Piracy & Firearms: Another View

Published 17 years ago, updated 4 years ago

I was scanning your site, as I do often, and I noticed on the issue of piracy some short comments about using firearms to ward off pirates.

One good source of info on modern piracy that many who own yachts may not have ever read is an American magazine called, “Soldier of Fortune”.

“Soldier of Fortune” magazine, founded and edited by a retired US Army special forces colonel, is known as the only publication to have had a reporter on the ground the entire time during the Russian war in Afghanistan.

This magazine is of extreme interest to the yachting community because it has also run several excellent, unique, in-depth articles on modern piracy, even from some journalists that have actually travelled with the pirates on their forays. One article showed a real yacht being hit and looted. I know of no other publication that has acquired the hands-on, personal look into modern piracy that “Soldier of Fortune” has done.

One thing that the invaluable data gathered by “Soldier of Fortune” has shown is that most pirates tend to break off encounters as soon as they start to receive gunfire, or feel that they may do so. They are not in the business to get killed. If a yacht has teeth, they usually break off and find another, “softer” target – Blackbeard they are not.

Another thing that their data shows is the tactic of being defenceless and leaving yourself at their mercy is foolish. Aa time goes on, this is becoming a riskier and riskier thing to do, yet this is the main plan many on yachts have. Putting yourself at the mercy and whim of thugs, killers, and bandits and hoping they just take some cash and leave you alone is foolish and can easily be far deadlier to yourself and your crew than fighting them off. These men follow no rules except what they make up as they go.

This is the reason why in almost every pirate attack that you hear about where a yacht gets boarded, the crews were virtually defenceless, except for maybe a flare gun. Yachts that return fire with real firearms generally don’t get boarded. The train of thought of, “Don’t shoot at them, you might make them angry,” is not the wisest of paths to follow. Submission to murderous criminals is seldom a smart and productive move.

A good example is that Italian catamaran, near Venezuela if I recall, some time ago that was chased for quite a while by eight men in an open skiff brandishing rusty shotguns. The yacht had only a flare gun.

(this refers to the 2004 incident when Italian Bruno Bianchella on “Joe’s Dog” was shot and killed off Isla de Margarita)

A common hunting rifle, or even an ageing, old, $100 WWII surplus bolt action rifle could have stopped that pursuit in its tracks. The pirates’ boat, like most boats used in piracy, was small and offered virtually no protection against defensive rifle fire, especially from pretty much any common hunting rifle. Even a single, ordinary hunting rifle (bolt action or pump action) plus maybe a shotgun (pump action) onboard – both recognized around the world as civilian weapons – could have prevented such a tragedy.

A rifle is more dangerous to pirates than a shotgun as it has range and penetration. It can hole and/or disable a small boat while also hitting the pirates. A rifle gives you a defensive cordon that can be measured in hundreds of meters, depending upon visibility and sea conditions. Pirates in their typical small boats have virtually no defence against accurate rifle fire except to take evasive action and leave.

A shotgun is better for closer ranges as they try and board, and for defense, in case boarding is in the process or has already occurred. A shotgun is extremely effective at close ranges and it has a low level of penetration power – meaning that you probably won’t sink yourself if you fire it inside your boat.

In retrospect, that murdered Italian skipper might have found the extra paperwork and bureaucratic hassle, while in port, that is normally associated with having a rifle on board, to have been worthwhile after all.

The world is going through one of its periods in history where it is getting to be a more dangerous place. People are going to have to understand that and be better prepared to deal with the risks and dangers of travelling the seas during such a period.

Law enforcement agencies all too often consider piracy out of their capabilities and concerns. Piracy won’t stop until it becomes too risky to be a pirate. The only way for that to happen is for people to start defending themselves because no one else will do it for them.

An item of note: A good introductory “how-to” book that some may find interesting is “High Seas Security” by Frank Camper. It is an easy read and it is written to be understood by regular people who are not security professionals, but it is still very informative. It is generally available used on Amazon for less than $7.

Mike Rostov

[email protected]

March 2007

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