these two:

Yemen:
Firearms must be declared.
Somalia:
Firearms will be retained.

It didn't look like cruising the Caribbean was especially practical - it would be a bummer to get chased into an unexpected port by a storm.
4.14.2009 3:48pm
NatSecLawGuy:
Article 107 only prevents a non-state actor from seizing a pirate vessel. The right of resistance is still recognized under customary international law and the right of freedom of the high seas. In other words, a mariner has the right of resistance in order to preserve his right to freedom of the high seas.
4.14.2009 3:48pm
Alan P (mail):
Ships routinely take on pilots to guide them through local waters.

The same could be done for trained guards while transiting pirate infested waters. It would not be necessary to fully arm every ship on a continuous basis.
4.14.2009 3:48pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
martinned:

"Of course they can claim asylum. They're from one of the most backward and dangerous places in the world."

Why "of course?" You make it sound like the UK is somehow responsible for the backwardness and danger in Somalia. In what way are western nations obligated to provide asylum to anyone, let alone pirates? Let's remember there's nothing new about piracy in the world. We managed to control pirates with granting anyone asylum before, why can't we do it now?
4.14.2009 3:55pm
martinned (mail) (www):

In what way are western nations obligated to provide asylum to anyone, let alone pirates?

They're not. Asylum is a privilige, not a right. My point was that if anyone can ask, it would be someone from Somalia.
4.14.2009 4:00pm
Larrya (mail) (www):
To take a shot at five ;-)
In the past, when some arms have been allowed on ships, what kind of policies have been adopted to prevent mutinies or other misuse of arms?
I would note that if the majority of a crew wanted to take over a ship there are plenty of things laying around to use as weapons. Particularly given today's small crews, and the fact that a third or so of them are asleep at any one time, I doubt firearms would make a significant difference. Particularly since they could be used defensively as well as offensively.

I'd propose if modern shipping lines have any problem with mutiny, hiring a better class of employee would be much more effective than disarmament. I'd guess that's already been accomplished. Modern crews have a lot more technicians than peons.
For example, having the guns locked in storage, with the only key in the possession of the captain?
Unless you had significant warning of an attack deploying such weapons would be nearly impossible. They would simply be consolidated in one cabinet, which makes them handy for the successful pirates to steal.

In case of mutiny, all the mutineers have to do is capture the captain. Then they have exclusive access to the weapons locker, preventing other officers or crew from defending the ship.
4.14.2009 4:07pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"They're not. Asylum is a privilige, not a right. My point was that if anyone can ask, it would be someone from Somalia."

I'm really glad to hear it's a privilege. But why does the UK say that they would have to give captured pirates asylum? Perhaps they only have to accept an application for asylum. In any case, whatever the exact policy is, it seems to make dealing with pirates more difficult for the British.

The British once no trouble dealing with pirates. For example, the notorious Blackbeard. Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard ambushed Blackbeard, killed him, and cut off his head. The head was them put on a stake on the north shore of the Hampton River in Virginia as a warning to future would be pirates. No problem with asylum.

BTW-- from Wikipedia--
This event is still celebrated by Lt. Maynard's successors - the crew of the current HMS Ranger - who commemorate Blackbeard's defeat at the annual Sussex University Royal Naval Unit Blackbeard Night mess dinner every year, at a date as close as possible to 22 November.
4.14.2009 4:31pm
nbdy (mail):
This is not a gun rights issue, it is a money issue.

So you have 300 boats per day, that is 9,000 per month. the pirates take about 10. That means that any the chance of any given ship being taken is about .1%. So for a large container ship, the extra cost of the threat of a hijack is a couple of cents per container.

In real terms, the value of the crew, especially good captains and officers is worth more long term than a lost shipment.

Arming the full crews of these ships is usually not seen as a great idea. You have the fear that the crew itself will take the ship and than ransom it for a couple of million. So you only arm the officers - not considered very effective.

So as long as the pirates continue to not kill crew members, return the goods, and only take a small number of boats they are not a huge problem to the shipping companies.

Arming the ships crew just adds more risk, therefore increasing the expense per trip. I understand you may be trying to make a political point about guns being a deterrent, but it just doesnt make much sense from a business standpoint to increase your risks this way. I think you are trying to find a simple answer to a question that calls for a more thoughtful response.

Same goes for convoying. As long the amount of ships taken stays low, than it makes no sense to convoy. The faster ships will loose a full trip or two per year doing that. In this case the risk in running the straits solo is worth it.
4.14.2009 4:35pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@A. Zarkov: I imagine there are statutes in Britain that govern the asylum process, including the standards that are to be applied. The FCO's statement could be based on their assessment that these people, piracy issues aside, would normaly qualify.

Alternatively, it could be simply a matter of opining that they would have a reasonable case, meaning that it would take forever to sort out = pain in the ass.
4.14.2009 4:35pm
Oren:



That depends on your definition of "resistance". A whole stack of treaties would prohibit summarily executing them.

My reading of Art 110 of the UNCLOS seems to suggest otherwise. Care to cite?
4.14.2009 4:40pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Also on the topic of mutiny, I would expect the vastly shorter voyage times to cut down on the number of attempts. As well as overall improved conditions.

There is much less pressure to mutiny when you're being fed properly, know where you're going, have a fairly good idea about when you're going to get there and can more than likely get off the ship once you arrive if things are really that bad.

Also there would be little chance of a mutiny-for-profit (or crew turning pirate if you will) when the ships in question are known world wide. It's not like a ship bound for India could divert to Ajmacia now and not have people ask questions.
4.14.2009 4:40pm
Oren:

So as long as the pirates continue to not kill crew members, return the goods, and only take a small number of boats they are not a huge problem to the shipping companies.

More to the point, the insurer pays the ransom and the ship owner has insurance anyway.
4.14.2009 4:41pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
Just to introduce some numbers to the party- nearly 20,000 transit the Gulf of Aden alone to and from the Suez Canal every year. Add to that the traffic up and down the Coast of Africa and any fishing vessels etc.

Certainly there must be several hundred vessels in pirate range at any given time. That's a lot of mercenaries.

Moreover- pirate range is increasing. Apparently they are raiding as far as 1500kms away. That's a huge swath of ocean, and perhaps the busiest stretch of ocean in the world at that.

Reactive measures aren't going to work.
4.14.2009 4:50pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@Oren: Not UNCLOS, but art. 6 of the ICCPR, which says that "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." Under art. 6 (2), no one may be death sentenced except after a fair trial, meaning a trial in accordance with art. 9, 10, 14 and 15.
4.14.2009 4:54pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
I think it was the Declaration of Paris in 1856 followed on by the Hague Convention in 1907 that got the ball rolling when it comes to Privateers and Armed Merchants. I could be wrong, I didn't look too closely. At least you get some keywords for a nice google search:

paris, declaration, 1856, hague, convention, 1907
4.14.2009 4:58pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I recall reading some years ago about an American who sailed into a Jamaican harbor, and was facing a life sentence because there was a shotgun shell on board. I believe that some arrangement was finally worked out.
4.14.2009 5:14pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
In researching my book Armed America I discovered "two great guns" listed in William Whiting's probate inventory, associated with his trading ship. See Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, vol 1.

Also, here's an ad aimed at masters of "armed vessels" from 1789, supplying all their weapons needs, including "hand grenadoes."
4.14.2009 5:26pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
I suspect that the ship owners and the insurance companies have little or no interest in changing the status quo. The ransom risk has been packaged and sold off to who knows who.

But let's face it. The ship has no defenses against a pirate boarding. If the pirates can catch the ship they can board it almost unimpeded. In other words, we have a tragedy of the commons situation. The crew just has to hope the pirates will follow protocols and not harm them.

Suppose these ships had women passengers or crew and the pirates raped them. Would that change anything? I guess the answer would be to keep women off the ships.

Our ancestors would laugh at us. They had no trouble with killing pirates.
4.14.2009 5:58pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
New Zealand, to pick one, has no air force and a small navy.
Suppose, with the loot from current ops, pirates get themselves a small, fast ship and run into an isolated port in NZ with fifty guys. Rob a bank or two, kidnap citizens, kill a few folks.
The response? NZ wouldn't see them coming, wouldn't be able to watch them out of sight of land, and, unless luck was with them, couldn't even fight them on the sea.
Now they're in international waters.
What next?
What excuses for letting them alone which we have seen above wouldn't apply here?
If you don't like the use of NZ, there are any number of other practically defenseless seacoasts.
4.14.2009 5:59pm
Adam J:
Oren- "My reading of Art 110 of the UNCLOS seems to suggest otherwise. Care to cite?"

I'm not sure what section 110 you are reading- that section only gives a warship grounds to board another ship, while it says nothing about allowing summary executions.
4.14.2009 6:01pm
Smokey Behr:
http://volokh.com/posts/1239732246.shtml#563367

Ships routinely take on pilots to guide them through local waters.

The same could be done for trained guards while transiting pirate infested waters. It would not be necessary to fully arm every ship on a continuous basis.


Xe International (formerly Blackwater) is proposing exactly that.

--
One discussion is for the crew to arm themselves with non-firearms. Things such as "spud guns" loaded with ice, nails, chains, wire rope, nuts and bolts, etc. could be used.

A heavy pipe, with metal fletches welded on one end and the other ground to a point like a hypodermic needle could be used to drop over the side of the defending ship into the skiffs that the pirates are using. This would have the effect of putting a large diameter hole into the boat's bottom, which would then effectively scuttle the boat.
4.14.2009 6:40pm
mariner:
I have been a merchant marine officer for twenty years; before that I was a U.S. Naval officer. I sail only U.S.-flagged ships.

When I began sailing some older ships still had a handgun for the captain to defend against violent crew members. AFAIK even this has been discontinued and no U.S.-flagged vessel in commercial service has even a single firearm on board.
4.14.2009 8:40pm
zuch (mail) (www):
nbdy:
Same goes for convoying. As long the amount of ships taken stays low, than it makes no sense to convoy. The faster ships will loose a full trip or two per year doing that. In this case the risk in running the straits solo is worth it.
This is not true of private yachts, though. Those who want to avoid the Aghulas Current (and rogue waves) and Cape of Good Hope, and seek to transit the Suez Canal, are advised by the sailing community to convoy if possible in the Gulf of Aden and NW Indian Ocean.

Cheers,
4.14.2009 8:49pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
zuch.
Yeah, the "dread Agulhas roll" has quite a rep.
4.14.2009 9:26pm
R. G. Newbury (mail):
re Smokey Behr at 6:40.
It would be cheaper and easier to just put concrete building blocks every 10/20/50 feet along the rail, and use them to 'bomb' the pirate's skiff as it comes alongside. (This assumes that the rail is at some height, and that the crew spots the attackers in time.)
4.15.2009 2:21pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

It would be cheaper and easier to just put concrete building blocks every 10/20/50 feet along the rail, and use them to 'bomb' the pirate's skiff as it comes alongside. (

Why not use salt pork? It grosses out even non-Muslims. The effect on Muslim Somali pirates would be interesting. :)
4.17.2009 11:38pm

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