Should Captains Carry Guns?

30 April 2008 By Matt Gomez

Heavily armed pirates are on the high seas, grabbing the headlines and threatening yachts in violent and volatile “hot spots” worldwide.

With the threat of real violence so close to yachts, captains and crew are stoking an ongoing debate: Should captains carry guns to help protect themselves and their crew at sea?

“Merciful God, help us please”

Consider this April 22 alert from Capt. Johan Lillkung of the 27-meter S/Y Dolphin. Lillkung and crew found themselves in perilous waters off the coast of Somalia when he filed this report:

“It started…with a Mayday call on the VHF radio. Faisal Mustafa, a small, traditional wooden cargo ship…was en route from the Red Sea to India. As it turned out, their position was only four nautical miles off our starboard side…

“We witnessed four small speedboats (dinghy type) quickly approach the ship. The last radio transmission, from the captain, was ‘Merciful God, can somebody help us, the pirates are boarding…. Merciful God, help us please!'”

The pirates, as is often the case, were armed and dangerous. The captain and crew aboard the Faisal Mustafa were not.

Guess who had the advantage. spoke with Capt. Lillkung, now docked safely in Djibouti, after receiving his account of the criminal activities in the eastern Africa area known as “Pirate Alley.” The Swedish captain was frustrated by the rise in piracy, but equally upset about the seeming inability for captains and crew to defend themselves against attack.

“There’s nothing we can do to defend ourselves,” Lillkung said. “The only defense we have are radios to contact military warships and helicopters in the vicinity…and the pirates know that.”

Right to bear arms?

Pirate attacks are not new, and neither is the call for captains and crew to carry firearms for self defense.

The December 2007 issue of Dockwalk featured a story (“Sticking to Your Guns”) about weapons possession aboard luxury yachts. It is the subject of perennial debate.

Sure there are legal issues involved. Your yacht’s flag may determine whether or not you may carry firearms on board. Cultural background may play a part in this as well. But self defense, especially when you are at the helm of a luxury yacht and responsible for its crew, is a tough issue to ignore.

After all, no one wants to be in a gunfight if you’re the one without a gun.

But some captains, such as Tim Forderer, view guns as a “huge liability” that would do more harm than good.

“Security is better left to the professionals,” says Forderer, who has traveled the globe in S/Y Vivid.

Even weapons advocates are quick to point out that proper and ongoing training is necessary to properly defend oneself, or else risk having your own weapon used against you.

Robert Gaylord, president of Stratigent, a company offering maritime security services, advocates guns on board, but warns that all crew must be trained, not just the captain.

“A weapon is useless if the guy with the only key to the ammo is a hostage,” Gaylord says.

So, should yacht captains be allowed to carry guns on board? Everyone has an opinion. Let us know yours.