A reader who calls himself “Classical Liberal” emailed us this morning with the following suggestion for combating piracy off the coast of Somalia:
Perhaps it is time to revive the Q-ship concept. This was used in WWI to combat U-boats which were preying on allied shipping. As I recall, it was Winston Churchill’s idea.
At the time torpedoes were expensive and not very dependable, so U-boat captains preferred to surface next to a civilian ship and sink it with the sub’s deck gun. This also allowed the ship’s passengers and crew time to abandon ship in the life boats.
The Q-ships were cargo ships equipped with deck guns which were disguised so that the ship seemed like an ordinary cargo vessel. When the U-boat surfaced next to it, the stuff placed in front of the guns as a disguise was dropped and the Q-ship’s guns easily shredded the thin-hulled U-boats. Unfortunately, this caused U-boat skippers to begin using their torpedoes to sink ships with no prior warning, increasing the loss of life.
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However, I don’t see this as a problem in the case of Somali pirates. They are motivated to capture the ship and crew, not merely sink them, and haven’t any choice but to approach their target ships on the surface anyway. After a few pirate boats are chewed to pieces (along with the pirates) I think the rest of the pirates might think twice about their career path.
Does anyone know what maritime law says about armed civilian ships using deadly force to defend themselves?