Do the Somali Pirates have a secret Superweapon?

Posted on 30/06/2010

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Matt Gurney  June 29, 2010

 As a sign of its continuing commitment to maintain the safety of traffic off the Horn of Africa, NATO recently announced that it was deploying a submarine to the region to patrol the seas and combat piracy. Not just any submarine, though. A stealth submarine.

The boat, an as yet-unidentified member of the Walrus-class of Dutch submarines, will arrive in September, where it will assist other NATO and international forces in the area on their mission to make life a bit harder for those irritating pirates. The Walrus-class are considered a very quiet class of submarines — even modern allied warships have a hard time tracking them. So that’s neat. But, maybe we’re missing the bigger picture here.

As awesome as warships are, is there maybe a cheaper way of handling this problem? Is it necessary to send the best of NATO to take on drugged-out gunmen with speedboats? Unless they have some Death Star-esque laser cannon, why send the quietest submarine available.

This threat isn’t a small one — an enormous percentage of the world’s maritime traffic passes through that region. Many of the shipping companies operate on very slim profit margins, and the cost of insuring a cargo ship (and its crew) transiting that area is obviously highly susceptible to the risk of hijacking. If the shipping gets more expensive, so does literally everything else. So, okay, let’s grant that the problem isn’t small. But it isn’t particularly complicated, either. Somalia is a mess, it has virtually no economy, barely a government — and hijacking is lucrative. Of course there are those willing to outfit a speedboat, grab some rusty old AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades and go after an oil tanker. What else can they do but line up for UN rations or become jihadists?

That’s why they’re doing what they’re doing. Fair enough. But why deploy billions of dollars in military hardware halfway around the world to take on speedboats? There are much better, cheaper solutions:

– Convoys. Maritime captains are typically a fairly independent-minded bunch and schedules are firm, so they dislike waiting around for a convoy to assemble, but, frankly, too bad. If NATO or the UN or whomever could constitute a workable convoy system, requiring a relative handful of warships, insurance companies should strip any vessel that goes it alone of its insurance. Merchant captains weren’t eager to join convoys at the start of both world wars, either, but get what? It worked. And what was good for the Kriegsmarine is more than good enough for pirates.

– Private security contractors should sail on most of these ships. The costs of hiring them should be offset by reduced insurance premiums. Such contractors have already proven their worth.

Send in Special Operations forces to take some of the incentive out of piracy. Yes, I know what happened the last time SpecOps went into Somalia, but still. An idea worth considering.

Go Russian on ‘em.

– Or, some combination of all of these ideas.

For all the seriousness of the problem, there’s something inherently silly about sending ultra-quiet submarines after pirates.

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