Can planes that tighten alone sink naval ships

Federal Army

Threats at sea: terrorism and piracy

Terrorism, as a form of asymmetrical warfare, also has a maritime component. Spectacular evidence of this is the terrorist attack on the American destroyer USS "Cole" on October 12, 2000 in the port of Aden - almost a year before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Another threat at sea comes from increasing piracy, the international merchant shipping is at serious risk, especially in Southeast Asia.

A suicide squad of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda approached the destroyer USS "Cole", which was lying on the pier in the port of Aden, in a rubber dinghy loaded with explosives and triggered a violent explosion on impact. There were 17 dead and 42 injured on the ship. In addition, the destroyer was badly damaged and was then no longer operational. This shows that not even warships - especially in ports or in roads - are safe from terrorist attacks.

On October 23, 2000, Kamikaze explosive devices operated by the terrorist organization LTTE (see box) attacked two passenger ferries. One ferry was destroyed, the other badly damaged.

A little later, on November 7, 2000, a suicide squad of the Palestinian terrorist organization "Hamas" attempted to destroy Israeli warships with an explosive device. However, the boat exploded too soon. The damage was therefore limited.

Last year an Al Qaeda cell was uncovered in Morocco that had planned suicide attacks with small, fast explosive boats against American and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar ...

Terrorists' tactics and techniques

On the high seas, ships are relatively safe from terrorist attacks. But in harbors, in roadsteads, at canal passages or in narrow channels, where their maneuverability is limited, terrorists find suitable possibilities for attacks. They either attack ships from land, use combat swimmers with explosive charges, use small, fast boats ("speed boats"), use suicide commands on explosive boats or lay down drifting mines. Suicide squads on explosive boats are the most common type of attack. Attacks against ships from the air with remote-controlled sports aircraft filled with explosives or as kamikaze cannot be ruled out either. The terrorists usually disguise themselves as fishermen and water sports enthusiasts or camouflage their ships as state ships (navy, coast guard, water police). When the cruise ship "Achille Lauro" was hijacked in 1985, they went for example. B. as tourists on board.

The technologies required to build boats, equip combat swimmers, and weapons and ammunition are available on the free world market. The proliferation of weapons, ammunition, NBC warfare agents and nuclear materials has already assumed enormous proportions after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Civilian equipment for ships, recreational divers or sports pilots can be purchased worldwide and also used for military or terrorist purposes. For example, in September 2000 the Colombian police fell into the hands of a submarine intended for the transport of drugs. It was able to transport 150 to 200 tons of cargo and had a crew of twelve.


Defense against terrorist attacks has been given particular weight in the US Navy after the "Cole" incident and the most recent attack attempts in Morocco. The ship and aircraft carrier associations of the US Navy surely and undisputedly dominate the vastness of the world's oceans, but no potential opponent has the same potential. Therefore, the aircraft carrier associations could z. B. Attack land targets in Afghanistan with aircraft and cruise missiles safely from the high seas. As described at the beginning, the situation changes near the coast (littoral waters), because here there is a threat from mines, conventional submarines, land-based aircraft, land-based missile batteries or missile speedboats - and from terrorist attacks. When the aircraft carrier USS "Theodore Roosevelt" (CVN-71) had to move through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean for the Afghanistan mission, it was endangered by terrorist attacks because escort ships cannot position themselves in the narrow canal to protect it , and the usual "Combat Air Patrol" (CAP) is not required when crossing canals.

After "September 11th" there are hardly any "improbable" threat scenarios. For example, container ships on the upper deck could transport containers filled with NBC warfare agents. B. detonate in the port of New York. It is also conceivable that terrorists hijack a supertanker and then blow it up in a port.

That is why the US Coast Guard, which is regarded as a separate military force of the USA, has extended its protection to the large American ports. For this purpose, reservists were called in and port patrols were carried out around the clock with six to eight armed small speedboats. Ports with a high military concentration are particularly endangered. Therefore, the US Coast Guard provides security services for warships, which now require a security cordon of 500 m to avoid attacks such as the USS "Cole". As usual during the war, the position of American warships is no longer published. Sending personal emails by the crews is also prohibited for security reasons.

Above all, the intelligence services of the US Navy, the US Marine Corps and the US Coast Guard are involved in defense. Specially equipped aircraft can not only eavesdrop on enemy telecommunications, but also cell phones and interfere - and determine their location. The intelligence services of the US Navy continuously complete their electronic files with telephone numbers, radio signatures or voice samples from politicians and officers of potential enemy states as well as suspected terrorists in order to be able to allocate anonymously conducted conversations at an early stage.

But back to the subject of aircraft carriers: It is conceivable that kamikaze sport aircraft filled with explosives or remote-controlled aircraft are steered against an aircraft carrier, which e.g. B. passes the Suez Canal. A collision with a cargo ship filled with explosives cannot be ruled out either. A ship loaded with cement could sink itself in the canal and thus hinder the porter's continued voyage or keep him locked in there. The US Navy is considering such scenarios and developing countermeasures.

Terrorists operate from undercover, which is why fighting them is so difficult. In a sea area that is busy with sport and fishing boats, civilian merchant ships and ferries, it is hardly possible to spot a small boat loaded with explosives in time. The deployment of chemical or biological weapons cannot be detected by radar.

Terrorist attacks thrive on surprise. It is no coincidence that an old Prussian military experience reads: "For soldiers, the unexpected is the rule." Defense measures against terrorist attacks must therefore be designed in such a way that the surprise is undermined. Sensors for the automated monitoring of ships (under water, on the water, in the air, on the land side) for the early detection of attacks, automated close and close range weapons or even improved standing power would be technological solutions. That the personnel guarding with appropriate equipment such as z. B. portable anti-aircraft guided missiles and the state of readiness for ships in ports or roads must be increased considerably, of course.

If terrorist attacks are to be expected, a task force also needs clear "rules of engagement", because watercraft and airplanes that move in the vicinity of the unit in the port / roadstead cannot always be seen whether they are harmless or whether they are themselves approach with hostile intent. Comprehensive intelligence gathering is another prerequisite for preventing or defending against attacks. Ultimately, the best protection for ships against terrorist attacks is offered by the open sea.


Another type of maritime threat is increasing piracy around the world. For ten years now, the Piracy Reporting Center (PRC) in Kuala Lumpur / Malaysia has been systematically recording all reported piracy acts and warning merchant shipping of sea areas at risk of pirates via radio. The statistics show not only an increase in piracy, but also an increasing brutalization of ship robberies and captures. While pirates used to be armed with knives and machetes, today they appear with automatic weapons, bazookas and portable rocket launchers - and they also use these weapons.

The PRC distinguishes three categories of piracy:

  • Low level armed robbery. Gangs of thieves armed with knives and pistols attacked ships at sea or in port using the "hit-rob-run" tactic. The raid takes about 30 to 60 minutes. The gangs target the ship's crew's cash or parts of the cargo.
  • Medium Level Armed Assault and Robbery. These are brutal attacks by well-organized and heavily armed gangs, murder and manslaughter are the order of the day. Often the crew of the attacked ship is killed or abandoned at sea and the ship and its cargo are kidnapped.
  • Major Criminal Hijack. Well-managed and heavily armed international gangs attacked merchant shipping; the crew of the ships are killed or abandoned. Often the ship's cargo is reloaded onto other ships. Usually the ship is hijacked, changed in appearance, given false papers and sold under a false name or used for one's own purposes. (So ​​it's about ship and cargo; note)

The focus of global piracy is Southeast Asia (Strait of Malacca, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh).

In 1997 the French Navy held an international colloquium "Nouvelles menaces en mer" ("New threats at sea") in Paris. In particular, the use of naval and aviation forces against piracy, drug transfer by sea, terrorism, crime and human trafficking at sea was dealt with. The colloquium concluded with the realization that the police authorities and the coast guards of the coastal states are primarily responsible for these offenses, but not the naval forces of the world of states. One reason for this assessment is that over 80 percent of all reported ship robberies in the past ten years have occurred within territorial waters, i.e. H. played in ports or anchorages of coastal states. Here, however, only the coastal state may exercise the necessary police force or countermeasures. Foreign warships are only allowed to enter the territorial waters of foreign states after diplomatic registration ("peaceful passage") and with the permission of the coastal state.

Legal issues

In principle, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea obliges all states to combat piracy under Article 100: "All states work together to the greatest possible extent to combat piracy on the high seas or in any other place that is not subject to any state jurisdiction." Article 101 defines piracy as: "Illegal acts of violance and detention ... for private ends ... on the high seas ... outside the jurisdiction of any state." The definition restricts piracy to the high seas and to private acquisitive crime (private ends). This means, inter alia. politically induced acts of terrorism against ships are ignored. Piracy on behalf of the state is also not classified as piracy under international law.

Article 107 stipulates who or which ships / aircraft are authorized to arrest pirates: "An arrest for piracy may only be carried out by warships or military aircraft or by other ships or aircraft that are clearly identified and recognizable as being in government service and who are authorized to do so. " According to this, every warship is entitled, but not obliged, to engage in piracy on the high seas and only there, i. H. in international waters, to fight and, if necessary, to help an attacked ship with armed force in an emergency. This right does not apply in foreign territorial waters, where over 80 percent of all attacks take place. Here there is only the exclusive power of the coastal state.

If warships discover piracy in the territorial waters of a state or if an SOS call comes from an attacked ship, they may not take action or intervene with armed force, as the coastal state alone is authorized to do so. The possibilities of action of warships remain very limited.

Use of naval forces

In November 1999 the Indian corvette "Prahar" brought down the pirate-hijacked freighter "Alondra Rainbow" by military force in the Arabian Sea. After twelve days of hunting, the ship was arrested with two reconnaissance planes, several Indian Coast Guard patrol boats and the corvette. The pirates were overwhelmed and the ship returned to its owner. In our time, this was the first case that warships on the high seas used military force to capture a hijacked ship and arrest the pirates.

With their extensive and diverse capabilities, naval forces are ideally suited to combating piracy on the high seas. They are capable of long-term presence in large sea areas, are able to continuously investigate and monitor huge sea areas with on-board helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft and have the appropriate weapons to carry out their tasks. No more piracy incidents have been reported since a German Navy ship association was deployed in the "ENDURING FREEDOM" anti-terrorist operation in the Horn of Africa. The presence of warships alone is an effective defense against piracy.

The real problem in fighting piracy, however, is identification. Pirate ships no longer carry the skull flag in their mast, which the classic pirates of the past centuries used to identify themselves with. Also today there are no pirate republics or barbaric states with large bases like in Tunis and Algiers in the 18th century, when French and British naval units were deliberately used against pirate nuisance. In 1816 a British-Dutch squadron destroyed the pirates in Algiers, and in 1830 a French naval association took action against all pirate bases in Algeria.

Today, tightly organized and technically well-equipped gangs operate with small, fast motor boats that are indistinguishable from sport and fishing boats. They attack ships in the roadstead or in the harbor and disappear again. Identification is usually only possible in the event of an attack. The vast archipelago of Southeast Asia, with over 70,000 islands, offers today's pirates good hiding places and enables them to approach unnoticed and to submerge quickly after the attack. The raids usually take place on a Friday, because the offices of the shipping companies are not manned on the weekend. The shipping companies only receive reports of robberies on Monday - so the perpetrators have enough time to go into hiding. This means that the pirates evade large-scale combat, for which warships are a suitable means.

Nevertheless, warships are increasingly being used to combat piracy in Southeast Asia. There, warships from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore concentrate on a kind of police tactics, on intelligence gathering as well as on the surveillance and patrol of busy, coastal sea areas and waterways. Singapore also uses warships to monitor its sea routes off its immediate coastal strip. There is also a "Command and Control" hotline between Indonesia and Singapore, through which messages are exchanged and operations coordinated. In addition, Indonesia and Malaysia have set up a "Maritime Operation Planning Team" to organize joint patrols in the Strait of Malacca. However, only a few patrol vehicles are ever used. However, there is a lack of continuous surveillance and presence at sea in order to be able to fight piracy in the long term.

Military protection - or an international maritime police

The economic damage caused by piracy amounts to around 15 billion euros a year. The pirates' actions are becoming increasingly brutal. This is shown by 210 hostage-taking and 21 deaths in 2001. This is why calls for military protection of merchant shipping are getting louder and louder. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Hanseatic League invented and practiced the military convoy system to protect its shipping. All merchant ships were then obliged to join a convoy.

Today a convoy system would be a very costly undertaking with a global maritime traffic of around 100,000 ship movements on an annual average worldwide. Because all states with merchant shipping would have to continuously, around the clock and year after year, provide naval forces and naval aviation forces in sufficient numbers in order to be permanently present in all endangered sea areas. In addition, such an international operation would have to be coordinated and conducted under a mandate from the United Nations, as it were as an international maritime police (United Nations Naval Protection Force). This also presupposes that all states are prepared to accept restrictions on their sovereignty or sovereignty in their coastal waters.

Author: Sea captain a. D. Dieter Stockfisch (Germany), born in 1940. After training as a naval officer, among others. Telecommunications officer in the 2nd landing squadron, commander of a submarine and course director at the naval underwater weapons school. After the general / admiral staff training, inter alia. first officer on a frigate, advisor in the naval command staff (interior management, press work), commander of the frigate "Augsburg", commander of the 2nd destroyer squadron, branch chief "Combat Requirements" at AFNORTH (Norway) and head of unit in the naval command staff, among others. responsible for the operational planning of the navy and also deals with the problem of piracy; since 1998 retired and editor / marine of the trade journal "Soldat und Technik".