Monday, May 28, 2012

Was the Maersk Texas Incident a Pirate Attack?

Maersk Texas

gcaptain has reported an attack by pirates on the Maersk Texas. According to the report the attacking  pirates were either driven off by the embarked security team or by the Iranian Navy.

There a a few oddities about this incident - this is one:
vessel’s master reported to authorities that assailants’ observed physical features resembled those of Somali pirates.

A couple trips back we were transiting the  GOA/HOA area and I asked the second mate what he thought was meant by the term "suspicious vessel".  His reply was,  according to our embarked security  team, a suspicious craft is a white skiff with skinny black men in it - it was meant as a joke, at the expense of the security team.

Some security teams are not as experienced at sea as you'd think and some team members do not have a sophisticated world view. For example I've noticed that some  have a very simple method of determining if a skiff is a threat of not. Skiffs in sight of land are fisherman, skiffs out of sight of land are pirates.

Waters that are high risk for piracy also often  have a large number fisherman using the same type skiffs  as pirates. Most of the skiffs have skinny black men in them. It's not the way to determine if a skiff is a threat or not.

Neither is distance offshore a good guide. Somalia fisherman take skiffs well offshore to fish. For some reason this idea is sometimes difficult to communicate. A previous post -Identifying Pirate Skiffs in the Gulf of Aden is here.

One trick to making an incident-free passage  is to avoid getting close to any vessel during the  transit. When carrying an embarked security team the minimum   passing distance from  skiffs should be about twice the effective range of a AR-15. If your team has weapons with greater range the passing distance should be increased accordingly.  The master has final say with regards to use of deadly force but a boat out of range can neither harm or be harmed.

Another oddity is the location.

The position of the attack was given as "position 25:29 N – 057:16 E, approximately 28 nm west-southwest of Bandar-e-Jask" (my convenient chart of the Straits of Hormuz includes this position -  here)

As far as I know no other attacks have been reported that close to the Straits of Hormuz although there have been reports of suspicious craft. This area has a lot of small craft activity, including small fishing vessels, smugglers are also frequently seen in the area as well using high speed skiffs.

That's not to say it wasn't a pirate attack  However  according to Bloomberg the EU anti-piracy force the EU NAVFOR is not buying it:

The European Union’s counter-piracy force said it had reviewed the incident and determined there was “no case of piracy and it’s a false alarm,”
Obviously I don't know what occurred during the Maersk Texas incident but based on what I've seen so far my money is on EU NAVFOR - looks to me that there is a high probability this  is a  false alarm.



Reid Sprague said...

Thanks for the link to your earlier post regarding pirate skiff ID - excellent, and illustrates the difficulty, especially when contemplating use of deadly force.

I also wonder about the efficacy of "warning shots" - it's pretty noisy in an outboard skiff. Read a good article about use of LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) here: (free signup required) along with other actions that should be taken prior to, and after use of, deadly weapons. Good discussion of EOF.

Appreciate your first-hand viewpoint and well-written posts! I was over there in the late 1970s, well before piracy became a problem - we didn't even think about it near Africa, although we did rig fire hoses once going through the Strait of Malacca. I was on a slow, old, low freeboard jumboized T-2 - we'd have been easy prey! But nothing happened.


K.C. said...


Thanks for your comments. I agree about the warning shots. Some teams are using flares which I think would be effective. Don't know about the LRAD. I've been told that one problems is it is unwieldy, hard to shift from wing to wing for example.

Liz said...

I know this happened months ago but accord to those on the ship, they said it was a pirate attack. My boyfriend the third engineer on board at the time said that around lunch time he saw several small skiffs coming towards the ship through a window. At which time he heading back to his room to get his emergency provisions. On his way to his room they sounded the alarm that the security team needed to go to the bridge and all non essential personnel were to go to the safe or what they called the citadel. They treated it like a pirate attack and if you ask anyone on board it was a pirate at that was avoided. Unfortunately with him being in the citadel, he doesn't know what the security had done.