‘I learnt in the special forces just how vulnerable our ships are to terrorist hijack’

Letter to The Daily Telegraph

Duncan Falconer | 29 October 2020

SIR – Mark Almond (Comment October 27) is right in his assessment of the potential for shipjacking.
Years spent in the Special Boat Service (SBS) planning how to board ships, with the purpose of retaking them from terrorists, showed me how easy it is. The main challenge is getting on board. Securing the bridge and engine room is then relatively simple. Typical crews will not put up a fight if there is a threat to life. Learning how to navigate a large ship is easier than learning how to fly a commercial aircraft into a building.
Several years ago, a British security company, managed by former members of our special forces, won a contract to teach the Somali Coastguard how to board and capture boats fishing illegally in Somali waters. The Somalis, mostly simple fishermen, adapted that knowledge to create history’s greatest piracy empire.
Many years ago, I wrote a novel, The Hijack, describing how a supertanker was captured by terrorists with the aim of ramming it into a port on the south coast of England. The SBS saved the day on that occasion in much the same way as they saved it last Sunday. As a maritime security specialist, I can tell you that very little has been done to prevent vessels like supertankers and LNG carriers from being turned into weapons of mass destruction. Few, if any, these days have adequate security or anti-hijack technology such as remote engine controls.
Incidences like last Sunday will not have gone unnoticed by some who would wish us harm.

I’m not trying to be scary. Just trying to build awareness to a potential threat that I hope will never happen.

3 thoughts on “‘I learnt in the special forces just how vulnerable our ships are to terrorist hijack’”

  1. It’s very true that even modern ships are nearly defenceless against well prepared terrorist attack. Nevertheless situation on the bridge, after taking it over was not solved as good as it could be. Even in that time there was always (usually very visible) Emergency Stop button for Main Engine(s). Stopping the ME and giving rudder command ‘Hard to Port’ would be more effective.
    And that was colourfull: ‘The wheel shuddered in Stratton’s hands’ when tanker was going aground – that couldn’t happen – steering wheel is not directly i.e. mechanically connected to rudder, so no force can be transferred. And just a small remark regarding ship nomenclature – through my 45 years at sea never heard of ‘steerage locker’ – if that would be compartment where Steering Gear machinery is located, this would be Steering Gear Room. Beside these, generally irrelevant, points, the book is excellent.

    1. Thanks for the critique. I spent a week on board a super tanker and chatted with the captain with the story at the back of my head. I asked if we could try a ‘hand break turn’ but he said no. Spoil sport.

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