Columbia Pictures' presentation of the hijacking of the US Container ship MV Maersk Alabama, in April 2009, is a well-made, riveting and intense film. However, the issues that it raises are deeply disconcerting.
Defenceless and Vulnerable
The fact that a massive, multi-billion dollar, 17,000 tonne, 155 metre long, container ship, was hijacked by four skinny Somalian pirates with AK-47's is outrageous. Despite hundreds of hijackings by Somalian pirates having already taken place before that date, this extremely large and valuable container ship was effectively defenceless before four pirates in a small speedboat with small arms. The sight of the crew reduced to using fire hoses and hand held flares to attempt to protect a leviathan of a ship from a handful of pirates in a small speedboat was ludicrous.
The War Against Piracy
For most of history, piracy on the high seas has been a major problem. Merchant seamen were always well armed and trained to protect their vessels on the high seas from brigands and corsairs. The Royal Navy made the eradication of piracy, and the safeguarding of the seaways, its primary objective and, by the end of the 19th century, piracy had been virtually extinguished.
The Recent Resurgence of Piracy
However, the disarming of merchant vessels has made possible an explosion of piracy in recent years. In 2008, there were 111 attacks by Somalian pirates, of which 42 were successful hijackings. In 2009, US$58 million was paid in ransoms to pirates, to secure the release of vessels and crew members. By 2010, this had increased to US$ 238 million paid in ransoms to Somali pirates. In 2010, there were 127 attacks, of which 47 succeeded in hijacking vessels. By 2011, there were an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Somali pirates threatening sea traffic in the Indian Ocean.
Of the 4,185 seafarers, whose ships were attacked in 2010, 1,090 were held hostage and one third reported being physically abused by the pirates. Of 3,500 hostages held by Somali pirates in a four year period, 62 died and many more were tortured and traumatised.
The Egyptian government reported that Somali piracy cost the Egyptian economy US$642 million in 2010 alone, because of decreased revenues. Increasing numbers of ships chose to avoid the Suez Canal, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden route, preferring the longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope, so as to avoid the dangers posed by pirates. Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) calculates that Somali piracy costs the global economy US$6.9 billion a year in extra expenses and lost revenues.
Everything Has Consequences
The experience of the Maersk Alabama, 8-12 April 2009, illustrates the catastrophic consequences of disarming merchant vessels. It also demonstrates the disastrous interference of politics into dangerous hostage situations. Somalia is also a classic example of a failed state on every level. If anyone wants to see what Islam can do for a country, Somalia has 99.999% Muslim population.
The Attack on MV Maersk Alabama
Travelling 240 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, the Maersk Alabama was carrying 17,000 metric tonnes of cargo, 5,000 tonnes of which were relief supplies bound for Somalia, Uganda and Kenya. There was only a crew of 20 on this huge container ship. Most of the crew hid in the engine room while the captain and two other crew members remained on the bridge.
Turning the Tables
The engineers were able to render the bridge controls useless, to prevent the pirates being able to control the ship. The crew were later able to forcibly overpower one of the pirates and negotiate with them to leave the ship in a lifeboat.
Failed Prisoner Exchange
However the crew failed to secure the release of Captain Phillips before handing over the pirate leader, Abduwali Muse. It seemed inexplicable to me that, having attained the upper hand and having disarmed the leader of the pirates, that the crew did not make use of his AK-47 and pistol to insist upon the complete evacuation of the ship and the freeing of Captain Phillips as a pre-condition to their releasing the pirate leader.
When the US Navy arrived, the stand off continued another three days! From the written accounts of the hostage crises, and if the film is in any way accurate, it would appear that the Navy was operating under extraordinary political restrictions. Captain Phillips was repeatedly threatened, beaten and abused, within sight and sound of the US Navy.
At one point, Captain Phillips succeeded in diving overboard from the lifeboat, but was pursued and recaptured by the pirates - without the Navy appearing to use the opportunity to neutralise the pirate threat to the Captain who had been held hostage for so long!
Although not explicitly referred to in the film, the only explanation that I can discern is that the White House must have insisted on a peaceful resolution of the hostage crisis, to such an extent that the Naval personnel on site felt constrained to withhold fire for three days. While Captain Phillips was enduring excruciating abuse and repeated threats to his life.
Disturbing and Disastrous
I do not know how true to the events the film is, but if accurate, it is shocking the level that the United States has descended to: That multi-billion dollar ships can travel the high seas without a single weapon to defend either crew or cargo. That the crew could capture the pirate leader, and his weapons, but still give them US$30,000 in cash and hand him over, without first securing their own captain's release. That the US Navy could wait an excruciating three days before taking direct action to neutralise the pirate threat and secure the captain's release. No wonder America's prestige is at an all time low.
How the SAS Deal with Hostage Situations
In May 1980, when 6 terrorists held 26 people hostage in the Iranian Embassy in London, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher authorised the Special Air Service (SAS) to intervene. In 17 minutes the SAS rescued all the hostages and killed 5 of the 6 terrorists.
How GSG-9 Deal with Hostage Situations
In October 1977, when 4 terrorists hijacked Lufthansa flight 181 and flew to Mogadishu, in Somalia, the German GSG-9 counter terrorism force stormed the aircraft, shot all 4 terrorists and secured the release of all 86 hostages in a matter of seconds. No one has attempted hijacking a Lufthansa aircraft since then.
How Not To Deal with a Hostage Situation
By way of contrast, Captain Phillips presents excruciating delays and explicable slowness of response, multiple missed opportunities, and apparent excessive interference from political forces, in what should have been a purely military operation.
The Insanity of Gun Control
Considering that 30,000 merchant vessels travel across the Indian Ocean every year, it is inexplicable that such colossal investments are allowed to travel unprotected on the high seas. The insanity of gun control is demonstrated in this incident where vast military resources were needed to be deployed, at great expense, to resolve what a couple of weapons on board the MV Maersk Alabama would have prevented in the first place.
Arming the Pirates
Most of the Somali pirates weapons come from Yemen. Their weapons are generally AK-47s, AKMs, and less often RPG-7s.
Now there are 25 naval vessels from NATO, the US, China, Russia, India, Australia and Japan patrolling as part of the NAVFOR off the coast of Somalia.
How Not To Deal with Pirates
Some of these efforts have been less than helpful. In April 2009, the same month that the Maersk Alabama was seized, the Dutch frigate De Zeven Provincien, tracked pirates who had attacked the Handytankers Magic petroleum tanker back to the pirate mother ship and freed 20 Yemeni fishermen who were being held hostage. They confiscated the pirates' weapons. However, inexplicably, it was determined that because the Dutch Naval forces were part of a NATO exercise and not on the EU Mission, they lacked the legal jurisdiction to arrest the pirates, so they released them!
Before the Maersk Alabama was seized, attacks on shipping off the coast of Somalia were ten times higher than during the same period in 2008, with 79 attacks. In March there were daily attacks.
The Maersk Alabama was not the most traumatic hostage experience. On 14 November 2010, a British couple, the Chandlers, were released after 388 days of captivity, after 500,000 Pounds was paid in ransom.
Russian Response to Piracy
In May 2010, Russian Special Forces seized a Russian oil tanker that had been hijacked by 11 pirates. When informed that due to weaknesses in International Law, the pirates needed to be released, the Russian military officials reported that they were all freed, but died before reaching the Somali Coast. Russian president Dimitry Medvedev announced that: "We will have to do what our forefathers did when they met pirates, until a suitable way of prosecuting them is available."
South Korean Response
On 21 January 2011, 25 Republic of Korea Navy SEALS on small boats recaptured the Samho Jewellery, killing 8 pirates and capturing 5. The 21 hostages being held by the pirates were all freed.
On 5 January 2012, the USS Kidd freed 13 Iranian seamen who had been held hostage for several weeks and detained 15 pirates.
The Indian Navy to the Rescue
The Navy which seems to have done the most to combat the Somali piracy threat to international shipping is the Indian Navy. 19 November 2008, the Indian Navy warship INS Tabar sank a pirate mother ship trawler. 28 January 2011, responding to a distress call, an Indian Coast Guard aircraft located 2 pirate speedboats (skiffs) and helped INS Cankarso locate and engage the pirate mother ship, killing 10 pirates, capturing 15 and rescuing 20 Thai and Burmese fishermen being held hostage. A week later the Indian Navy INS Tir captured another hijacked Thai trawler MV Prantalay, capturing 28 pirates. This led on to the INS Tir and CGS Samar of the Indian Coast Guard capturing another 28 pirates and freeing 24 Thai fishermen. In March 2011 the Indian Navy intercepted a pirate mother ship in the Arabian Sea, rescuing 13 hostages and capturing 61 pirates. Late March 2011 the Indian Navy captured 16 pirates after a 3 hour gun battle in the Arabian Sea. This enabled the Navy to rescue 12 Iranian seamen and 4 Pakistanis. The Indian Navy has deployed 21 ships in the Gulf of Aden, escorting more than 1,000 ships, preventing 15 piracy attempts on merchant vessels and rescuing hundreds of hostages.
Naval Counter Measures
At this time countries deploying naval vessels to counter the Somali pirate menace include: Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Ukraine and United States. On occasion, South Africa has also deployed naval vessels to the region.
Private Security Companies
To counter the threat of piracy, numerous maritime security companies have been launched to provide armed security contractors. On numerous occasions these security guards have thwarted piracy attempts. On no occasion have pirates succeeded in seizing a vessel with armed security on board.
Turning the Tide
Since the deployment of NAVFOR, and private security companies on vessels, piracy attacks have fallen off. In 2011 there were 151 attacks by Somali pirates, only 25 of which were successful. In 2012, 10 vessels and 159 hostages were being held in February 2012. As of 18 October 2013, only one large ship and 50 hostages were being held. However, the threat of piracy is unlikely to diminish unless one returns to armed vessels on the high seas. Pirates prefer unarmed seamen!
The Right and Duty of Self-Defence
The Law of God is clear: "If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed." Exodus 22:2. The Law of God establishes the basic right and duty of self-defence. Any person is justified in defending himself, or his family, whenever they are attacked, or their lives are endangered. Any weapon is permissible to use in self-defence. The Law of God does not say that the homeowner is guilty if he uses a sword, but innocent if he uses a club. The issue is not one of weapons, but the right, and duty, of self-defence.
Our Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples: "He who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." Luke 22:36
Fathers and husbands are required by Almighty God to provide for their families. "But if anyone does not provide for his own and especially for those of his household, he has denied the Faith and is worse than an unbeliever." 1 Timothy 5:8
The Westminster Catechism, considered the finest expression of Biblical teaching, states under the Sixth Commandment, that the prohibition against murder requires as our duty: "All careful studies and lawful endeavours to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting, by just defence, against violence, protecting and defending the innocent." (Q135)
Criminals Prefer Unarmed Victims
All criminals prefer unarmed victims. Gun control deprives potential victims of their best means of protection. Every day, countless crimes are prevented, hundreds of potential victims are protected and many tragedies are averted by armed citizens. Armed citizens save lives, but unarmed citizens all too often become helpless victims.
"Like a muddied spring or a polluted well, is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked." Proverbs 25:26
It is every man's duty to be armed and prepared to protect the innocent and to defend the defenceless. May God enable each one of us to be fast and accurate.
"Do not be afraid of them, remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses." Nehemiah 4:14
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
Remembering the Holocaust in Rwanda
Faith and Firearms