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Bad News for Somali Kidnappers: Cargo Ships Without Crews

Written by Gary North on September 12, 2014

The free market is relentless in cutting costs. Next up: cargo ships without crews.

Think of what this will do to Somali pirates. They can’t steer the ships. They can’t kidnap anyone. Their little boats cannot carry huge containers.

Think of the unemployment this will create in Somalia. Here is a Third World nation, desperately poor, and this technology now threatens one of the few areas of high-profit entrepreneurship.

Does this technology sound like a good idea to you? It does to me. Crew costs will fall to zero. Kidnapping ransoms will be a thing of the past. There will be fewer accidents.

But we can be sure that there will be cries of outrage in the shipping crew guild. We will hear of unfair labor practices. What are these practices? Eliminating labor altogether.  “Unfair!”

Liberia licenses ships. Who will make such shipping illegal? What agency will police the oceans? There is no government agency to enforce employment conditions wherever there are no employees.

Technological change is guaranteed here. Lower costs will prevail. The threatened employees will have to find other ways to serve different customers. There is no government to appeal to in order to stop this technology from being adopted. There are no politicians to bribe to vote restrictions on this technology.

Innovation by innovation, production is getting cheaper. Goods are getting better.

It’s bad news for Somali kidnappers.  It’s good news for the rest of us.

Captain Phillips will become a period piece.

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35 thoughts on “Bad News for Somali Kidnappers: Cargo Ships Without Crews

  1. They can always get a job in fast food Ind., oh wait the legals got those.

  2. Better yet, ARM and train the crews of these ships. Or Hire extra " Marines" to ride shotgun on the ships. It's time we put a stop to Pirates.

  3. How is that better? sounds more expensive, a lot more expensive, and pointless when the whole problem can be eliminated by having no crew.

  4. This would definitely be the solution to the problem of pirates, but there are other considerations. Mechanical things break all the time. The unexpected can be expected to happen. With no crew to monitor the ship, what happens when the ship is on a collision course with a smaller vessel? What happens when a seam springs a leak, or a pump fails.? What happens when the engine or some piece of electronics catches fire? I seriously doubt if you could safely and efficiently operate a large ocean vessel with no crew at all, anymore than you could fly a 747 from Chicago to Warsaw without a pilot. There always needs to be a human to monitor the computer, and to handle the unexpected when it happens..

  5. I totally agree with David. Arm people on those cargo ships and blow those Somalie pirates out of the water. They will soon get the message to get another occupation.

  6. Doctor Bob, I disagree. As communications costs continue to fall, I envision a central control room with two or three people monitoring a fleet of ships world wide. If something breaks, the control room operator would notify one of three or four prepositioned repair crews who would mobilize and be at the ship within half a day. After fixing the problem, they could continue on to the destination or be picked up early, whichever was necessary. Collision systems can be automated. Fire control systems can be automated. The airplane analogy is faulty in that no humans are at risk if the ship stops in the middle of the ocean. If an airplane stops at 30,000 feet, that's a problem.
    I recently witnessed the unloading of a large bulk cargo ship. The crew of the ship did not unload it – a separate company provided a crew to operate ship equipment to off load. Automating ships just leads to more of the same.

  7. I like this and think it is entirely possible. Mobile repair/emergency crews positioned strategically along the route of these ships. I also think we need to fall out of love with the romantic notion of boots on the ground. The only real argument against air warfare is collateral damage. I much prefer collateral damage over dead American soldiers returning in flag draped coffins. The populace of these enemy areas bear some responsibility for these terrorist groups existence. Only they can solve their internal problems, while we should act only in our nation's best interest and security. There is one solution for a bully…pop him in the nose. There is one solution for Islamic terrorists…brutal force! Bombing and destruction of resources. That's why it's called war.

  8. the bad thing was that apt. Phillips was warned about the pirates and told to stay about 600 miles from the coast so the pirates wouldn't be able to see or be able to attack them . BUT that jackass decided on his own to go about 200 miles from the coast and that allowed the pirates to be able to catch them

  9. Larry Hughes says:

    This will be a disaster! How long before some kid with a laptop hacks the nav system and steals the ship or crashes it into something? Bad news for pirates? They will now have days to pull along side an unload the cargo with no one to bother them. Or how about an AK to the GPS antenna, what happens then? What happens if something minor breaks, minor with a crew on board, in heavy weather, something minor can turn into a disaster with no crew!

  10. A ship without crew is a "derelict" and subject to salvage, i.e., I may board it and take it and its cargo! Will maritime law be changed to eliminate derelict ships? Assume it. Then will not pirates simply board and take a ship which offers no resistance to the taking? I'd be thinking that piracy would become a well paying profession, not that it would become obsolete. They won't ask for ransom of the crew. They'll ask for 50% of the cost to build a new ship!!!

  11. " I may board it and take it and its cargo!"

    Good luck with that.

  12. canislupus100 says:

    This is easy for pirates to overcome. They get aboard the ship tell the company we have planted explosives alongside the hull. Send us the ransom or we sink the ship. A gun crew will still be needed to defend the ship.

  13. The Somalis who stopped ships in their territorial waters did not call themselves pirates; the Western corporate media did.

    Somalis called themselves a coastal defense force and targeted ships engaged in dumping toxic waste in their waters, among them US flagships. They would capture the offending ships and demand a fine be paid.

    The US arrogantly pollutes other countries’ food source “because we can”, the world media called them “pirates” and the fines “ransom”.

    Then Uncle Sam sends in warships to make the kill and Hollywood makes a movie starring Tom Hanks.

  14. Most modern airliners can fly from takeoff to landing on autopilot. The humans are just there "in case", and to handle "Human interference", like all the drunks getting into fights over locked seat backs. Even back in the 80's Boeing aircraft could do this. After all, do you realize that the majority of crashes are, "Pilot Error"? As a systems analyst, I could program a ship to sail from A to B, and not hit any object that can be detected by radar or sonar. And report any malfunctions just like your car does with the "Check Engine" light. Worst case, stay in deep water. What is wrong with that. Better than having a crew slaughtered by pirates!

  15. Idiot! No secure system has any connection that allows incoming! Hacking is only on Microsoft systems. Secure systems only allow preprogrammed inputs, and only connect to one preset output. All secure systems like Linux, Apple, Commodore Amiga, Dec, have NEVER been hacked. Only IDIOTS that us Microsoft have been hacked. Bill Gates helped write IBM's DOS, and decided to sell a competing OS for $200 versus IBM's $749. With all code on the "C" drive, any software can access it.

    Put the BIOS on a PROM chip, and it can't be modified. Apple and Commodore did this, and were never hacked!

    In 1981 when IBM came out with the IBM XT, we said it could never be secure. And now over 30 years later, Microsoft has proven us CORRECT! Now Microsoft antivirus is rated "Worst". All antivirus does is examine all incoming code for "Known Signatures". So any "NEW" virus gets thru. And has to be examined, and the fix added to the "Antivirus" software. I can write a virus and put it in any font, graphic, or any other executable code that is accepted into a Windows computer. Music, graphics, as long as the computer executes it, it can zero the "C" drive.
    Wake up! Windows is insecure. And until the design is changed, always will be. Besides, they have created a huge herd of "Sheeple", to sell update after update to at $200 a pop. And the virus protection people make more money than MS.

    My Macs from over 10 years ago still work, and have never been hacked or had any virus.

    INSANITY is "Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result". Apple has computers,iPhones, iPads, Airport, iPods, iWatches, iTv, that all work as a "System". And all the software like iTunes, iPhoto, iWork, etc.

    What has Microsoft got? No hardware, no phone, no applications, and what ever happened to the Zune? I only found one listed on eBay. Over 450,000 iPods. Wake up.

  16. Hey! A ship underway is not derelict. And you would NOT be able to board it. Nor would you be able to take control. And your boarding would be known before you got on the ship. The authorities would know you were attempting to get on the ship before you got on. IF you did. Lethal force could be built in, and you would die. Ever deal with a "Stun gun"?
    Shipbuilder can easily build a ship the you can't board, and you certainly can't open a 20 ton container. So what are you going to take? IF you did manage to get on board? Ride to port and be arrested?

  17. You can not attach explosives to a ship that is underway. Have you ever actually sailed the oceans? I have for years, and you can't even go from one ship to another most of the time. The oceans are NOT swimming pools. You could not get aboard, take a look at a container ship. It is over 100 feet to the top of the containers! Set all the explosives you want on top of a 20 ton container, won't do more than dent the container. Get REAL!

  18. I know a better solution. If you are a pirate and you try to take over a ship you will get shot and be disposed of into the sea. You will be bleeding and you will feed the sharks. Any questions?

  19. Claiming Apple products have never been hacked makes you an idiot or a liar. Just because you never got a virus on a Mac does not mean it does not happen. Apple has stopped claiming Macs cant get viruses years ago.

  20. LiberalsRCommies says:

    When I watched Captain Phillips the one thing I couldn't shake is the fact that all it would have taken is 1 .308 or better rifle and an average marksman and those somali boats would be sunk before they could get close enough to board. WHY WHY WHY?? Why aren't those ships well armed?? It doesn't make sense. Period.

  21. Joseph Masterson says:

    Well, I can think of one scenario, but then I've only been thinking on this for less than 15 seconds~~but the first time the "pirates" board an unmanned ship and cannot do anything about it, it won't be a second ship they'll board without a lot of explosives and blow the damned thing down to Davy Jones' Locker! Also, since everyone is so thrilled to be let in on the latest technology, don't you think the Somali Jollys are being clued into this as well? Do you "suppose" they MIGHT just board EVERY ship now that isn't defended with high explosives, JUST IN CASE??? We have this problem of "crowing" about things, thinking we are "outsmarting" these thugs; it cost us the lives of SEAL Team 6 as a result of Obozo and Joe Bite-Me letting out classified information! And announcing our departure from Iraq has been a resounding success as well, doncha think??

  22. Joseph A. Masterson says:

    Bama~~~See my response to Tommy above. With the proper weapons and "laws of the open sea", the Captain of a ship is the LAST Omnipotent Ruler on earth! The Rules of Engagement (ROE) would not be established by the weak-kneed, gonad-less pansies running our country as they have in Iraq and Afghabistan (where I lost a grandson as a result). You come aboard or assault my ship, you will die in the process. Notice that they leave the Russian ships alone??

  23. Joseph Masterson says:

    The unloading by a separate company versus the crew has NOTHING to do with automating or not!! Ever hear of the Longshoremens' Union? Probably no more THUG infested organization on earth!! Don't even THINK of loading or unloading without multiple union thugs involved!! And even WITHIN the union, there are multiple "trades" involved~~~the stevedores will sit and watch something burn before they'll touch it because "that's the firefighters union function! Nice thought, but you obviously haven't dealt with many unions lately!!

  24. Joseph Masterson says:

    Not nice, Bama!! Nobody started off their replies by calling you an "Idiot". Obviously you know a lot about computers~~~good for you~ have a lollipop!

    I never wanted to be a tanker in the Army either~~~just think, you've got all that armor protecting you~~~yeah and the "bad guys" just get bigger guns to shoot at you, too! For every smart guy in computer security, there are probably just as many (if not more with a twisted mind) who can defeat their "impenetrable system"! Anything one man can devise, there are those that can defeat it~~IF THE REWARDS ARE SUFFICIENT!

  25. Joseph Masterson says:

    The Russians don't seem to have a problem! Who is going to enforce a "rule" that says (I don't know where it says it, but eveidently it's there somewhere) that ships cannot be armed. So you can't come into some country's territorial waters with armed security, you make "arrangements" for them to be "offloaded" outside the limits and reboarded when the ship gets underway again. Yeah, cumbersome, but then, hell, so are hijackings, kidnappings, ransom payments et al!

  26. A machine gun crew or two would soon eliminate the pirate threat,maybe retired guys going for a boat ride once in a while.

  27. H Clevenger says:

    Do you mean ILLEGALs?

  28. Bama Bill, To start off with, when you say “Apple” computers, are you referring to just the original Apple computers or any computer made by Apple such as a Mac (which could still be correctly called an “Apple Computer”)?

    Next, your statements contradict each other… and are erroneous.
    1. “No secure system has any connection that allows incoming! Secure systems only allow preprogrammed inputs, and only connect to one preset output.”
    2. “All secure systems like Linux, Apple, Commodore Amiga, Dec, have NEVER been hacked. Only IDIOTS that us (sic) Microsoft have been hacked.”
    Does that mean if you have an Apple computer and connect it to the internet that it is no longer secure since it now has a connection that allows “incoming” or can “…secure systems like Linux, Apple, Commodore Amiga, Dec…” actually be hacked if you allow an external connection? Which is it?

    While it is true that if you have no connection to the outside your computer will be secure (except to an inside threat), that would also negate the option of having any type of remote monitoring or operation of the ship as it sails from its port of origin to its destination. While you could have some sort of a transmit only system that would allow you to see what is going on, it could be monitored by anyone who could figure out how to access it and be used to make attacking an “unmanned ship” that much easier. The problem is that in order to be able to adjust course, manually activate something like a fire suppression system or do anything else requiring input, you would no longer have a "secure system" since it would require "incoming".

    The main reason the hackers go after Microsoft computers is that there are more of them. That's also the reason more programs are written for "IBM compatible" computers. It's also the reason there is more hardware (such as video cards) available for them than for Apple computers. Most companies want to make something that has a large market (and they didn't have to pay a royalty fee). People writing viruses wrote viruses for Microsoft operating systems because there are more computers running Microsoft operating systems… and because most of them had this somewhat religious opinion of Microsoft as being "the bad guy" (they are also known to go off on rants, like yours above, about how Apple computers are, supposedly, so much better than "IBM compatible" computers). Hackers more often go after computers running Microsoft operating systems because the people, businesses, military and/or government entities they want to go after are typically using computers running Microsoft operating systems.

    Just because something never happened, doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen. There were viruses for the Commodore 64, which had its BIOS on a PROM chip. If you can get a virus into the computer, it would just be a matter of modification to be able to hack in… but it begs the question of “why?”

    Speaking of Sheeple, there are also a lot of “Sheeple” who spent a buttload of cash on an Apple computer because they were incorrectly told (AKA lied to) that Apple computers “can not get a virus”. I have even heard salesmen say that. If they can’t get a virus, then WHY have there been antivirus programs for Apple computers for years? Not only CAN Apple computers get viruses, and not only CAN Apple computers be hacked, but to top it of… Apple’s computers have been hacked. No, I’m not just talking about the ones made by Apple… I’m talking about the ones that the Apple Corporation itself owns and uses. Don’t take my word for it, do a Google search. The latest involving the iCloud was just icing on the cake.

    Now get off of your high horse or put in another quarter. You look goofy just sitting there with that dumb look on your face.

  29. Whether or not you can have arms on your ship would only depend on the laws of the port(s) you need to go into where you would have customs agents come aboard and the rules of the country your ship is flagged in.

  30. Bama Bill, Nobody said the oceans were "swimming pools". I have, however, seen the I.O. when it was as smooth as glass and the North Atlantic between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland when it was almost as smooth.I have been to sea. As far West as Aden and as far East as Cypress. With that said, why is it this problem is being discussed? It's because pirates HAVE BEEN boarding ships underway. I guess nobody told THEM that it can't be done.

  31. "The airplane analogy is faulty in that no humans are at risk if the ship stops in the middle of the ocean."

    Actually, there is a good airplane analogy. If the something went wrong with the navigation and the propulsion was still engaged, where is that tanker with all of that oil, or worst case scenario that I can think of being LNG, going to go and what will it hit? The DC-10 and its infamous exploding baggage door (due to not being latched securely) is a good comparison. If the baggage door blew, the baggage compartment decompressed. The floor between the cabin and the baggage compartment was not built to be a pressure bulkhead and would succumb to the pressure. The cables for most of the control surfaces of the airplane were routed where? Through the floor. The cables were then in a bind and couldn't be moved. The plane was like a model airplane that you set the surfaces, start the engine, and let it go. Wherever it goes is anyone's guess. Can you imagine it running into something like… the Golden Gate Bridge during rush hour? Pretty slim chance, but it is a valid worst case scenario. Personally, I doubt if most… if any… ports would allow them to enter without a crew. Some countries would probably not even allow them to transit through their territorial waters without a crew.

  32. A well armed crew with battle rifles and a couple of 50 caliber auto or semi-autos rifles will eliminate any Somali pirate crew.

  33. In arming them, drones can be launched off ships. A ship being stalked by these thugs can deliver appropriate response before they ever get within a mile. Lots cheaper than armed guards.

    The technology exists to identify the support ships that bring the attackers within range After a few of these are taken out with all hands, pirates will try another line of work.

  34. The subject of a very good and important also thank

  35. I totally agree with David. Arm people on those cargo ships and blow those Somalie pirates out of the water. They will soon get the message to get another occupation