Fending Off Pirates Through Robust Risk Management Programs

By John Tomoney

Maritime security professionals looking for success stories in the fight against Somali piracy can look to September’s capture of the German container ship M/V Magellan Star in the Gulf of Aden. When pirates boarded the ship, crewmembers simply disabled the ship’s engines and retreated to lock themselves in a secure “citadel” within the vessel. The 11-member crew was in luck: the USS Dubuque sailed closeby and responded to the distress call; on board was a U.S. Marine Corps maritime raid team. At dawn the next day, 24 marines stormed the ship and secured the pirates’ surrender without firing a shot.

Secure cabins are one example of the latest tactics being used to fend off pirates, though in the vastness of the ocean, crews cannot count on speedy rescue.

Generally, the objective is to mitigate risk by avoiding, deterring, and delaying pirate threats. For ships to defend themselves requires a robust risk management program, including intelligence acquisition, detailed vessel threat and vulnerability assessments, voyage security planning, and plan development.


As of mid-October, roughly 20 ships and 420 crews were being held captive by pirates in the Gulf of Aden region. As for the risk to any one ship, that varies depending on route, cargo, etc. In addition to the risk factor of cargo value, high-risk vessels are generally heavily laden, sailing slow—typically less than 13 knots—and low in the water, maneuvering slowly and with great difficulty, and cannot accelerate or change course rapidly in order to escape a pirate attack. The amount of freeboard, or the distance from the waterline to the main deck, is minimal and therefore provides easy access by scaling the vessel’s sides with the use of grappling hooks or other climbing apparatus.

(To continue reading November's online exclusive "Global Maritime Supply Chain Piracy: Threats and Countermeasures," click here.)

♦ Photo by U.S. Navy/Cmdr. Christopher Nodine/Flickr


View Recent News (by day)


Beyond Print

SM Online

See all the latest links and resources that supplement the current issue of Security Management magazine.