M/V Biscaglia Maritime Security and A Look At Armed vs Non-Lethal Ship Protection In Pirate Waters

John Konrad
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December 18, 2008

In a well researched article titled Mercenary Guards Jump Ship as Somali Pirates Remain Undeterred Bloomberg exposes private security efforts to protect ships in the region. What is not well researched however, is the title incident aboard the M/V Biscaglia.

In last week’s edition of Maritime Moday, Fred Fry posted the wired magazine article Sonic Blaster Firm Disputes Pirate Tale which shares LRAD’s investigation into the failed attempt to use of non-lethal weapons aboard the Biscaglia. Specifically Fred asked the question “I wonder if this explains why some stories mention that the attack lasted forty minutes and others mention that it was all over in ten?”. Finally, Bloomberg gets an answer straight from the French Navy:

“As the Biscaglia attack was under way, its distress signal was picked up by the Nivose, a French frigate escorting 18 merchant ships 40 miles away. When a Panther helicopter from the Nivose arrived 15 minutes later, the pirates were already in control”

APMSS, the security firm protecting the Biscaglia, did not respond to Bloomberg’s statements but said in a statement that its crews have prevented three hijackings recently. Regardless of their response, which has been inconsistent, it’s clear to us that the LRAD was not deployed in time to be of much use which leads to the question “Are alternatives to armed guards still a viable answer?”    Master Mariner and friend of gCaptain, Kennebec Captain, recently commented:

I can anticipate what the armchair gunners response to this incident is going to be – the British guards should have been armed. A couple of weeks ago I would have agreed. Now I am not so sure.

A lot of people dismiss the argument that it is unwise to arm merchant ships and mariners, the argument being that doing so will simply raise the level of violence.

I think it would be wise to give some though as to whether or not we want to increase the volume, velocity and weight of flying projectiles around my ship and crew in hopes of mitigating the pirate problem.

Disagreement over this issue has been widely published by gCaptain and the broader media with BIMCO spokesman Giles Noakes leading the doves and the US Navy (among others) leading the hawks. Here are the contradicting statements:

“There are about a dozen companies providing security teams and many others trying to jump on the bandwagon,” said Giles Noakes, head of maritime security at BIMCO, the world’s largest ship-owners’ association. “While I understand the temptation, placing armed guards on board creates a severe risk of escalation.”


“Shipping companies have to understand that naval forces cannot be everywhere,” said U.S. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of naval forces supporting coalition military operations in Afghanistan, in a Nov. 17 statement. “Self- protection measures are the best way to protect their vessels, their crews, and their cargo. Ships should use security teams.”

gCaptain readers have also weighted in on this topics both before and during (here and here) the current crisis but I take a slightly different view than either side. In today’s upcoming issue of The Maritime Executive Newsletter (delivered free to gCaptain readers via this link) I take a different view… We need to identify and fix the root causes of the problem then back up your efforts with armed security personnel that are part of the vessel team (i.e. not just guns on deck).

What are the root causes?

Somalia Itself

The primary cause of the problem is suffering in Somalia that lead to acceptance of risk by desperate fisherman followed by greed. In a recent email to gCaptain Fred Parle, hostage aboard the MT Svitzer Korsakov (Incident LINK), explains:

Wake up and listen to those who ” have been there done that ” not listen to people in soft comfortable beds who wonder which paper to write to with inane and deadly suggestions. I’m angry , right ,as I see after all these years of chaos in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere that results to improve Safety at Sea have been a big ZERO. Pirates in Somalia are after CASH to feed their families only, no politics, no religion, just old fashioned gnawing empty bellies at home that drive most of these marine bullies to Piracy. I repeat its all about money and food , education, health , the lack of things we take for granted every day of our lives. There are agencies spending BILLIONS every year on wasteful items, WAKE UP and listen to the VICTIMS who will tell you the truth and the full story. A hungry family will not tell porkies they know it as it is in their homes .


The above statement from the French navy makes it clear that watchkeeping has suffered and we believe low manning levels are to blame. There are simple too few eyes on the water.


How many of gCaptain readers or anti-piracy decision makers have experienced a pirate attack? We believe the mariners do keep lookout do not have the experience to quickly identify threats. In last week’s Maritime Monday Fred Fry also asked: “This update makes me wonder, did the ship’s crew defer their anti-pirate lookout duties to the security detail? Shouldn’t the LRAD have been deployed and ready to go from the start?” I would like to pose another set of questions: Was the security detail maintaining a proper lookout? Were they working as part of the bridge team? Who identified the pirate vessel and were they qualified to asses it as a threat prior to the engagement?


Prior to becoming Vessel Security Officer, assigned along with my other duties as Chief Mate, on my previous vessel I was required to take ISPS (International Ship Port Security) training and apply for an endorsement on my STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) certificate. The training consisted of two days in a classroom environment…. is this enough? Would a month of training better prepair me or is ISPS like shiphandling where training is good but experience counts?


We have explored this issue in partnership with a security provider we trust; Global Rescue. As I’ve tipped my hat in stating the level of my security training I will not speak to this issue directly but contact us if you are in need of security in pirate waters and we will put you in touch with Global Rescue directly.

This is just a preview…

This post is just a preview of the article I wrote for Maritime Executive so be sure to sign up for their newsletter (offered free to gCaptain shipmates) to read the full spectrum of our thoughts on vessel security in the Gulf Of Aden.


My article titled “A New Solution To a Pressing Problem: gCaptain Gives Another Perspective” has been made available online. You can find it by CLICKING HERE.

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