How to Fight Pirates

Pirates have recently emerged from history books to breaking news and the question people often ask is why aren't ships crews armed? To find out Rod Rice spoke with a local maritime expert.

While international law allows ships to defend themselves, Dan Pipitone, an attorney with the Houston office of Chamberlain Hrdlicka who says and armed conflict may not be a fair fight.

"These pirates aren't just a group of fellas who got together at the bar or local pub and decided to go out and get on a speed boat and pirate a ship.  Many of them, especially in Somalia are very well trained."

Most crew members do not have extensive military training and would likely be at a disadvantage in an armed conflict.  There is also the chance for a huge environmental disaster should a ship be damaged or sunk. No, Pipitone says the best defense against piracy is to prevent it.

"There's a U.S. military substance that becomes very slippery, and they're actually coating the exterior of the vessel with this substance. And, if they see a piracy act about to occur they actually then coat the decks of the vessel and it's impossible to walk on the vessel or impossible to board the vessel. So, that's one deterrent affect. It sounds kind of silly, but it actually works. Another devise they're using is an electrical fencing around the hull of the vessel, and so once they electrify it, then if someone tries to board the vessel unlawfully, then they are deterred that way."

Another deterrent is a device that emits sound waves that are impossible for people to withstand, thus forcing pirates to turn back.

Deterrence is probably even better than catching pirates, because of the jurisdictional problems that an apprehension would trigger.

"You can have a vessel that is flagged under one nation. You could have the act of piracy occur in international waters for which there is no sovereign. You could then have those pirates taken into a particular port of a nation— Which laws would then apply?"

Pipitone says an increased military presence is having an affect, but a broader, long range solution is to eliminate the conditions that foster pirates. Those are an unstable political climate that allows pirates to return to a place that will not prosecute them and hopeless poverty that in an incubator for lawlessness.

Bio photo of Rod Rice

Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...