Back to previous post: The Hutaree Militia bust

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Open thread 138

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

April 1, 2010

As the lighthouse said to the aircraft carrier
Posted by Teresa at 11:53 AM *

I could wish this were a bizarre April Fool’s joke instead of an almost unbelievable screwup, but it’s real: this morning, about half an hour past midnight, in international waters just west of the Seychelles, three Somali pirates in a skiff attempted to seize the U.S.S. Nicholas (FFG 47), an Oliver Hazard Perry-class Navy frigate.

Versions: The Straits Times gives more context. NPR has a photo of the Nicholas. The Pentagon’s DVIDS site has the actual report posted by Chief Petty Officer Michael Lewis of the Nicholas, so they win:

USS Nicholas captures suspected pirates

INDIAN OCEAN, At Sea — USS Nicholas captured suspected pirates on Thursday after exchanging fire, sinking a skiff, and confiscating a suspected mother ship.

While operating west of the Seychelles in international waters, Nicholas reported taking fire at 12:27 a.m. local time from a suspected pirate skiff and returned fire before commencing pursuit of the vessel until the disabled skiff stopped.

At 1:59 a.m. personnel from Nicholas boarded the disabled skiff and detained three personnel. The boarding team found ammunition and multiple cans of fuel on board.

After taking the suspected pirates on board, Nicholas sank the disabled skiff at 2:59 a.m. An additional two suspected pirates were captured on the confiscated mother ship.

The suspected pirates will remain in U.S. custody on board Nicholas until a determination is made regarding their disposition.

“I know it was dark, but what were they thinking?” Jim said to me on AIM. “I’m sure the OOD thought it was an April Fool’s joke. Like, pinching the bridge of his nose, shaking his head, and saying, ‘You’re kidding, right?’

Me: “They went after it with a SKIFF?”

Jim: “They weren’t too good at silhoutte recognition? Saw running lights, the vessel was moving slowly, and they made a big tactical error.” He added, “Fig-sevens mount a 76mm OTO Melera. Which is the Navy’s only water-cooled gun. Water-cooled because it fires so darned fast. It’s essentially a 3” machinegun.”

Me: “How big a monster can you take out with one of those? Would you win a fight with Godzilla?”

Jim: “You could disassemble Godzilla at a range of seven miles.”

Comments on As the lighthouse said to the aircraft carrier:
#1 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:49 PM:

Darwin Award candidates, definitely.

#2 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:50 PM:

What's the ship in the image on the Straits times page? ( http://www.straitstimes.com/STI/STIMEDIA/image/20100401/uss.afp.jpg ) That doesn't look like what Navy ships used to look like.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:52 PM:

Tony: Not yet. They're still alive, and I assume they're still in possession of all their bits, though those may still be hiding inside their body cavities.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:52 PM:

It would be an April Fools story if the pirates won.

* * *

A dark little beast inside of me hopes to see some video of this posted on YouTube. Titled "Stupid Pirate Tricks."

#5 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:55 PM:

Pirate #1:
Turn her around.

Pirate #2:
???

Pirate #1:
I said turn her around! And turn the throttle all the way up.

Pirate #3:
You're going to attack them?!

Pirate #4:
Sir, the odds of surviving a direct assault on an American Navy freighter . . .

Pirate #1:
Shut up!

#6 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:56 PM:

I guess they grow some pretty intense ganja in Somalia.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:56 PM:

Eric, that's the USS Independence, LCS-2, as in Littoral Combat Ship. Have some diagrams.

I think the Straits Times used it as a stock photo.

#8 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:57 PM:

Why sink the skiff, rather than take it in tow or otherwise confiscate it for later disposal? Would its value (damaged) be so low that it was better to dump it (pollution!) than to save it?

#9 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:58 PM:

Obi-Wan Kenobi: That's no moon ... it's a space station!
Han Solo: It's too big to be a space station!
Luke Skywalker: I have a very bad feeling about this.

#10 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:59 PM:

It's the philosophy of spiders spinning a web across a human trail -- we've only got to catch one, and we're set for life!

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:02 PM:

Joel, I suspect the skiff took damage when the Nicholas returned fire.

You know, I'm not sure it's even possible to tow a skiff at the Nicholas's normal operating speed

#12 ::: Marko Kloos ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:06 PM:

Not a Navy *freighter*, a Navy *frigate*. As in, a well-armed warship. Warship, as in "built to break stuff".

#13 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:08 PM:

The Independence is an interesting ship -- and only commissioned for 2 1/2 months so far. Lots from wikipedia.

#14 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:10 PM:

USN frigates have that handy 76mm autocannon, and I believe they've been retrofitted with a lot more infantry-sized weapons to stop small boats.

Things like .50 caliber MG's that can be mounted on the railings, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, and probably a few shoulder fired rockets as well.

Plus, the latest upgrade to the Phalanx allows it to fire on small surface targets. I don't know if they ever got the Bushmaster CIWS but that would be even more handy, since it's a 40mm gun instead of the Phalanx's 20mm.

Yeah, the pirates were stupid and apparently have bad ship recognition skills. They attacked a Dutch warship a few weeks ago with similar results.

#15 ::: Marko Kloos ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:14 PM:

Of course, the fact that a frigate looks nothing like a freighter, and in fact can't be mistaken for anything *but* a surface combatant, makes it three times as amusing.

Guess they don't teach warship recognition at the Somali Pirate Academy. You'd figure the big gun turret, radar dish, anti-submarine warfare helicopter, and other assorted war-making gear would sort of give it away.

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:15 PM:

Could this be some kind of mouse-that-roared strategy? That is, Somalia is such a shithole that they're better off in a Navy brig, a US prison, or even Gitmo?

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:23 PM:

Frigate frigate frigate.

#18 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:24 PM:

There's something weirdly grand about it. "I am a gnat! Fear Me! Tremble at my awesome po--ooooops! Ow! No, stop that!"

Sounds like some of the interactions I see at the dog park, like when the Boston terrier decided to put a Mastiff in his place. The Mastiff suffered the herding and barking for a little while, then reached out with one of his huge paws, put the paw on the Boston's head, and pressed the little dog (still barking) to the ground. No malice on the part of the Mastiff; mostly ennui.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:26 PM:

It was just my fingers doing autocomplete in a moment of distraction. I know the difference between a frigate and a freighter.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:28 PM:

John L, do you have a link for that Dutch warship story?

#21 ::: Marko Kloos ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:31 PM:

(By "three times as amusing", I meant the pirate mis-identification of their intended quarry, not your autocomplete typo, just in case you got the impression.)

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:32 PM:

This confirms that Reality can get away with things that Fiction can't. Try writing a story where Harry Mudd's rustbucket goes after a Klingon warship and see what the editor will say.

#24 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:35 PM:

Wait. Are we sure the pirates are from Somalia and not from Grand Fenwick?

#25 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:36 PM:

Apparently, the Dutch are being responsible sport fishermen and have adopted a catch-and-release policy.

#26 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:37 PM:

Since the USS Cole bombing, the Navy is quite right to be wary of small craft.

#27 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:37 PM:

Do we blame this on the abuse of khat, or just poor visibility and lack of experience in the identification of sea-going vesels?

#28 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:37 PM:

"It is my duty, as a pirate, to tell you that you are too tender-hearted. For instance, you make a point of never attacking a weaker party than yourselves, and when you attack a stronger party you invariably get thrashed." ---Pirates of Penzance

#29 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:40 PM:

Marko Kloos at #21:

I momentarily misread "three times as amusing"

as "the times they are amusing" which I imagine as being a Bob Dylan parody about how we live in interesting times.

#30 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:43 PM:

Penzance, like Somalia, is a pointy horn of land that you have to go around to get into a strait, thereby being an excellent spot for pirate ambushes.

#31 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:48 PM:

rm @5: Pirate #1 final line should be:

"Never tell me the odds..."

#32 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 02:14 PM:

@ #17 - The Nicholas has the Phalanx CIWS. Might not be Godzilla class, but it's still scary as hell to imagine it firing on the pirates. Possibly more lethal to a skiff than the bigger gun.

#33 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 02:30 PM:

I keep reading FFG as FFS (textualy not safe for work.)

In context, it almost works.

#34 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 02:31 PM:

Here's a link to the incident. Sounds like Somali pirates have eyesight issues.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/28/piracy-somalia-dutch-navy

#35 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 02:34 PM:

OK, the Nicholas appears to have more traditional lines, but those trimaran things look like they ought to be in space. I had no idea the Navy was so advanced!

#36 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 02:39 PM:

The Vulcan/Phalanx CIWS has many, many problems.

#37 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 02:45 PM:

What the pirates may need is glasses.

I can't tell the difference between a horse and a cow past 20 feet. After that it's just large blob moving.

I might manage the difference between a freighter and a frigate - but only because I know that most freighters (at least the ones I see) aren't painted Navy grey.

#38 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 03:10 PM:

...most freighters (at least the ones I see) aren't painted Navy grey.

In the dark all ships are grey.

#39 ::: DanieL ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 03:12 PM:

To be fair to the pirates, it was midnight. Ship recognition is a different thing when it's pitch dark. The story might be pretty laughable on the face of it, but Somali pirates are no fools.

#40 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 03:23 PM:

Yes, it was the middle of the night, but it was also a full moon.

Moonrise was at 8:21 PM and moonset was at 9:03 AM the next morning.

#41 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 03:35 PM:

Mattathias, #25: That bothers me. Couldn't they at least have hauled the pirates in for trial and incarceration? Letting them go to try again just seems shortsighted to me.

#42 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 03:51 PM:

I am surprised to discover there are OHPs still in commission.

Lee @41 --

As I understand it, the legal status of the Somali pirates is unclear, and the Dutch have a policy of not following the practice of hanging at the yardarm. So as there's not any custody to remand them into, letting them go is about the only option available.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 03:56 PM:

Also, the Somalis dumped all their weapons and boarding gear over the side before the Dutch caught up with them.

#44 ::: Rick York ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 04:07 PM:

"Once there was a little old ant. Thought he'd move a rubber tree plant. Everyone knows an ant can't move a rubber tree plant."

Sometimes conventional wisdom is right.

Then, of course, there are Hobbits.

#45 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 04:11 PM:

The Somali pirates may be some combination of:

a) desperate
b) stupid
c) ignorant
d) uneducated/unsophisticated
e) testoterone-poisoned
f) not-much-giving-a-shit

There was a seagoing vessel, they attacked....

It bothers me a lot that the why of the piracy goes generally unattended.

Sinking the skiff means one fewer platform for pirate attacks, reducing the resources availabe to pirates and would-be pirate.... catch and release for undesirable predators and their equipment, is not a bright idea....

There are people who given a free choice and options for livelihoods, where there are viable choices, who have some amount of education, and options, will choose to be predators -- the James Bulgers and Kevin Weeks and Karl Roves and Dick Cheneys and such of the world. Others turn out like Bill Gates. Then there are those whose choices evaporate--Rajiv Ghandhi was happier I suspect as an airline pilot than being forced into politics, likewise I suspect that Bashir Assad would have been a lot happier allowed to treat patients and help them than being made into a Ba'athist figure head head of Syria.

In Somalia I suspect there aren't a whole lot of good options for livelihood.... and until the situations that make piracy look attractive change, the piracy will continue. There are different way that the situation could change--some of them are bloodier than other....

#46 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 04:15 PM:

Rick York @44: Yes, but no self respecting hobbit would be caught that far out to sea, being not fond of water.

However, the state of the world being what it is, and hard times reaching even the Shire, if it came to it, a party of Hobbits would probably manage to take the ship, and not even spill any ale in the process. What they'd do with it, well, that's another matter entirely.

#47 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 04:29 PM:

"In Somalia I suspect there aren't a whole lot of good options for livelihood.... and until the situations that make piracy look attractive change, the piracy will continue."

Which is why certain people have argued that treating pirates lightly at the start of things isn't doing anyone any favors. If piracy is seen to have serious consequences right at the outset, it doesn't become the major industry. But if the consequences are light, then it flourishes, and you've eventually got a real problem.

As to Somalia... well. I don't have any ideas. I suspect they don't either.

#48 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 04:30 PM:

Graydon #42: As I understand it, the legal status of the Somali pirates is unclear, and the Dutch have a policy of not following the practice of hanging at the yardarm. So as there's not any custody to remand them into, letting them go is about the only option available.

From what I understand, both France and Belgium exert universal jurisdiction for naval piracy. That's who the Somali pirates can be handed over to.

#49 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 04:31 PM:

JohnL @14 They attacked a Dutch warship a few weeks ago with similar results.

Oboyoboy, one more and we've got ourselves a movement!

#50 ::: Tom S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 05:11 PM:

Pericat @49. It's already happened. Last year, a group of pirates attacked the French frigate Nivose. Eleven more pirates nabbed.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2009/0503/somali-pirates-nabbed-trying-to-attack-french-navy-by-accident

More recently, pirates also tried to attack a French supply ship that happened to be the headquarters of the French patrol operations and base for their naval special forces. More understandable, since La Somme does look a bit like a merchant ship. Sort of. If you squint a bit.

http://www.cleveland.com/world/index.ssf/2009/10/somali_pirate_error_ends_with.html


I understand that the French mostly hand their captured pirates over to Kenya, which has agreed to prosecute.

#51 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 05:19 PM:

In re "Catch and release," I believe that there is some politial pressure in some nations that pirates *not* be retained for trial and incarceration, because there may be issues for getting the criminals *out* of the "host" nation after their sentences are over (assuming that the death penalty isn't imposed, of course) because the newly-released might successfully claim asylum.

However, bear in mind that, 'though it may appear a Hobson's Choice to some, assuming that the personell were not press-gannged, the turn to piracy *is* a choice. And a fairly renumerative one.

In this country we treat someone who, in financial desperation, robs a bank and kills someone as still a criminal, and depending on jurisdiction, be liable to a sentence of death.

That said, the lines of a modern warship really do *not* resemble the lines of a freighter.

It really appears that, in this case, the question: "What were they thinking?" is best answered by a phrase a lawyer I know likes to use: "Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence."

#52 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 05:19 PM:

#47 B.
There is a stick--or in this particular case, guns, rifles, and missiles. However, there is no carrot for good behavior....

The pirate problem in that area isn't all that new, a friend knows an MD who one of the people who successfully fought off a pirate attack against the yacht she was on with a rifle, shooting the pirates.

But, still, so long as there aren't alternatives which are both more appealing and less unappealing, the piracy attempts will continue.

The cost/benefit equation for piracy isn't usually a standalone independent equation. The risks include getting caught, but unless the would-be pirate believes they're going to get caught and/or killed, the benefits look like they'll exceed the costs--particularly if there aren't a lot of ways of earning a living otherwise.

#53 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 05:26 PM:

Jim Mcdonald @40: Full moon here was bright enough for me to read by, so they should have been able to make out more than just her running lights...unless...does anyone know what the weather conditions were there?

#54 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 05:26 PM:

Jim Mcdonald @40: Full moon here was bright enough for me to read by, so they should have been able to make out more than just her running lights...unless...does anyone know what the weather conditions were there?

#55 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 06:10 PM:

It is only a matter of time before someone brings up Chana Joffe-Walt's reporting at NPR on the economics of piracy, "Pirates Have Timesheets" and "After A Pirate Negotiation, A Personal Connection."

Oh. It was me. Now.

#56 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 06:11 PM:

Weather map for the area shows clear.

#57 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 06:23 PM:

Paula @45: a word of warning - to the average Brit, "James Bulger" means a two year old who was tortured to death, not whoever you were thinking of. That name is an infelicitous example of predator-by-choice.

#58 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 06:41 PM:

Memo to pirates:

If you challenge a ship that's too big, it
is likely you'll go to the brig. It
is not very wise
to yell, "Reach for the skies!"—
you're better off saying, "Oh, frigate."

#59 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 06:49 PM:

Julia Jones @57

For Americans James Bulger is "Whitey" Bulger, who fought the Patriarcas for control of the Boston underworld in the 80's and 90's and is currently the oldest person to have ever been on the FBI's most wanted.

But I can see how that other James might be more prominent for people who don't (like me) live a few blocks from Whitey's old stomping grounds.

#60 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 06:50 PM:

The "Bulger" Paula is referring to is better known as Whitey Bulger, a Boston-area organized crime figure. He hasn't been seen since 2002.

#61 ::: BunkerBill ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 06:53 PM:

These Pirates have never seen a copy of Jane's Fighting Ships or any other book for that matter. They crap in a hole in the ground and probably think that ships are powered be Jinn.

#62 ::: BunkerBill ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 06:53 PM:

These Pirates have never seen a copy of Jane's Fighting Ships or any other book for that matter. They crap in a hole in the ground and probably think that ships are powered be Jinn.

#63 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 07:15 PM:

Crapping in a hole in the ground is a neat trick when you're at sea.

#64 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 08:03 PM:

Lee @41 et al: Does anybody have any hard numbers on total quantity of pirates and equipment? I suppose it's overly optimistic to think that an aggressive catch & release policy might lead to sinking all the skiffs available to piracy. It would make an amusing picture though; would-be pirates standing on the shore looking menacing.

#65 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 08:08 PM:

Q. Pheevr #63: Crapping in a hole in the ground is a neat trick when you're at sea.

Not atoll.

#66 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 08:48 PM:

Comment by a relative who was a career USN officer: You have to give them high marks for "spunk"!...but not much for brains

#67 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 09:32 PM:

PJ Evans@66:

Comment by a relative who was a career USN officer: You have to give them high marks for "spunk"!.

Lou Grant:... and I hate spunk!

#68 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 10:03 PM:

I understand they used to commit their piracies just off the Somalian coast, but have now been forced to move further out to sea. If that means they're moving out of shallower waters, they may still be assimilating the idea that some ships are way too big for them to take on.

#69 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 10:23 PM:

68
Or way too well armed. Or have crew who aren't necessarily asleep in the middle of the night, and are well-armed. (Said relative wants to know who shot first.)

#70 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 10:58 PM:

It's not clear to me, from the reports, that the pirates did try to seize the Nicholas. All it says is that the frigate "reported taking fire at 12:27 a.m. local time from a suspected pirate skiff and returned fire before commencing pursuit of the vessel". Which seems, to me, to be consistent with a number of scenarios. Might it not be that the Nicholas had already (correctly) identified the skiff as suspicious and moved to investigate, causing the pirates to panic and open fire?

Based on what I've heard about pirates in the Malacca Strait, the usual procedure is to sneak a boarding team onto the target vessel unobserved and try to take the crew by surprise before they can mount a defence or radio for help. Opening fire from the water would not seem to make any sense in this context. But perhaps the Somalis use different tactics.

#71 ::: Sean Kiley ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 12:49 AM:

@Jim #36: CIWS stands for three things, according to the FCO I worked for: "Close-in Weapons System", "'Cause it works sometimes" and "Christ/Captain It Won't Shoot"

Rest assured, if they'd wanted to turn those pirates into a red smear on the ocean the CIWS, if operational, is the way to go.

#72 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 01:59 AM:

It's been a while since the last time I heard any news about the Somalis who were trying to punish Europeans for overfishing their territorial waters.

#73 ::: Omicron ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 02:44 AM:

NOBODY.... NObody "disassembles" Zilla. Have some respect for the major monsters, please.
Harrumph.

#74 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 06:16 AM:

The problem for modern Navies, faced by pirates, is that their crews are no longer the press ganged sweepings of dockside bars and, frankly, the prize money on a pirate skiff is pretty derisory. No glory and no loot: What Would Nelson Think?

(Not quite glory, but what status to officers and crew earn?)

#75 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 06:41 AM:

@74--

"No glory and no loot: What Would Nelson Think?"

nelson would think that england expects that every man will do his duty.

#76 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 07:01 AM:

Dave Bell @ 74... What Would Nelson Think?

While hiding in an airduct of his submarine because an angry clown with an automatic pistol is looking for him? He'd think that the imagination of Irwin Allen's writing staff knows no bounds.

#77 ::: mirrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 07:30 AM:

I find it interesting that no one has observed that the OHP class frigate can present a very non-military appearance unless details of the ship's fitting can be discerned, unlikely on a dark night. I have a feeling that they saw what looked like an easy target and didn't think that ship designers would do things like place a warship's most recognizable feature, the gun turret, amidships on top of the superstructure instead of on the bow or stern. If you're not actually looking for that, you're likely to think the ship unarmed except at close range... and by the time you can see the ship's big "I'm a navy ship" hull number on the bow... it's a bit too late to turn around.

#78 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 09:26 AM:

I personally believe in releasing all pirates within 48 hours of their capture.

At sea.

Not less than 200 miles from land.

#79 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 09:27 AM:

Also, there's an age old tradition of pirates (and legitimate naval personnel at an earlier date) getting totally off their faces on the local intoxicant of choice before going into action. I'm not sure what the local intoxicant of choice is on the Somali coast, but I'm betting it doesn't enhance your judgment.

#80 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:11 AM:

Ah, the CIWS!

"Underway. Shift colors. CASREP my CIWS."

It isn't true that the CIWS has never shot down an aircraft. It has shot down an A-6 that was towing a target sleeve. Other than that, it will identify as hostile and attempt to take under fire the rotor blades of the helicopter bringing the ice cream and mail, the galley fan on the ship beside you in formation, and civilian airliners on landing or take off.

But! The CIWS has faced a hostile missile threat! During the first Gulf War, 1991, a group consisting of USS Jarrett, USS Missouri, and HMS Gloucester were targeted by an Iraqi Silkworm missile. Missouri fired chaff. Jarrett's CIWS took the chaff cloud under fire, with rounds striking Missouri, but totally missing the actual inbound hostile cruise missile. The Silkworm itself was splashed by counter-missile fire from HMS Gloucester.

#81 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:25 AM:

@80--

yeah, but jim: that chaff can be dangerous stuff. what if the chaff had turned on them, maybe even started chaffing them? isn't it better just to shoot it first, and ask questions later?

oy. that's a very depressing story. that's a very expensive weapons system, with all sorts of promise. must have really bummed people out when it failed so superbly.

#82 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:30 AM:

Mirrin --(# 77)

I'm curious, just what commercial vessal shares the same size and silhouette of the FFG 47?

I should think the raydomes, the honking big radar dish, the gun turret amidships and the helicopter might make someone take notice.

Now I'm not a sailor, nor any sort of "expert" on ship outlines (not even in the blogosphere), but even *I* would not think this was any sort of commercial craft.

(and seriously, to "BunkerBill" who claims they "never read a book," I, for one, would appreciate a little moderation in posting, please? To, me, at least, it isn't funny)

#83 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:35 AM:

77
I'd think that the rake on the bow would clue them in that it's not a nice slow-moving freighter.

Spunk, yes, but brains, not so much.

#84 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:38 AM:

What the pirates needed was Eric Cartman on their side.

#85 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:46 AM:

Craig R @82 --

That link is to a perfect back lit shot from well above sea level.

From lower, in the dark, it's easy enough to miss the masts, and if the helo is in the hangar, you've got a very cargo-ship block/boxy superstructure. (It's not easy to see a 76mm gun barrel; it's not obvious even in that shot. And without the barrel, the gun house is just a bump that could be a bunch of things.)

And yes, the bow rake is a hint, but it's only a hint from well abeam; from the sounds of things, the pirates were well ahead.

#86 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:57 AM:

B Dubin #47:

Yeah, this is a common pattern. Almost any criminal enterprise is easier to keep from starting up than to get rid of once it's going. Once you get thousands of people making a living at something, established business networks and connections, etc., the broad criminal enterprise keeps going even as you make it harder. See the history of spamming, carding and identity theft, satellite TV hacking, etc., for examples.

#87 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 11:01 AM:

Back in the day, I'd have been able to identify an Fig-Seven from over the horizon with just the mast from the yard up showing -- but then, I'd had a lot of expensive training and a lot of motivation.

A moonlit night is just as good as daylight for recognition.

But I'm not getting the impression that the pirate skiff was well ahead of Nicholas. I'm getting the impression from the stories that the pirates were close aboard on one of the quarters.

#88 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 11:11 AM:

@87--

she might very well pass for a fig-43, in the dusk, with the light behind her!

#89 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Mr Gilliam, Mr Cleese, Mr Palin, to the white courtesy telephone, please...

"Nobody expects the U. S. Navy..."

#90 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 12:52 PM:

Earl Cooley III, #65 — I stand corrected.

kid bitzer, #88 — Nice!

#91 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 01:17 PM:

I keep thinking this whole scenario isn't far off from a scene out of Snow Crash or Zodiac. "Isn't Neal Stephenson writing this screenplay?"

#92 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 01:27 PM:

#85 ::: Graydon

It would seem to be prudent about what ship you were going to try to capture before advancing.

And, given that there seens to be significant sharing of information among the different groups, the knowledge that this sort of mis-identification has happened in the recent past should have put a certain amount of caution into their approaches.

#93 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 03:42 PM:

#92: Pirates are not generally known for their prudence.

#94 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 03:45 PM:

@90--

thanks, q. pheevr. i was pretty sure there'd be other savoyards around here. and the fact that ships take feminine pronouns was just gravy from the navy.

loved your limerick at #58, by the way.

#95 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 04:06 PM:

Craig @ 82: With the helo tucked away in the hangar, and viewing the ship from a low angle (such as a skiff), the general profile kinda-sorta vaguely resembles a large trawler or fish catcher/processor. (Especially to someone whose knowledge of various vessel types is entirely empirical, and external to the international commercial portion of the industry.) There is also an extremely vague resemblance to the type of small, obsolete breakbulk tramp steamer of dubious provenance that occasionally shows up in the news, after being stopped and searched for illicit munitions shipments . . .

Someone who had difficulty estimating sizes and distances at sea might even interpret a quarter view of an FFG as a car carrier, though I think that's stretching it a bit.

#96 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 04:13 PM:

95
It's difficult to estimate size when you don't have something to refernce it to - birdwatchers know about this, because it's hard to tell if 'that bird in the sky over there' is small and close or if it's larger and farther away. I can see it being a problem on the ocean, especially at night.

#97 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 04:16 PM:

@96--

especially with frigate-birds.

#98 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 04:18 PM:

97
(OWWWW!)

#99 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 04:22 PM:

kid bitzer @ 97: Yes, if the viewer is particularly gull-ible.

#100 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 05:23 PM:

99
I think I'll de-murre on topping that.

#101 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 05:31 PM:

I'll be on the foreshore waiting my tern in this pun-fest.

#102 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 05:35 PM:

Is that wise? Foreshore-terning can have such a distorting effect.

#103 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 06:28 PM:

Work has kept me so busy today that I've been mizzen out on the puns.

#104 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 07:40 PM:

If the puns cause even Serge to jib . . .

#105 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 07:49 PM:

Is it too late to duck?

#106 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 07:52 PM:

This is probably my third most favorite Making Light comment thread ever.

I was already sniggering by the end of the post but now people are starting to look at me and wondering how a black on grey website could possibly be so amusing.

#107 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:47 PM:

My favorite pun in this vein was allegedly written by Herb Caen after the commander of the aircraft carrier Enterprise got his ship stuck in the shallows of San Francisco Bay. "He grounds the warship he walks on."

#108 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:52 PM:

Never mind.

#109 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2010, 10:56 PM:

I think it's a matter of us all being t'gallant.

#110 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2010, 12:04 AM:

P. J. Evans #96: It's difficult to estimate size when you don't have something to reference it to

Rangitoto, the (dormant to extinct) baby1 volcano in Auckland harbor is a nice example of this. It is clearly volcano-shaped and occupies a fair chunk of the horizon, much like Mt Rainier from Seattle. Mt Rainer is 14000ft high and nearly a hundred miles from Seattle. Rangitoto is 860ft high and close enough that sufficiently masochistic people kayak to it. The only real sign than Rangitoto is so close is that you can see individual trees on its skyline if you have good vision.

--
1 By volcano standards, that is. Even a small volcano can ruin your whole day if you're standing in the wrong place.

#111 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2010, 12:29 AM:

Thomas, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed that laugh.

#112 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2010, 09:24 AM:

I'm just waiting to hear contributions to the bird pun-fest by one of our somewhat contrarian regular posters...but out of deference to Serge I will not name the gentlebeing.

#113 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2010, 01:00 PM:

in re estimating distances at sea -- aren't these people supposed to be experienced sailors and be aware of that difficulty?

Although I will admit that the ones who attacked the French special forces ship may have the excuse of a case of kind-of mistaken identity -- at least the superstructure on *that* ship had what could look like cargo booms.

Yes, from a distance.

And, yes, if you squint.

A lot

(A lot of squinting, that is)

#114 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2010, 02:40 PM:

By the way, the title of this post refers to an old joke that nearly drives me frantic any time I hear it.

The actual conversation, if any such conversation ever took place, would go like this:

Carrier: Vessel on my starboard bow, this is Alpha-One-Whiskey, over.

Lighthouse: Alpha-One-Whiskey, this is Mike-Five-Romeo, roger, over.

Carrier: This is Alpha-One-Whiskey, roger, out.

---------------

As if there were any humanly possible way for anyone to mistake a lighthouse's lights for a ship's lights. They're ... very different.

#115 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2010, 02:56 PM:

Jim, unpacking request for us landlubbers who a) find ships scarier than aircraft and b) know three things about ships and marine communication, those being jack, shit, and jack shit: Does M5R automatically indicate a lighthouse? Which part of it means that?

IOW how is all the necessary information conveyed in that conversation?

#116 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2010, 03:26 PM:

Xopher, those are call signs. There's a great big book of call signs. In order to find out who you're talking to, you just look on the list. It's in alphabetical order.

(Those three-letter call signs change every night at midnight Greenwich time. That's okay, because there's still a great big book that tells you who they all are.)

There are other ways that you establish who's who, very fast.

It could have gone:

Carrier: Vessel on my starboard bow, this is US Navy warship six-seven, over.

Lighthouse: Six-seven, this is Cape Hatteras Light, roger, over.

Carrier: This is Six-seven, roger out.

(67 is USS John F. Kennedy's hull number.)

or

Carrier: Vessel on my starboard bow, this us November Juliette Foxtrot Kilo, over.

Lighthouse: November Juliette Foxtrot Kilo, this is Whiskey Hotel Alpha, roger, over.

Carrier: Whiskey Hotel Alpha, this is November Juliette Foxtrot Kilo, roger, out.

Those are the international radio call signs (which don't change, ever). All US naval ships have call signs that begin with N. All US shore transmitters have call signs that begin with either W or K.

"Roger," means "I hear and understand you."

"Over" means "I'm done talking and I expect a response."

"Out" means "I'm done talking and I don't expect a response."

(Someday, I should tell you the story of one night in the Med, when I transmitted, "Vessel with female on board, this is US Navy Warship One Zero Niner Seven, say again all after 'faster, faster,' over.")

Rest easy, America! Your navy is on watch!

#117 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2010, 04:02 PM:

# 45, 57, 59, 60

It seems to have been the media which tagged James Bulger of South Boston, mastermind mobster, conscienceless murderer, and brother of William Bulger, who acted as tyrant in the Massachusetts Senate, with the nickname "Whitey."

There are a number of books out about him--he's a near classic Dark Lord, one who was successful--he had FBI protection for vile crimes upto an including serial murder. I keep wondering what blackmail evidence he may have had on J. Edgar Hoover. He corrupted the Boston FBI office and the FBI not only all the way up to the top of the FBI, but got protection from the occupant of the Oval Office 2001-2008 and Jr's Daddy, too.... and when Congress tried to get the FBI records on Bulger, the Schmuck issued a President Edict banning it.
I listed to the testimony by Billy Bulger about his brother to Congress, after certain corrupt FBI officials in Boston were gone--some deceased, others retired--and of course J. Edgar Hoover gone. Billy Bulger had the most convenient bad memory combined with some of the slickest speaking skills ever head on Capitol--he was, after all, a highly skilled career politician--and every time a Congresscitter asking him about "when have you been in contract with your brother and what did you talk about," his response was of the ilk, "I do not recall."

Getting back to the books, they're bloodchilling. I stopped reading Brutal by convicted criminal Kevin Weeks with a writer assisting at the halfway point "This is not fiction, this is real--an essentially remorseless criminal writing about his mobster years committing extortion, bribery, assault, battery, and conspiring to commit murders and bury the bodies in partnership with other remorseless violent criminals, being a loyal henchman to James Bulger. Weeks' anger is at being doublecrossed by Bulger--following Bulger's directives to never collaborate with law enforcement, to be loyal to the mob boss, to never be a "rat" -- and then Weeks discovered Bulger's career as a protected FBI resource (the word "informant" tends to not carry any denotation that the informant is gaming the system and actually making a chump out of the people paying for "information"....) and that Bulger had ratted out Weeks.

Weeks wasn't the only Bulger minion Bulger literally sold out.

My point in bringing up Bulger and Weeks though, are they they represent a side of the species where the individuals choose/chose evil and chose to be vicious, remorseless, violent, murderous predators. Billy Bulger went to Boston College, got JD, went into politics, retired from being a legislator into the political plum job of heading up the University of Massachusetts system before retiring under political criticism. His brother James tooks James' intellect to become a criminal mastermind, one who made chumps of the entire FBI and even I surmise seems to have had "adverse information" on the Bush family.... and got tipped off by the feds not only every time state and/or local law enforcement had operations planned which should have gotten Bulger, but Bulger got tipped off when the FBI finally went after Bulger on conspiracy murder, on the basis of the departure of the element whic had been protecting Bulger in the FBI, and on one of Bulger's associates whom Bulger sold out literally detailing where the bodies were buried of people Bulger and his associates had murdered.

#118 ::: Jasper Janssen ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 07:28 AM:

A Dutch frigate was recently attacked by pirates... twice in a week (different ones). And that wasn't the first time.

Somehow someone must be luring them -- maybe they're secretly and illegally radioing "rich ship in distress" or something?

#119 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 10:15 AM:

Jasper #118: More likely, they're getting desperate due to increasing trouble at home.

#120 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 10:24 AM:

Not just US, Dutch, and French. Some Somalis tried to fight the Indian frigate INS Tabar back in 2008. Apparently they actively threatened to open fire on the warship from close range, and pointed rocvket launchers at it. They seemed to know perfectly well what it was they were shouting at.

Tabar is probably just about the worst ship in the world to do that to. Its basically a slightly dated Russian missile frigate with arms systems and software upgraded by India. Like a lot of ex-Soviet naval designs its is a bit over-complex compared to UK or US ships, maybe not quite as fast or as well-put-together as as it should be (which is not to say it is at all slow or unseaworthy compared), and with too many diverse weapon systems, possibly even over-armed.

So its got three different kinds of surface-to-air missiles, two kinds of anti-ship missiles, a Russian version of the CIWS supposedly capable of 1000 rpm, anti-submarine rockets, depth charges, torpedoes, any of two or three different kinds of cruise missiles, a full complement of marines, a helicopter and a rapid-fire 100mm gun. And probably other stuff too. By NATO standards its not really well fitted for any one role. But it can sink pretty much anything afloat if it gets near enough.

And they were hunting pirates who had recently captured many Indian seafarers and killed some, so they were out for blood.

#121 ::: Michael Maggard ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 12:38 AM:

I'm just appreciating Godzilla-carnage as a unit of measurement; soon to join Boeing 747s for weight. the Statue of Liberty & Empire State Building as units of height, and of course a US Football field for distance. Next up "Mothra minutes" for how long to beat that beastie...

#122 ::: mirrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 07:36 AM:

#82: The encounter took place between 12:37am and 1:59am. Despite the near full moon, the features you cite would not have been visible except at close range. That assumes ideal visibility conditions with no chop, spray, mist, fog, etc. In most cases, the hull number would be visible (due to clear contrast) before the other features which would have clearly identified it as a military vessel. And this, again, is assuming an ideal identification angle of 90 degrees.

Of course, it seems many people are also crediting a group of 3rd world pirates with vessel identification skills, equipment and data resources equivalent to those available to well trained and equipped navy spotters. I think that very unlikely. As another poster noted, the FFG47 has a similar box-on-a-hull silhouette to countless fish processing, small container, salvage or other small commercial vessels when viewed under moderately difficult viewing conditions, such as those which would have been experiences at the hours of the encounter.

#123 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 11:45 AM:

A port quarter view of a FFG7, with about a twelve-foot height of eye.

Stern view of a FFG7, approx. 60 foot height of eye.

Port bow view of a FFG7, approx 12 ft. HOE.

Starboard bow view of a FFG7, approx 6' HOE.

Starboard quarter view of a FFG7, approx. 150 ft. HOE.

Starboard bow view of FFG7, approx. 6' HOE.

#124 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 12:44 PM:

Jim -- (# 123)

Thank you for those picture links.

To my untutored eye the only view that doesn't immmediatly scream "military" is the close-up view of the stern, and on that one, only if you ignore the strange thing that looks like a gun turret on the superstructure.

Again, lets look at some factors that really puzzle me as to why these guys attacked the frigate:
- These are supposed to be professional seamen (if the claim that they are turning to piracy because of "western nations" overfishing the local waters if true)who would have experience at judging distance and size at sea
- Fairly bright lighing conditions (full moon, no cloud cover)
- There are reports (from the comments here in ML) that there *is* information sharing going on between different groups of pirates
- Prior experience of regional pirates having tried to attack military vessels would have not been something that would be routinely ignored)
- Said prior experience would have would have been a very real reason for pirates who *didn't* want to be shot up to *learn* some vessel identification skills -- and *not* BEING BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER would seem to me to be an incentive with some urgency.

Dismissing these pirates' intelligence because they are from the "third-world" or supposdedly illiterates who "crap in a hole in the ground" is just falling into the trap of convincing yourself that "other" is "less" in intelligence or motivation

For very real examples of just how combat-effective "3rd world illiterates" can be, look at the Afghanistan area -- where there has been continuous combat against technologically more advanced occupiers since Kipling was writing, or Vietnam (again, serial "first-world" nations having troubles against insurgants/freedom-fighters)

No, pirates are *not* dumb -- they have purposely undertaken to engage in a "profession" that is both dangerous and renumerative.

WHich really makes one wonder about this propensity to *not* do things like observe the target *carefully* from a distance (as from the "mothership") rather than just up close close and personal (from a skiff *launched* from the mothership)

#125 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 03:40 PM:

The thing on the superstructure in the stern view isn't a gun mount; it's the top of the stack. The actual gun mount is forward and hidden in that shot (and to a person in a skiff, with a height of eye somewhere half-way up the freeboard of the frigate, even that would be hard to see from that angle.

#126 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 04:50 PM:

Craig R. #124: Third-worlders may be no less intelligent than Westerners... but at the same time, there's no reason to think they're any less stupid, either! We've all heard stories of Americans (and Brits too) doing some appallingly idiotic things -- both the Darwin Awards and the News of the Weird column (inter alia) get a regular gig out of such people.

And like I said, I suspect the pirates are getting increasingly desperate, as conditions deteriorate back home. The too, I imagine a fair bit of actual shipping is detouring around the area these days....

#127 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 05:51 PM:

Jim: Thanks for the explanation, and sorry that I somehow missed it until now.

#128 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2010, 08:34 PM:

This just in:

Pirates attack USS Ashland (LSD-48), with unfortunate results for the pirates.

#129 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2010, 03:58 PM:

Now, pirates have captured a cargo vessel, MV Rak Afrikana, off Somalia.

The Italian navy has dispatched ITS Scirocco, a Maestrale class frigate, to investigate.

#130 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 11:01 AM:

I think the spammers think that during a holiday week the sysops won't be around to delete stuff.

For our spammers: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=spammer+convicted+2010

#131 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 11:46 AM:

Jim @ #132

But that trick never works! (Not here, anyway, where there are eyeballs in the sky^W^W^W on the site virtually 24x7 and the Administrative Mallet permanently warmed up and ready.)

Hope you had a Merry Christmas and will have a Happy and prosperous New Year.

Cadbury.
p.s: when is the next Crossman story likely to appear?

#132 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 12:29 PM:

I'll let you know as soon as I know, Cadbury. Believe me, you won't miss the announcement.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.