Every summer shipping companies are warned about large swarms of pirate boats off the Horn of Africa. The warnings are based on reports from ships in the area and put out by security companies and governments. The only problem is that pirate swarms do not exist, according to the Danish intelligence company Risk Intelligence.You can get the full report as a pdf here. Interesting read and makes some telling points about why a "pirate" swarm is unlikely. The photos in the report illustrate how confusing the sea picture can be at times. RI points the difficulty, logistically and operationally, of organizing and coordinating a large swarm of boats to attack a ship by pirates.
“We have monitored these rather panicky reports since at least 2008, when a European Naval vessel reported swarms of up to 20 pirate skiffs. But it is a misunderstanding every year. The phenomenon can be understood and described as something else every time it is reported” says Nis Leerskov Mathiesen, Chief Analyst with Risk Intelligence.
The swarm attack reports always start coming out when the monsoon brings rough weather to large swaths of the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. This means that small boat traffic moves to more sheltered waters, most significantly fishermen and smugglers. Both these groups use small boats similar to those of the pirates. And both groups manoeuvre in ways that can frighten a master of a merchant vessel. Fishermen will move at high speed towards merchant vessels, either to protect their nets or to benefit from the wake and wash of a ship. Smugglers are often “jumping” from ship to ship at high speed to stay hidden from radar surveillance. Pirates are sometimes present in the area as well. They hide in larger groups of boats. They then attack and lookouts confuse background traffic with pirate accomplices.
“We have never seen any proof that an attack is carried out by more than a small handful of skiffs. So the repeating reports of 10 and 20 strong “swarms” is a question of wrong observation in the heat of the battle and short-sighted analysis by those who put out the warnings. The effect is fear mongering”, says Nis Leerskov Mathiesen.
One of my posts regarding a reported pirate "swarm" can be found here.
Military style swarm attacks are another matter, though they, too, pose coordination issues.