us urges merchant ships to try steps to foil pirates

“The commander of American and allied naval forces off the coast of Somalia has begun efforts to halt a spike in piracy, urging merchant vessels to sail with armed guards on board and to travel only within lanes now patrolled by warships. The commander, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney of the United States Navy, said crews of merchant ships were being taught measures that did not involve the use of force to prevent pirates from boarding their vessels.”

“The techniques include complicated rudder movements and speed adjustments that make it hard for pirate speedboats to pull alongside, as well as simple steps like pulling up ladders that some ships leave dangling for an entire voyage.”

I understand pulling-up your ladders – if you’re at sea, why have them down? Plus, if the pirates are on a speedboat (5-10 feet of the water) and you’re on a supertanker (50-100 feet off the water), they can’t board if they have no path.

I do not, however, understand why the Navy would be encouraging the merchant vessels to not use force if need-be.

“Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week that there were legal and military obstacles to combating piracy. ‘One of the challenges that you have in piracy, clearly, is, if you are intervening and you capture pirates, is there a path to prosecute them?’ he said.”

It used to be that if someone was trying to board your vessel, steal your stuff (and that of the group for which you work), and potentially kill you had not only the right, but the responsibility to defend yourself. I’ve never heard of “prosecuting them” beyond a simple Captain’s Mast at sea. Hanging them from the yardarm is an encouragement to others to think twice (or maybe three or four times) before trying themselves.