You’ve been granted free access to this subscribers only article.
African piracy - a modern-day scourge, part 2
The French frigate, Dupleix, rests at berth in a south Indian Ocean port. The vessel is part of the European Union’s anti-piracy force.
Wilson County NewsJanuary 9, 2013 2,913 views Post a comment
In this second article in a two-part series, former Wilson County News Editor Martin Kufus shares his experience of providing security for a ship off the east coast of Africa. In Part I, Kufus introduced the team leader, radio call sign “Jefe,” and some background about the rise of piracy by Somalis, following the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. Modern-day pirates, Kufus wrote, are nothing akin to “Jack Sparrow,” the lovable rogue of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame.
Before I took this temporary job of guarding a cargo ship against Somali pirates on the Indian Ocean, there were no faces or names -- just maritime statistics. Now, it was personal for me.
Ibrahim, Mohammed, Mohamed, Joel, Obah, Eric, Felix, Pierre, “Chef” the cook, the Captain, the ship’s six other officers and seamen -- all were our security team’s responsibility. We ate the same food (Chef’s menu featured lots and lots of white rice), lived in the same little single-occupant rooms in the accommodations area, and participated in the same emergency drills as the crew. English is the official, required language of the international shipping industry, so we conversed. Our team became part of the crew -- up to a point.
Many merchant mariners in the High Risk Area (HRA) nowadays insist on sailing with security personnel, Jefe told me. Several of the crewmen told me they felt better having armed guards aboard.
One of the “ABs” (able-bodied seaman) said he had been on another ship about three years ago, in transit to Egypt from Malaysia, and watched a hijack: In the Gulf of Aden, his cargo ship joined a convoy being formed under escort by two naval vessels, one in front and one in the rear. Motorboats suddenly appeared, he recalled, and sped in between the big ships. The naval forces could not react fast enough. The pirates boarded a merchant ship in the middle of the formation.
“Once they’re on board, it’s too late,” said the AB, from Sierra Leone. Hostages at gunpoint trumped warships on station.
The international anti-piracy coalition, of which the U.S. Navy is a member, has gotten much better at intercepting Pirate Attack Groups. I saw some of this international naval muscle during our various transits: the German frigate Sachsen, the French frigate Dupleix, and the Indian frigate Delhi.
Over my dead body
According to marsec (maritime security) reports, a frigate confronting a suspected pirate vessel typically puts assault boats into the water with marines and/or specially trained sailors who board the vessel and make arrests, if necessary -- all under the intimidating cover of the warship’s main gun.
Still, the navies of the world do not have enough ships -- do not have the budgets -- to be everywhere the Somali pirates might pop up. So, the maritime industry has had to overcome its dislike of firearms aboard merchant ships. The result: No merchant ship with armed guards ever has been hijacked by Somali pirates.
Over my dead body -- literally --and those of my teammates would this ship and crew become a 2012 hijack statistic. It would not be a soft target for capture by khat-chewing thugs from the failed state that brought us “Black Hawk Down.”
A battle rifle, its curved magazine holding 30 rounds of ammunition, hung comfortably from my left shoulder. While I was on duty, the weapon never left my side (a habit drilled into my head half a lifetime ago in U.S. Army Ranger school). My OD-green tactical vest carried more ammunition, a scabbard knife, bandage and tourniquet, and ocean-survival gear. My German-made Kevlar helmet sat nearby. Our team’s medical trauma bag was parked in a corner of the wheelhouse, along with extra ammunition.
If I spotted incoming attack skiffs, all I had to do was push the radio’s emergency button and then say “pirates” three times -- not “Beetlejuice” (my radio tag) -- and Jefe and team members Fernando and Karu (ex-infantrymen from the Philippines and Sri Lanka, respectively) would join me in less than a minute. It didn’t matter if one of us guys, maybe just awakened in his sleep cycle, showed up in boxer shorts and flip-flop sandals as long as he had his rifle, ammunition, and radio, Jefe said.
Merchant ships vulnerable to pirate hijack nowadays have below-deck refuges called “safe rooms” or “citadels.”
Depending on the ship’s pirate-attack plan, alarms sound and crewmen assemble in the citadel -- often, proximate with the engine room -- and wait for the officers to join them. The captain and duty officer (probably, by now, wearing Kevlar helmets and body armor) would radio distress calls to High Risk Area (HRA) naval-security centers, put the ship on “auto pilot,” and evacuate the wheelhouse. Or, they might stay at the helm, putting the ship in a zigzag maneuver, which, although slower than a straight-line course, would generate large wakes to impede pirates’ boarding attempts.
If the officers and crewmen locked themselves in the citadel, alternate controls there would thwart the pirates, who would make a beeline for the wheelhouse but typically do not know how to pilot a big ship. When the steel door of the citadel bangs shut, it is not unlocked until the pirates are gone -- or is blown open by pirates’ explosives, if naval rescue is delayed.
During my first daywatch in our first transit, the Captain called a wheelhouse meeting for the crew.
In Philippine-accented English, he read a checklist of worst-case actions to be taken just before pirates boarded the ship. At some point, he said, the security team would join the crew in the citadel. I discreetly shook my head “no.” The Captain couldn’t see me, but some of the dozen crewmen noticed. In a few minutes, El Jefe tactfully corrected the error.
“We won’t be joining you in the citadel,” he told the wheelhouse gathering. “Our job is to protect the crew” -- he pointed at all of the men, for effect -- “then the ship, and next, its cargo. My team will fight to the death.”
Jefe turned to the Captain. “Do not slow down, Sir. Do not be intimidated by the pirates -- even if they shoot at the wheelhouse.
“Do not stop the ship,” the team leader concluded. The Captain nodded. He understood the plan. So did the crew.
Rules of engagement
A marsec team in the HRA cannot just open fire on an incoming boat that looks suspicious. There are maritime laws and rules of engagement; certain actions have been taken first. Marsec is not a job for the trigger-happy or impatient.
Throughout the region, legitimate fishermen use skiffs with large outboard motors. Fishermen also pack Kalashnikov rifles -- to protect their own boats against pirates. Fishermen might steer their skiff toward a merchant ship -- to try to make the large vessel change course and not run over unseen fishing nets or lines ahead.
Fishermen, however, do not carry RPG-7s, belt-fed machine guns, and long ladders or climbing poles. They also do not “swarm” a cargo ship with several motorboats. (News-service photographs of pirates, their weapons, and some hostages accompany my June 28 online article, “Ransoms or no ransoms? U.K. Parliament debates a core issue of Somali piracy,” archived at Tactical-Life.com.)
A lookout, whether crewman or security guard, typically will see an incoming skiff at a range of several miles. (There never has been a confirmed, nighttime attack in the HRA. Nonetheless, many ships run with only navigational lights on at night, keeping windows and external doors cloaked.) The ship’s X- or S-band radar might already have detected the small boat and its wake farther out than that; an aluminum hull would reflect radar waves better than wood or fiberglass.
By the time the skiff is about 500 yards away, observers will have binoculars trained on it, looking for telltale ladders and multiple weapons. The marsec team can try to “wave away” the suspicious boat. If that doesn’t work, the team’s leader or designated sharpshooter fires warning shots to the left or right of the boat. Of course, if the skiff’s occupants open fire at the ship at any time, restraint ceases.
El Jefe was on two Espada jobs in which shots were fired. Both occurred in 2011.
In one incident, the team was guarding a bulk-carrier vessel in the Arabian Sea near Oman. A single skiff with up to a half-dozen pirates carrying AK-47 or AKMS rifles attempted to intercept the big ship, which was hauling grain or fertilizer. In the other incident, the team was guarding a hazardous-material carrier coming from Oman. Two skiffs with rifle-armed pirates approached the ship “in the middle of the Indian Ocean,” he said.
In both incidents, warning shots chased away the pirates, Jefe recalled, but “it was kinda at the point [that] if they didn’t turn around, we’d start putting rounds into the skiffs.”
On this job, however, the team leader did not have to fire any warning shots. My ammunition expenditure held at 16 rounds (in test fire of my rifle). The pirates did not come around our ship; they were somewhere else in the High Risk Area.
That our transits in the southern Indian Ocean were uneventful, security-wise, was just fine with the captain and crew. And if they were happy, so were we.
I just don’t want to eat any white rice again for a while.
Floresville-area writer Martin Kufus is a consultant to security contractor Espada Services, www.espadaservices.com and the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. Kufus was the news editor and senior reporter at the Wilson County News from 1997 to 2002. Before that, the ex-paratrooper worked as the assistant editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine (1995-97) in Boulder, Colo.
Part I of this article, published in the Jan. 2 Wilson County News, stated the Kalashnikov (AK) rifles and the PKM machine guns used by Somali pirates “fire the same” ammunition. Although the diameter of the bullets is the same, rated at 7.62 millimeters (mm), the weapons use different-sized cartridges. The rifle cartridges are 39 mm in length, while the machine-gun cartridges are 54 mm in length. The longer cartridge provides a more powerful round that gives the PKM a longer range than the AK rifle.
The caption for one of the photos in Part I of this story referenced two mannequins standing “guard duty.” The photo shows actual ship’s crewmen placing concertina wire to discourage pirates.
Your Opinions and Comments
Be the first to comment on this story!
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Section A: General News Archives
AACOG P&Z Workshop (July 29, 2015)
Annexation plans for Floresville (July 29, 2015)
Appreciate depreciation (July 29, 2015)
Band boosters gear up for new year (July 29, 2015)
Change in Medicare numbers can be bonanza for scammers (July 29, 2015)
Chicken products recall (July 29, 2015)
City council: What should budget include? (July 29, 2015)
Coldewey is new chief appraiser (July 29, 2015)
County unemployment rate rises (July 29, 2015)
Court Update (July 29, 2015)
Dollar General grand opening (July 29, 2015)
Editorial: A nuclear Iran seems inevitable with Obama administration (July 29, 2015)
Editorial: Why abortions are (still) not illegal in the United States (July 29, 2015)
Electric utility gets green light from Floresville to refinance 2005 bond (July 29, 2015)
GVEC holds annual membership meeting (July 29, 2015)
Indictments (July 29, 2015)
Letter: How can Wilson County safeguard its water? (July 29, 2015)
Letter: Opinion page worth the read (July 29, 2015)
Letter: Thanks for defending our history (July 29, 2015)
LV Stuff the Bus event is Aug. 1 (July 29, 2015)
Meeting Watch: Floresville ISD (July 29, 2015)
Meeting Watch: Wilson County Commissioners Court (July 29, 2015)
Meeting Watch: Wilson County Emergency Services District No. 2 (July 29, 2015)
Newly Elected Officials Workshop is Aug. 7 (July 29, 2015)
Police say burglars struck store twice (July 29, 2015)
Police: Accused child molester could have more victims (July 29, 2015)
Poth drops highway speed, talks 2015-16 budget (July 29, 2015)
Refinancing could save FELPS $383K (July 29, 2015)
Sign up to run in November (July 29, 2015)
Thieves target signs around St. Hedwig (July 29, 2015)
Trampoline park supports Autism Treatment Center (July 29, 2015)
Attend Health Fair in Seguin July 29 (July 22, 2015)
Crash near county line claims one (July 22, 2015)
ECISD gives raises, keeps tax rate same (July 22, 2015)
Editorial: Choose carefully where to invest your energy (July 22, 2015)
Editorial: Government for Big Money (July 22, 2015)
Editorial: Is the Civil War over? (July 22, 2015)
Editorial: It’s time to take a stand in defense of liberty (July 22, 2015)
Emergency services directors review OT costs, reduce fleet (July 22, 2015)
Fox Chapel continues SEDC payments (July 22, 2015)
Franchise Ownership Workshop July 25 (July 22, 2015)
Goody bag items needed for chamber (July 22, 2015)
Hospital district approves adding new medical staff (July 22, 2015)
Jade Helm 15 military exercises under way (July 22, 2015)
Jason Talley to lead state organization (July 22, 2015)
Keeping Floresville in style for 25 years (July 22, 2015)
La Vernia area could combine paid, volunteer fire staff (July 22, 2015)
Meeting Watch: Falls City City Council (July 22, 2015)
Meeting Watch: Falls City ISD (July 22, 2015)
Meeting Watch: La Vernia ISD (July 22, 2015)
Obamacare increases starting pay for food-service staff Stockdale ISD (July 22, 2015)
Paying ‘stupid tax’ (July 22, 2015)
Police Blotter (July 22, 2015)
Police seek three suspects for theft (July 22, 2015)
Poth ISD board gets first glimpse of 2015-16 budget (July 22, 2015)
UIW to bring holistic healing to SA’s south side (July 22, 2015)
Bealls participates in clothing drive (July 15, 2015)
Beautification group to meet (July 15, 2015)
CoDA finds source of anxious behavior (July 15, 2015)
Commissioners grant waiver to Mission Rail Industrial Park (July 15, 2015)
Editorial: Americans’ focus is on anything but serious issues (July 15, 2015)
Editorial: Looking back on my 85 years (July 15, 2015)
Editorial: Surprise! Scientists have ‘cracked code’ to happiness (July 15, 2015)
Elmendorf council votes 4-1 to abolish ‘assistant city administrator’ post (July 15, 2015)
Elmendorf, SAWS reach deal (July 15, 2015)
FEMA seeks Texans to work at disaster recovery offices (July 15, 2015)
Floresville joins opposition to water transport project (July 15, 2015)
Floresville Visitor & Tourist Bureau takes small steps (July 15, 2015)
La Vernia council remains as MDD board (July 15, 2015)
La Vernia council terminates city secretary (July 15, 2015)
Letter: Let’s get involved (July 15, 2015)
Managing growth, groundwater responsibly — an analysis of water ‘surplus’ project (July 15, 2015)
Meet DPS Sgt. John Henke (July 15, 2015)
Meeting Watch: La Vernia City Council (July 15, 2015)
No lease: Floresville 4A Corp. applies for beer license (July 15, 2015)
No quorum for Poth EDC (July 15, 2015)
Otto Kaiser plans health fair, low-cost physicals (July 15, 2015)
Police blotter (July 15, 2015)
Questions remain after reported attack (July 15, 2015)
Reputed dope dealer takes plea (July 15, 2015)
Saenz interns with Cuellar (July 15, 2015)
STEER calls for award nominations (July 15, 2015)
Stockdale News: Giving Jubilee kudos (July 15, 2015)
Stockdale News: Leos to hold yard sale (July 15, 2015)
Stockdale News: Library fun continues (July 15, 2015)
Stockdale News: Mitchell places in top 10 of national rifle competition (July 15, 2015)
Stockdale to receive $311K in grant, earnings distribution (July 15, 2015)
Texas A&M to pair with two-year colleges (July 15, 2015)
Unauthorized subletting (July 15, 2015)
Veterans eligible for VA Medical Care (July 15, 2015)
Winter rainfall dries up city’s utilities income (July 15, 2015)
World Heritage Site designation piques curiosity in ranch (July 15, 2015)
ADCaP, UIW online fall information session is July 9 (July 8, 2015)
Avoid skin cancer; protect your family from the summer sun (July 8, 2015)
Chief appraiser’s opening draws four applications (July 8, 2015)
Connally donates to Floresville Food Pantry (July 8, 2015)
Court Update (July 8, 2015)
Dangers of leaving children in vehicles during summer (July 8, 2015)
Deel named top 10 advisor, inducted into Hall of Fame (July 8, 2015)
Does the YMCA have a future in Wilson County? (July 8, 2015)
Editorial: Guns in church can work (July 8, 2015)
Editorial: U.S. Supreme Court disasters (July 8, 2015)
Evergreen states opposition to Cibolo, Schertz water plan (July 8, 2015)
Floresville Economic Development Corp. (July 8, 2015)
Floresville Planning & Zoning Commission (July 8, 2015)
Floresville police hunt suspects, arrest two (July 8, 2015)
Home safety while you’re away (July 8, 2015)
Host an exchange student (July 8, 2015)
How to handle difficult discussions in the workplace (July 8, 2015)
Letter: A third letter to America (July 8, 2015)
Letter: Hoping to find the cowardly culprit (July 8, 2015)
Letter: No press coverage, no tickets (July 8, 2015)
Meeting Watch: Poth ISD (July 8, 2015)
Museum seeks lumber, pictures (July 8, 2015)
Nominate your 2015 favorite country doctor (July 8, 2015)
Nonprofits encouraged to partake in Newcomers Fair (July 8, 2015)
Parking garage at SA airport to close (July 8, 2015)
Pause investing for a luxury (July 8, 2015)
Police Blotter (July 8, 2015)
Poth cancels another city council meeting (July 8, 2015)
Poth, Stockdale could get Connally Memorial clinics (July 8, 2015)
Rancho de las Cabras achieves World status (July 8, 2015)
Shooting range drives citizens to City Hall (July 8, 2015)
SSCA to meet (July 8, 2015)
St. Hedwig City Council backs off fire-code variance (July 8, 2015)
Texas sues EPA (July 8, 2015)
Trustees approve $9.55 million budget (July 8, 2015)
Yoga Center marks one year (July 8, 2015)
Corner Store grand opening is set for July 2 (July 1, 2015)
Court Update (July 1, 2015)
Crouch Memorial Bull Riding (July 1, 2015)
Dan Patrick weighs in on same-sex marriage decision (July 1, 2015)
Disabled veteran license plates available for widows (July 1, 2015)
Does the EPA control your stock tank? (July 1, 2015)
East Central ISD decisions will save taxpayers millions (July 1, 2015)
Editorial: Changing the past to fundamentally transform America (July 1, 2015)
Editorial: Donald Trump tries to put his brand on GOP (July 1, 2015)
Editorial: Hillary and history: Best-known is not the same as best-qualified (July 1, 2015)
Event highlights seniors, vets, services July 17 (July 1, 2015)
FELPS aims to improve reliability systemwide (July 1, 2015)
Floresville ISD adopts $39M budget (July 1, 2015)
Floresville keeps city manager, 'extravaganza' (July 1, 2015)
Free July training for business owners (July 1, 2015)
Guadalupe deputies hunt fugitive after bar fight near Seguin (July 1, 2015)
H-E-B recalls burger buns (July 1, 2015)
La Vernia approves $26M-plus budget (July 1, 2015)
Letter: Frightened aging bones (July 1, 2015)
Meeting Watch: Falls City City Council (July 1, 2015)
Miles Svoboda earns saddle in chute dogging event (July 1, 2015)
New battalion commander recalls Floresville roots (July 1, 2015)
Nixon residents respond to shooting with prayer (July 1, 2015)
Parkside Homes wins planning and zoning approval (July 1, 2015)
Scam email: Pay up or die (July 1, 2015)
Skloss retires after four decades with Karnes Electric (July 1, 2015)
Tanker, tow truck crash on U.S. 181 (July 1, 2015)
Tour vintage aircraft at Stinson Municipal Airport (July 1, 2015)
Traps to avoid after graduation (July 1, 2015)