Unconfirmed reports state that Somali pirates now have their hands on a more advanced type of rocket propelled grenade than they have commonly used hitherto.
Speculation to this effect has grown since the fire on board Liberia-flagged suezmax tanker “Brillante Virtuoso” after it came under RPG attack last week.
One maritime security sources said that this may point to the acquisition of the RPG 29 model, rather than the standard RPG 7.
RPG 29s were developed in Russia in the 1980s, and pack a punch sufficient to penetrate the frontal armour of most modern tanks. Secondhand models are now in circulation in the Middle East. Security professionals have feared for some time that the Somalis would sooner or later get their hands on them.
According to experts, when the more powerful RPGs are deployed, “A vessel’s hull might be easily breached, with further damage, injury or even death incurred to the crew within.”
Somali pirates are very adaptable, skilled and shrewd – a dangerous opponent in every sense. Concerns now rest on the fact that there could now be a shift to different, enhanced weapons. Pirates are not averse to investing in the tools of the trade – and as many clans have sunk some of their ransom earnings into technology – we can perhaps expect that better boats, higher power engines and heavier weapons are a natural consequence of their push to once again gain the upper hand.
With this enhanced capability there are concerns that pirates will be able to hit faster, harder and for longer.
Current Somali Weapons
“Somalia used to be a dumping ground for Russian arms back in the cold war. Anything that goes “boom”, you can find in Somalia.” – Abdi Ali, Somali Pirate expert
Pirates use all types of weapons that they can get. They differ from region to region. Most of the weapons of the Somali pirates originate from the Somali capital Mogadishu. They are Russian models generally made in China, the Indian region or in Eastern European countries.
This rifle has been around a long time, the first version was issued to the Russian Army in 1949. They are still very popular because they are cheap, readily available and extremely reliable. Over 50 million AK-47 or variants have been made all over the world.
The effective range is around 300-400m. The AK-47 is not particularly accurate however in skilled and experience d hands it can lay down sustained fire on a tight target area. Pirates have shown that even from an unstable platform the bridge windows are easy to hit, for instance.
The Somali pirates place an enormous amount of reliance on their weapons. They use them in a challenging marine environment, and yet are able to keep the working – often when pirates take a vessel one of their first demands is for WD-40 or diesel, so they can clean and maintain their weapons.
Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG-7)
This grenade is shot using rockets and was first issued to the troops of the Russian, Chinese, and North Korean armies. They are readily available in arms markets.
The RPG-7 can hit a target at around 500m, but if the target is moving then it works best if the target is 300m or closer. These grenades can pierce through up to 30cms of armour and are popular choice of terrorists and pirates.
To stop ships, pirates are increasingly looking to heavier weapons, such as the Russian SPG-9 recoilless gun or the DSHK 12.7 mm heavy machine gun.
With these types of heavy machine gun they can take ships under fire from 2000m and provide a substantial retort to the fire of any private security services.
Using such heavy machine guns they can also take the helicopters of the international naval coalition. When an armed struggle escalates everyone is in danger.
Other Pirate Options
PK machine gun
The PK is a general purpose machine gun designed in the Soviet Union and currently in production in Russia. The PK machine gun was introduced in the 1960s and replaced the SGM and RPD machine guns in Soviet service. It remains in use as a front-line infantry and vehicle-mounted weapon with Russia’s armed forces, and has been exported extensively.
Dependent on which variant of the weapon is used firing rates vary from 650-850 rounds per minute. With an effective maximum range of approximately1000m.
The PK has been very popular as a weapon of the Libyan Rebel forces – and have received much media attention mounted on the back of flatbed 4×4 vehicles. This machine gun comes frequently into the hands of pirates and is often used on attacks to hijack a ship as a support weapon.
KPV heavy machine gun
The KPV heavy machine gun has been around for a long time – just as the AK-47 has. Over time this has become a popular heavy machine gun choice of many terror organisations. This would suggest that pirate groups are aware of the weapon and of means to secure supplies, especially of the ZPU-1 variant.
If they do decide on the need to increase their firepower, it is perhaps likely they would look to deck mounting either KPVs or similar, to their vessels, whether on large skiffs or motherships.
The KPV is capable of 450 rpm, with an effective range of 1500-2000m – compare this to the 300m range of an AK-47 and the problems for ships are obvious and of great concern.
As armed shipboard teams have gained something of an upper hand, it is inevitable that pirates grow more frustrated and desperate they will resort to an escalation in weaponry as they look increase the haul of hijacked vessels.
In mounting these heavier weapons and more sophisticated to their attack craft the pirates may lose some speed and manoeuvrability with heavy weapons on skiffs – and many believe that the recoil and power when fired may mean that rather more pirates end up in the water than has hitherto been the case.
The largest concerns rest on the need to spot approaching pirates at an even greater range. It has proved difficult enough when they have to get within 300m to fire – but if they can extend their range and hit harder, well this is a real problem.