A post I wrote yesterday about modern day pirates was commented on by a good friend of mine who runs an Esperanto blog, Kathryn Woods. She suggested that armed decoy ships, made up to look like helpless prey, be employed to thin out the pirate herd. Since Kathryn has joined the U.S. Navy and is currently assigned to the USS McFaul (DDG 74), and thusly is in a position where she might actually have a chance to launch some ordnance pirate-ward, I gave the suggestion a great deal of thought.
The Brits were very fond of armed decoys during WWII, but they weren't worth the trouble or expense. In all of the war they only managed to sink 2 ships. Why the lousy success rate? Mainly due to the fact that the ocean is vast and the Germans liked submarines. A warship on the surface was a rare sight so the decoys never had much of a chance to shoot anything.
A similar problem would exist today due to what I call the "School of Fish Effect" (at least I call it that since three minutes ago). Depending on the time of year and the weather, somewhere between 95% and 98% of all of the stuff in the world that's being moved somewhere is on a ship. So how many decoy ships would we need to ensure that there would be a good chance that pirates were attacking an armed opponent? 100? Lots more? And buying, equipping, crewing and operating a vessel are big expenses. As long as the pirates don't kill too many people (they almost never kill anyone of the big merchant vessels), and they only ask for a fraction of the value of the ship/cargo, it just isn't worth the money.
Most of these pirates like to go after large and slow targets. Oil tankers are a favorite. Some years ago I read that it became such a problem that Exxon was supplying $20,000.00 to the captain of all of their tankers for pirate bribes, an incredible windfall in the 3rd World mud patches that breed these criminals. There was also talk about having a security group of about 20 men go along with the tankers. On would be designated a sniper, and the rest would be armed with sub-machine guns (which started my interest in Full Auto Machine Pistols (FAMP's) since there was some talk about just equipping them with FAMPs). This would actually be a very good deterrent, since the pistol ammo that sub-machine guns use wouldn't penetrate the skin of a ship and there's rarely more than 20 pirates at a time. This way the ship would be safe from damage and the pirates would probably be outnumbered.
The problem with this approach is international treaties and insurance. Even though the ship itself would be safe from damage, insurance costs will go up steeply if you have a bunch of armed men running around. Also most of the world's cargo vessels are flagged to 3rd World countries. This is to reduce taxes, but it also means that they have to abide by the laws of the nation whose flag they fly. Since most of these countries have treaties that prohibit the arming of merchant vessels.....
There is one solution. It seems that there are places where it's very dangerous for small, privately owned craft to venture. Mostly it's due to weather, since even the dopiest yacht owner will generally steer clear of high-crime waters. Still, there are sometimes lapses in judgement. Usually the pirates would strip the boat and scuttle her along with the crew, but it's so rare that they even see a yacht that it's like an armored bank truck having an accident in front of your house and spraying money all over your lawn.
So someone who wants to do their part to make the world a safer place could outfit a yacht to go a-hunting. Any billionaires read this blog?