Shooting to Kill Pirates Risks Blackwater Moment of High Seas
Bloomberg May 9, 2012
At first the video depicts a seemingly calm, sun-drenched sea from aboard the Avocet, until a pale blue skiff appears in the distance, cutting rapidly across the Indian Ocean toward the bulk ship’s starboard side.
After a tense radio exchange between the ship’s armed guards, who believe they’re under attack by pirates, their team leader steps through the bridge door and orders warning shots. Immediately, he and another guard fire dozens of rounds at the oncoming boat. The blaze of gunfire continues after the skiff crashes into the ship, with guards shooting down into the vessel, and as it then trails behind the Avocet.
“Second skiff coming in,” he shouts, then they turn and begin firing on the new boat, and the video ends.
At least some of the boats’ occupants were probably killed or injured, said Thomas Rothrauff, president of Virginia Beach, Virginia-based Trident Group Inc., which provided the ship’s security crew. He said the incident on March 25 last year was the second attempt to hijack the Avocet in three days. After spotting rocket-propelled grenades on the first skiff, the guards feared for their lives. The shootings were justified and the guards acted responsibly, Rothrauff said, firing warnings before aiming at the boat.
The gunfire exchange highlights a lack of rules governing the use of weapons on the high seas amid questions over how much force is legal and necessary to fight Somali piracy attacks, which targeted a record 237 ships last year. The video, presented at a shipping conference in December and leaked on the internet last month, has fueled debate over when is it acceptable to open fire — and to keep shooting
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