EXCLUSIVE: How Cameron’s pirate guards scheme disguises a naval cuts cock-up.

Yo-ho-ho, and a rum business at the Home Office

The Prime Minister’s new anti-pirate shipping guards scheme is designed to spare the blushes of the Royal Navy….and distract the electorate from the parlous state of our defence infrastructure

The Slog has learned from senior maritime vessel management sources that the Prime Minister’s announcement about guards on merchant ships is, in reality, a clever spin exercise to mask the helplessness of the Royal Navy.

With some fanfare yesterday, David Cameron announced that ships sailing under Britain’s flag will be permitted to carry armed guards on some perilous routes to combat the threat from pirates. Cameron told the BBC that Britain would be reversing its opposition to the use of weapons aboard ships, amid mounting concern about the risks of vessels and crew being seized by pirates — particularly off Somalia’s coast.

But while the Cabinet office ‘confirmed’ that the use of weapons on British-flagged ships is banned under firearms laws, most UK flag ships travelling anywhere within range of Somalian Pirates already carry armed guards. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which comes under the Department for Transport, has turned a blind eye to the practice for the last two years.....ever since the biggest British shipping company, Zodiac Maritime Agencies, had a ship pirated. ZMA's owners, Sammy and Idan Ofer, put armed guards aboard their hundred-strong fleet immediately after having to hand over a ransom.

However, what most observers haven’t realised is that the revised operation will be under the Home Office’s wing. This is idiotic, given that – as its name suggests – the Home Office controls security in the UK, not beyond its territorial waters.

“The Home Office’s knowledge of ships could be written on a postage stamp,” one source told The Slog, “What is really going on here is that the Royal Navy will be dropping all anti-pirate duties because their gas turbine ships are too expensive to keep at sea in the area."

The reason for this is easy to explain: the sailing range of a Royal Navy destroyer at economical speed is 4,000 miles – but only if it sails at an economical speed. The standard figure for most deep sea merchant ships is five times as much.

“The cost of fuel for [Royal Navy] gas turbines means they stay in port,” a senior authority on merchant vessels told me, “The Royal Navy is so strapped for cash, it can’t even afford to practice let alone get involved in serious operations. Such patrolling as gets done is down to  the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, whose slightly more fuel-efficient ships are intended to act as tankers and general supply vessels to the Navy’s handful of remaining warships - because, being quasi-merchant ships, they have diesel engines.”

I could go into the process by which our magnificent Ministry of Defence plumped for gas turbines, but the nation’s blood pressure problem is bad enough already…so I won’t.

Effectively, David Cameron’s spin doctors have taken the hidden scandal of Royal Navy ships being expensively powered and hopelessly underfunded, and presented it as a ‘tough’ decision by the PM to take on Somali pirates. In reality, the new system is a replacement of British armed forces with vigilantes.

We get our armed guards from a bunch called MAST - ex Naval officers employing ex Marines and Paras from an office in Stansted Airport," said a person close to the situation, "This company until recently provided British armed guards for, would you believe, Iranian shipping...although Ahmadinnejhad has since put a stop to it."

 

How often, these days, the truth is stranger than fiction.

56 thoughts on “EXCLUSIVE: How Cameron’s pirate guards scheme disguises a naval cuts cock-up.

  1. We can always rely on David Cameron to do the right thing……and I see he is just raging about rising prices…..I wonder in that incluses that white stuff…you know, comes in powdered form…..flour! yes, that what I mean… the cost of bread just keep going up doesn’t it!
    Still, he’s going all out on a construcion driveI hear…maybe he’s borrowered some money from the Germans, now that they feel all flush having discovered they are £55 billion better off than they thoguht they were.

  2. This has been the practice on Israeli ship vs. Somalia for a long and successful while now. There’s also a way to perform PTOL: Point Takeoff and Landing for fixed-wing UAV which is thus suitable for existing merchant ship.
    Please respond to this email if interested.

  3. I’m afraid this has nothing to do with Navy cuts, even a 50 frigate diesel navy couldnt protexct shipping from “Somali” Pirates, a 500 frigate navy would struggle.

    There are only two solutions, there have only ever been two solutions and there will only ever be two solutions.
    Arm the ships, so a front and a rear mounted cannon, along with a small security team with small arms, any pirate attempting to seize would be outgunned and sank.
    Or attack the pirate bases, a couple of frigagtes sailing up the coast shelling the newly sprouted mansions would quickly put a stop to attacks on British Shipping.

    The East India Company chose the first, the Barbary Pirates got the second.

    Its also unfair to say the Navy is powered by gas, the T45s have a pair of diesel and a pair of gas, all feeding into electric engines, they cruise on diesel, and sprint on gas.

    Either you want a navy of warships, capable of fighting and winning wars, or you want a navy of coast guard cutters, capable of arresting smugglers, theres not any major cross over.

    Gem
    I doubt it, the RN has much stricter stability requirements than the commerical sector, so our Points are weighted down with concrete blocks.

      • As Intelligentsia said above the Israelis have been carrying armed guards for a while, anyway, “Who Dares Wins”

      • A 20mm stabilised cannon with range finder and sights could hit a skiff at 2000m

        An RPG has a range of 600m, in the hands of a professional, on dry land, in the hands of a pirate on a skiff at 40knots?

      • @TRT: Thanks, that’s good.
        Let’s hope the armed guards get a chance to use their hardware :-)

  4. Surely it is possible to lure pirates in to attacking what appear to be sitting duck targets. Merchant ships crawling around with apparently no defences. In reality these vessels will be armed to the teeth and more than capable of looking after themselves. When the pirates get close, our brave boys abandon there disguise and blow the pirates out of the water. I’ve forgotten what the naval term for this kind of operation is. Can anybody help?

      • Thanks! Are they being used in the current unpleasantness? More to the point western governments must know exactly what ports these pirates operate out of. It really wouldn’t be too difficult to put them out of action. All it would require would be a sound leadership!! Hmm on second thoughts it will probably prove to be impossible to put the pirates out of action!!

    • In WW2 there were the Q-Ships, they were anti submarine.

      The Germans had auxiliary cruisers known as Raiders, that would “dress up” as merchant ships – Pinguin & Kormoran are two that I remember reading about as a lad. Not sure if they were originally built as navy or merchant vessels.

      Or perhaps your thinking of privateer – as in Francis Drake, Henry Morgan etc

    • But when the pirates surrender, what then?
      Do you take them to England, charge them with breach of the peace, where they are bailed and never seen again?
      Or hand them over the the Somali authorities, who promptly release them.

      • Either don’t take prisoners, or if you have to, ransom them back to the Somali gangs. They could also be used for hostage exchanges.

    • Erika
      A very good question. The answer is that most of its employees are British, and other companies followed their example.
      The piece is about nothing more than Cameron pretending this is his initiative, while hiding the navy’s inability to leave port.
      Just a question of reading the piece all the way through, really.

      • Beginning to see a pattern here, John. And it’s nothing to do with not reading all the way through; really, it’s reading between the lines.

      • Erika,
        if you have the means to protect yourself you are less likely to attacked. If you are defenseless you are more likely to be attacked, simple. What´s the pattern and what´s between the lines?

    • Zodiac is a UK registered company and most Zodiac ships are registered in the UK, few if any are registered in Israel. UK registered ships fly the Red Ensign (aka Duster).

      The navies patrolling the area protect all merchant shipping not just ships carrying their home countries flag, e.g. the Indian light frigate INS Suvarna intercepted pirates attacking the UK registered, Danish owned ship Maersk Kensington in March. The pirates were captured and I think they were taken to India for trial – that could take decades :lol:

      • RP
        Correct.
        Don’t take prisoners. This is what the SAS did in Derry during 1978. Gave the IRA something to think about, that’s for sure: but this (shoot to kill) should only ever be a last resort. Pirates who care nowt for international law deserve the last resort.
        Live, die, sword etc etc.
        Erika
        Do tell me about your pattern between the lines. I’m intrigued.

  5. I would agree that the defence review was an abomination and the cuts have been disasterous. However, I do not see it as an essential part of the RN’s mandate to patrol the seven seas protecting every merchantman that decides to enter troubled waters. The user pay principle, where the merchantman buys his own defence, is preferable to loading we poor taxpayers with more redundant costs. The fact that the private sector guards are not bound by pc RN rules is another advantage. The Navy can still be there in extremis.

    • Its not generally appreciated that Britain is still a major centre for the worlds shipping industry, it employs about 16,000 people in London. About 50% of the global tanker charters and 30% of global dry goods (containers, car carriers, bulk carriers) charters are transacted in London.

      Seems to me that Britain has a real vested interest in combating piracy – much more so than bombing the next MENA cab off the rank.

  6. Too much time spent listening to lawyers. Just sink the mother ships (hopefully within the RN’s ability though I am beginning to have my doubts that they can do anything much) and ignore the lawyers. If the HR crowd get in on the act, ignore them, too.

    As for gas turbines, they were fashionable when we were still deluding ourselves about our wealth. In those days, naval architects cared nothing for running costs, preferring to concentrate on performance and rewarding their pals in the jet aircraft industry with nice juicy naval contracts. Of course they are quick and responsive, but they are also very thirsty.

    Roles are changing and maybe we can’t afford to go driving around in very high performance, very costly frigates when a couple of cheap minesweepers would do.

    • Carys
      My source’s point here (I think) is that the Navy can’t afford to blunder around doing the sort of gunboat buccaneering Cameron gets off on, because pillocks like Cameron are asking the armed services to operate on thin air.
      This is what pols always do.

    • Used for what though?
      You might as well complain your windows let in light and you cant open your walls.

      The Navy is designed around a very specific set of goals, kicking the crap out of the soviet northern fleet and being a “force for good” by bombing people we dont like.

      If you want a “coast guard” to carry out anti piracy duties, you need basing rights in the india ocean and eityher a big new budget to buy ships that are of no use in war, or you need to curtail the rest of the navy.

      The armed forces are in a mess and the SDSR was a joke, but the lack of pirate hunting ability is neither here nor there.

      • Or you outsource the task to a country that can – such as India, or Singapore.

        If Britain cannot protect one of the industries where Britain actually matters in the world then what use is Britain in the world that matters.

    • Perhaps the silliest question ever (also posed by Madeleine Albright, I believe, about the US army/air force). Why have enough nuclear weapons to annihilate mankind if they cannot be used?

      • That nuke arsenal was developed during the Cold War and MAY have been used under certain circumstances. Same situation applies today.

        Do you think if Ahmadinnerjacket dropped a nuke on the US, it wouldn’t respond in kind? Ditto to the NK loony tune, Kim Jon il.

      • the US dismantled its last bunker busting nuke just the other day ==>> http://dallasdigestforum.com/forum2/90096.html

        The bunker busting GBU-28 bombs recently shipped to Israel are conventional. BTW GeeWhiz Bush wouldn’t let the Israeli’s have them when they first asked for them in 2005, but in 2011 ObamaDontCare didn’t hesitate.

  7. Do you think that Cameron would extend this idea to law abiding people on the streets. If we could be licenced to carry arms for our own protection then the police could concentrate their efforts on criminals !

    John, please stop refering to Cameron as a pillock he is far below the level of pillock and he would be the first to agree that it is wrong to cause offence to pillocks !

    Great piece John and also the enlightening comments. Erica – get over your BBC anti Israel inspired idiocy. Israel (like it or not) is OUR only friend in the middle east. Most other countries would sit back and cheer as your favorite relations body was obliterated and torn apart by flying debris. Its about itme these Israel haters realised this !

    • BBC inspired. Let’s get real. When did you ever see an article criticising Israel on the Beeb, or any mention of its subjugation of most of the press (and several bloggers) – whether by money, threats or otherwise?

      I will leave off further discussion of this apartheid “democracy” since it is time wasted.

      • Erika
        No, no -don’t do that. Keep it up. You obviously have chosen your horse, and now you must ride it.
        As to your question, the last one I can recall was by John Simpson on Newsnight about two months ago. It was filmed in (and informed only by) Gaza and Hamas.

  8. “British-Flagged ships”

    Huh.

    How many of those are there left in the world? I went to Ireland the other day and even the P&O ferry that runs between two parts of the United Kingdom is flagged from Nassau.

    Decisions about British-flagged ships aren’t going to affect anything significant.

    Oh and btw, the way to deal with pirates is (1) sink their ships on sight, with them on board and (2) bombard (and I mean bombard, not just a token gesture) their shore bases. We knew this 200 years ago, we have not forgotten, we have just given up the means of doing it – that is to say, the Royal Navy.

  9. And so it came to pass, in view of the international commitments they had entered into and those that had to be fulfilled, that the coalition leaders decided to review their plans for defence expenditure. Could it not be done by retaining capability, but at less cost? The things those top brass guys in uniform were asking for cost a lot – more than they were prepared to budget for. And so Dave said to Nick, “Let’s pay a daytrip to my old school and see if we can get some inspiration”.

    Thus they arrived in Eton, and decided to make straight for the fives courts. As they approached their ears were assailed with the sounds of “Ouch”, “That hurt” and “Yer bastard!”.

    They found that a peashooter battle was in progress!

    On enquiring why there were so many sounds of anguish, Dave was informed by a team leader: “Well, it’s these newly designed peashooters from Yelpyergit, they produce them with a rifled tube. And these new style processed peas, they’ve got dimples like a golf ball, and when one hits a tender spot it really makes your eyes water”.

    Nick considered a moment, then said, “These would be great in Afghanistan, we could avoid bloodshed and still send the Taliban home with tears in their eyes”.

    “Hmmm, a point to consider,” said Dave, “and dried peas are much cheaper than bullets. Let’s go and see what ideas might be available for the Air Force”.

    A group was in session in the origami class. Dave explained what they were basically looking for and was pleased to hear:

    “We have created this new-fangled aircraft out of a heavier paper, almost a cardboard. Initial tests have shown that it still flies quite a way and at a high speed, and when it goes down, then it goes down like a bomb”.

    Nick`s eyes were agog! “You know what this means, Dave”, he said, “they are dual-purpose weapons. If all else fails, they are it”. Dave ruminated; “Perhaps, but even I as an aviational layman see a few defects – I think this should go to a committee for a decision. Let’s visit the folks at the boatshed and see what ideas they might have for the Navy”.

    At the boatshed Captain Keelhaul was waiting for them – news travels fast in Eton! This time Nick did the talking. “The Navy allege that they need lots of new war-canoes, but I’m sure their needs can also be met with punts. Can you help us out at all?”

    Keelhaul stroked his bushy beard, considered for a moment, then answered, “Well, the punts we have here are not ocean-going, so they would be of no use to you, but I have heard of a Gothic-looking boathouse downriver with hundreds of empty vessels that just might be what you are looking for”.

    “Really!”, said Nick, “would they be up to it?”

    “I guess so”, said Keelhaul, “the information I have is that they are impervious to anything that can be thrown at them, and they are fitted with a pair of grabbers that can bring home everything that comes before their visual sensors”.

    “Yes, yes”, said Nick, “prizes are always worth having. Do you know anything more about them, so that we can fill out some requisition forms?”

    “Well,” said Keelhaul, “it appears they have also had a bit of a name change. Unfortunately I can’t remember if the new name starts with a c, a ch or a k”.

  10. TheRagingTory is right. The RN is not and should not be designed for coastguard operations. When we are strapped for cash, building cheap patrol vessels (OPVs) is pointless. They have no war-fighting capability and consume resources which would be better used elsewhere. The Somali pirates are not a threat to UK security and the problem cannot be solved using current tactics – regardless of how many ships you deploy. The same goes for counter-narcotics operations – the responsibility of the coastguard, not the Navy.

  11. As a Master on a tanker regularly transiting through the piracy area, I truly appreciate the very professional MAST operatives. The word vigilante does not apply here.
    Number of businesses are allowed to have armed security.
    Why are we supposed to fend off kidnapping, torture and murder with fire hoses?
    There are over 600 seafarers kidnapped, imagine if they were airline pilots, but they are mostly poor schmucks from Asia so who gives a damn.
    Three guys with two riffles gives me better protection than the entire Royal Navy, the Indian Ocean is too wast of an area to be covered effectively.

    • Spot on. Private sector solutions are often cheaper, more flexible and more efficient than a public sector (i.e., RN) solution. Seems a win win choice in today’s circumstances.

  12. Surely the point of the article is that Cameron (no pillock he – too treacherous for such a benign misnomer) is presenting this as some kind of great initiative on his govt’s part in a manner that typifies the professional Political Class?

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