back to article Dutch send submarine to fight Somali pirates

International naval forces battling piracy in the lawless seas off the Horn of Africa are to be joined for the first time by a submarine. A single Dutch Walrus-class boat will operate in the area from September to November this year as part of NATO's Operation Ocean Shield taskforce. HNLMS Dolfijn leaving Portsmouth. Credit: …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Walrus Class :)

    Is that the next level up from turtle class? and Pollock class

    1. Big-nosed Pengie


      Next one up is bukkit class.

  2. Dan 10


    Someone needs to grow a pair in dealing with these idiots. Submarine? Great, assuming you're prepared to torpedo the f***ers! Just listening? WTF?

    Clearly, some shipping companies are getting the idea, judging by the report of pirates being repelled by an armed security team.

    Icon, obviously.

  3. Doshu

    we all live

    in a walrus submarine

  4. Kubla Cant

    Why not sink them?

    The historical response to pirates was to blow them out of the water. Where that didn't prove a sufficient deterrent, naval vessels would bombard their bases.

    Most of the pirate vessels seem to be clapped-out fishing boats armed with RPGs and AK47s. I should have thought it was within the capability of a modern naval vessel to sink them. When I read about the submarine I imagined it might be there to torpedo some pirates, but it seems to be there just to listen.

    These days the preferred method seems to be to send a rubber boat full of marines over to the pirate ship, where they throw the pirates' weapons into the sea and send them home with a severe telling-off.

    I can't help thinking this may take some time to work.

    1. Player_16

      Why not sink them...Naaa...

      ...just surface underneath them. That'll scare the shit out of them. As soon as the sub breaks the surface, get on the loud speaker and tell them to "GET YOUR BOAT OFF OUR SUB!"

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      The problem here...

      ... How do you tell the actual fishing boats from the ones with the pirates on them until you board them?

      And how do you know, even if you are sure that there are pirates on board, that the crew actually sailing the vessel arent being forcibly made to sail the fishing boat for the pirates. A gun in the face is a very good incentive to do what your told.

      Will you be the one that feeds the family of the fisherman taken out just because he happened to be mistaken for a pirate ship?

      And dont forget, in the majority of cases where these pirates tend to get caught by the international navies, theyve usually thrown there weapons overboard and are pretending to be fishermen. Can you automatically tell the difference between a true somali fisherman and a somali pretending to be a fisherman? I certainly couldnt!

      So yes whilst i would like to see some stronger action too, i can understand why at present there isnt. The West (for once) is being careful - kill one fisherman that feeds his family and you risk forcing his family into crime, piracy and other forms of extremism...

      As they say in Afghanistan, accidently kill one man, create 5 more militants...

      1. Kubla Cant

        re: The problem here...

        @Iglethal Pretty unanswerable, actually. I unreservedly withdraw my "blow them out of the water" suggestion.

        I'm less happy about the relativism of the posts that say "you have to excuse the pirates because we've stolen their fish", or whatever. I don't suppose the merchant ships that are attacked do much fishing. It's a bit like my stealing your car because somebody nicked my wallet.

        @AC (That's a lovely t-shirt, thank you) clearly knows much more about this than I ever will, but I'm bemused by his comment that "We see the pirates not as the enemy but pretty much as another seafarer". It's true as far as it goes, but it ovelooks the difference in intent: yours to take a ship to its destination, his to hijack it by force. How about "We see the 9/11 terrorists as pretty much fellow aviation enthusiasts"?

  5. Anonymous Coward

    concealed guns

    Equip a few small converted merchant ships with 2 - 3 inch naval guns and have a few dozen well trained and equipped marines on board. Create bogus shipping reports which will be viewed by the pirates to lure them in. When the pirates open up, the cover on the guns is removed and if the pirates don't surrender immediately, blow them out of the water. Result: fewer and more scared pirates, problem solved. Difficulty is that spending a couple of million quid on a vessel doesn't do nearly as much for advancing a promising naval career as commanding vessels costing billions bristling with high tech weaponry unlikely ever to be used in anger.

    1. someone called ross

      a non-lethal solution

      Stick a boat on top of the sub as a decoy and when the pirates board it force them to watch Dutch TV. They will keep well away after a few episodes of 'Ik hou mijn Nederlands' and 'postcode lottery'!


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        slightly more-lethal solution

        Make them watch 'Ushi en Van Dijk', then hand them a packet of cyanide pills.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      For what? You going to keep them as pets? Grow a pair.

  6. Galidron

    Anti-Piracy Measures

    Finally, anti-piracy measures I can fully support.

  7. Colin Miller

    An apt class name

    Walruses are fierce when provoked. They're pretty nippy under water[1], they can sustain 4 mph for long times, and have a top speed of 21 mph. However they're not that fast on land. A bit like diesel-electric submarines, really.


  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Aircraft Carrier

    Why doesn't the US station an aircraft carrier in the region - any ship in distress can call on them to launch fast jets who can then destroy the pirates. Too expensive to station an aircraft carrier there or are they scared they'll be boarded by the pirates ?

    1. uncle sjohie

      Not so formidable

      During one of those huge NATO exercises in the Atlantic a couple of years ago, one of our walrus submarines sank not only a nimitz class carrier, but one of the escorting cruisers and one SSN. NATO is just sending their varsity, that's why there's no carrier.

      Mines the one with the periscope sticking out...

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Nuke subs

    Given the RN's pitiful history against lightly armed small boats (HMS Cornwall vs Iranian Revolutionary Guards, 2007) then it's probably a good job that we're not sending anything with a nuclear reactor down there as the Somalis would probably nick it.

  10. Ralph B

    My Prediction

    The pirates will hijack this submarine.

  11. Heineken Please


    Not very stealthy when it is painted orange. Oh, and towing a caravan

  12. Eponymous Cowherd

    Q Ships

    At the moment piracy is a reasonably safe and profitable business. This needs to change.

    Used during WW1 against U Boats, Q Ships were armed trawlers and coasters crewed by Navy personnel. U Boat commanders didn't like expending their limited supply of expensive torpedoes against small, low value, targets, so they would surface to sink them with their deck gun.

    As soon as they did, the "Q" ship's sides would drop down and she would open fire on the unsuspecting sub.

    A similar approach would probably work against the Somali pirates. It wouldn't even need the ships to be converted as the Pirates usually pack only small arms and RPGs. Simply crew random merchant ships with heavily armed bastards and wait for the pirates.

    If the pirates *do* attack, then avail them of a suitably messy object lesson, ensuring one or two are left alive to convey their splattered comrades back to the shore / mothership to drive the "piracy has its risks" message home.

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    But why name the clasee

    after a style of facial hair common in 70's p0rn films?

  14. Steve Evans

    Trouble is...

    Whilst we're playing the softly softly, aren't we civilized game, these pirates are going about doing pretty much whatever they like, kidnapping innocent travellers with seemingly very little risk.

    I'm sure a few torpedoed boats and body bags left to wash back up on the shore would be a far better deterrent.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trouble is...

      (Nice technical article by Lewis, by the way. Much better than the apocalyptic warnings about Lib Dems, but anyway...)

      "I'm sure a few torpedoed boats and body bags left to wash back up on the shore would be a far better deterrent."

      I'm sure that nice people don't immediately reach for RPGs and AKs when initially placed in a shitty situation, but beyond the bravado we're talking about a region with no effective governance, which means that numerous set of corporate bastards and organised criminals have been able to defecate on the livelihoods of the locals, and there's been absolutely no-one for them to turn to. And the outside world doesn't give a shit about it until someone hijacks an oil tanker, and then they only give a shit about the oil.

      Now you should be able to see how even reasonable people can end up doing nasty stuff if they have no other option: the inconvenient truth that lurks behind superficial "goodies vs. baddies" news stories that the media love so much. Ask again whether a show of force is any deterrent to people who probably have no other realistic choices.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    You're aware of why the Somalis have turned to piracy then?

    Where you see strong countries using their military might against weaker countries, you can be sure in 99% of the cases it's to enforce and protect economic access.

    In this case, the "international community" has been tacitly backing illegal fishing in Somali waters by its fishing fleets, whilst using the opportunity presented by the lack of a stable government to dump (some report it as) nuclear waste within its waters.

    Given that this has driven the local fishermen out of business, it is surprising that they've turned to a new catch?

    In the meantime, of course, rather than addressing the root injustice, it's far more convenient to cement the economic pilfering with standard demonisation and misrepresentation.

    The reason they're not, yet, just sinking ships at will is because it doesn't do to raise *too* much attention when the gains are not yet outweighed by the losses.

  16. Gordon 10

    Q Ships

    Mines the one with the false superstructure in the pocket

    1. Anonymous Coward

      And we thought you were just glad to see us..

      that is all

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Send for the Koreans

    North that is. They seem to have the inclination to use submarines in the way they were intended.

  18. raving angry loony

    two way?

    Excellent. Will they also arrest or confront ships from other countries that are dumping toxic waste in Somali waters? Or fishing illegally? Or help the Somalis in any way?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not the Royal Navy?

    Of course not. They're the Koninklijke Marine. No Royal Navy can top that. ;-)

    Though it would perhaps be nice if we figured a way to improve on ye olde dieseleccy sub. What about fuel cells and stirling engines? Though then the new detector would be looking for heat signatures or something. Still, plenty coolant all around.

    No idea if ELINT is going to go do much good here. It just sounds like next NATO'll claim the pirates are on the internet and using facebook and twitter to execute their nefarious plans. Like those terrists do in their hidey holes in the mountains in the desert. Well, send in the RIAA and MPAA to sort them out. Would be the first time they tried anything useful.

    1. Markus Imhof

      They do exist

      There are impoved diesel-leccy subs. German Class 212A and 214, running on diesel/electric (classical) plus a high-powered Hydrogen/Oxygen fuel cell. Current record for fully submerged operation (all data according to Wikipedia) without snorkeling two weeks, surface speed 12 knots, submerged speed 20 knots, displacement 1830 tons. Currently in service in Germany (4), Italy(2), Greece(4), South Korea(3), Portugal(2).

      Problem for pirate-catching is the same (apparently) as with the Walrus: they're _only_ equipped with torpedoes, i.e. apparently no deck gun any more. Which makes attacking a small boat/trawler a bit problematic.



  20. Remy Redert

    re: Aircraft carrier

    Aircraft carriers are rather extremely expensive and the 'rapid' response from their jets would likely still be far too slow to be of much help of a merchantship under attack.

    With any luck, the sub will be able to locate pirates and send warships to intercept them before they attack any merchant vessels.

  21. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    I Recall A Sci-Fi...

    ...short story in which one out of 10 ships was a disguised warship.

    That was enough to make robbing ships unprofitable.

    Not just sinking the pirates and shelling their bases is a bit weak-kneed, but then we are supposed to be the non-bloodthirsty ones.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    There's Only One Koninklijke Marine

    ... who managed to sail right into London and burn quite a few royal navel ships. Sorry, I mean "royal navy".

    Recently I saw a nice little frigate lying next to HMS ToyCarrier in Portsmouth:

    Salute to Admiral deRuyter (and to the Brits who allowed them into Gunnery Wharf :-))

    PS: Tip to navel intelligence: Check Portsmouth harbour. Those bloodily efficient Hollanders might have "lost" some MK48s which they can remotely activate to blow a little hole into HMS ToyCarrier1 and HMS ToyCarrier2

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      'Gritty Nutella' sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner... how Dutch

      Admiral de Ruyter? You mean the ship isn't named after the popular brand of hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles)?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        No, for the man buring down the Royal Navy in London

    2. ravenviz Silver badge

      Using our technology

      Knew we shouldn't of let them get hold of those Rolls Royce engines!

  23. Anonymous Coward

    "managed to evade their pursuers by use of non-deadly means"

    Would that mean "all ahead flank" "evasive maneuvers" "aye-aye, captain?"

    I would rather hear something akin to "give me ramming speed" or "all batteries, open fire".

    I say, bring USS Iowa, and make 11 tons of hurt per broadside.

    Now this would be a 21-gun salute pirates wouldn´t forget. In fact, just a 9-gun salute is something to behold by itself.

    (I don´t even know if it is possible to fire all 9 16-inchers and all the 12 5-inchers at once trained on the same target, but that would be NICE)

    On the other hand, concealed guns is not something new. WWII had it against U-boats, if I am not mistaken...

    By the way, I enjoy killing flies with large-bore cannons. Overkill is fun.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simple pirate solution

    Shoot to kill.

    The only thing that will stem the tide is a brutal response.

  25. Dazed and Confused


    I suspect the sub has a piece of artillery.

  26. blackworx


    "They don't like being the Royal Netherlands Navy. But there's only one Royal Navy, and they're not it"

    How long have you been waiting to use that one Lewis?

  27. Anonymous John

    "The scope for open-ocean war against fully equipped enemies"

    But the pirates aren't fully equipped enemies. This sub could probably sink their boats by surfacing under them.

  28. Jason Togneri

    @ everyone who's complaining about lack of armed response

    But don't you know it's against the code of human rights to hurt other people? They'd have to capture them - without injury - and hold them in a tax-paid prison, hire them a lawyer, feed and clothe them, and then have a trial to determine their guilt. There would be a media frenzy about the military using *force* against somebody. Good heavens, shooting a pirate? How can you condone such behaviour! Won't somebody think of the children?!

    Personally, if the military won't do more than watch and listen, I'm with the whole concept of mercenaries onboard the ships.

  29. Alfred

    Why not? I'll tell you why not

    Why not just have the US send jets, someone asked. Read on.

    The merchant shipping in the area can in no way be trusted to tell pirates from fishermen (which, to be fair, is bloody hard to do unless they actually open fire or you get close enough to board them - the fishermen these days have now started carrying weapons, to protect themselves from pirates). They often confuse the two, and given that there is no way Freddie Fastjet can do an effective identification whilst screaming by at warp four, this would effectively lead to the murder of innocent fishermen by US forces in international waters. Which is really not very nice.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    That's a lovely t-shirt, thank you

    Clearly the posters above should stick to IT, if that's what they actually do (and I'm getting more and more the impression that this blog [sic] is by and large frequented by call centre drones and store clerks rather than proper ITers, but anyway).

    It might have occurred to you that if things were just as easy, just as black and white as in Hollywood and video games, then this "problem" would not exist.

    A very few precisions:

    * The fire power, commitment, and (to a lesser degree) fighting skills of the pirates are not to be underestimated.

    * In the event of an exchange of fire, the ship's own guard force poses as much if not more of a risk than the pirates themselves.

    * In real life the use of force, and especially lethal force, has consequences (financial, legal, ethical, logistical, etc.) This is not a Playstation game.

    * Unwanted attention would be attracted. In many cases, the reasons for foreign ships being in the area are much less than clear (let alone legitimate).

    * From the ship's crew point of view, in the event of a boarding the situation in East Africa is a lot less traumatic than the public are led to believe. Both the crew and the pirates are well briefed as to what to do and how to behave, so while not 100% safe, once boarded the situation need not be overly stressful for the crew (the ship's owner and undersigners, on the other hand...) Note that this point does not apply in West Africa, where violence towards a compliant crew can be expected at any time even after a vessel has been taken over.

    * We, as in the people who sail there, know, understand, and assume the risks willingly. I can't speak for those who work for non-European companies, but none of us are forced to operate in piracy risk areas if we feel uncomfortable with the idea. We see the pirates not as the enemy but pretty much as another seafarer. Albeit one we strive to stay well clear of, as we have a well-publicised fundamental conflict of economic interests.

    I seem to remember some time ago Mr. Page had done a piece or two about the reasons for the increased piracy (and increased reporting thereof) in East Africa, those were fairly good reading as I recall.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Walrus-class submarines

    I thought that was Jamie Hyneman on Myth Busters?

    Seriously though, it sounds like a great time for some clandestine torpedo testing. How do you say "Damn, that pirate ship done blowed up good!" in Dutch?

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Ships should paint whales on the sides of hulls

    That way the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society can get their two cents into going after the pirates. That would make for better entertainment than what's on TV now.

  33. Sureo

    I can't help remembering...

    Last year a Canadian frigate was sent over and they actually caught some of the pirates in the act. So what did they do? They disarmed the pirates and let them go! I'm still shaking my head in wonderment over that story. A speeder on the road gets treated more harshly than that. Now the Dutch navy will be .... Listening! That's got to be a big discouragement to those pirates.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Hey, works for me!

    I have no problem with using a sub close in to the coast to intercept pirate communications and then feed that out to the surface fleet. That means the surface ships can go track down the pirates better.

    But by all means, let's stop coddling these pirates. NATO's standing order should be to inspect all suspicious vessels. If they don't heave to for inspection, then by all means open fire.

    Pirate icon--because pirates are only cool in movies. In real life, they're a menace to decent people!!

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In Other News

    Merkins have invented a new way to electrocute their SpecOps troops:

    "Sir, nobody told us how to determine the voltage of a power line. Seargent Dullman needed to recharge his nintendo game and that's when he got burned to three feet length. The stink was horrible."

  36. TeeCee Gold badge

    Quiet subs.

    While it's true the Diesel / Electric are quiet on electrics, Nuclear ones are as quiet and also don't suffer from being god-awfully noisy for long, enforced periods.

    There are only three reasons for using D/E boats as opposed to nuclear:

    1) You can't afford SSNs.

    2) You've got your head up your arse when it comes to all fings wot are noocooluh.

    3) You're the sort of unreliable craphole that would get the living shite kicked out of it if anyone else though it stood an outside chance of getting its paws on nuclear tech.

    In this case we can rule out 3, so which of 1 or 2 is it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Nukes not so quiet

      "While it's true the Diesel / Electric are quiet on electrics, Nuclear ones are as quiet"

      Err. no they aren't. Unless of course you turn off all the cooling pumps and other assorted plumbing to the PWR, then it would be really quiet for a while... followed shortly by a rather loud noise.

  37. Martin Usher

    They're used for inshore work

    The Israelis have submarines, too, and they're diesel-electrics. Nuclear submarines are used for long distance patrols in deep water, these are used for inshore work, patrolling coastlines and harbors. The submarine is unlikely to intercept any pirate, it will just hand off intelligence to a surface ship.

    (About Q-ships) There's apparently some maritime law that prevents people from arming merchant ships. Pity, because a few sunk Zodiacs would send a message -- the pirates would never quite know what they're coming up against until it was too late.

    1. Eponymous Cowherd
      Thumb Down

      Armed Merchant Ships

      The "Q" ships wouldn't be merchant ships, like the WW1 Q Ships they would be naval vessels operated and crewed by the Navy (ours or otherwise).

      The fact that HMS Pirate Basher used to be a merchant vessel and still *looks* like a merchant vessel is irrelevant. She is now a Warship and is perfectly entitled to be armed and blast the shit out of anyone who attacks her.

      In any case, to tackle the Somali pirates, the ship, *itself*, wouldn't need to be armed. A Naval crew backed by Marines with a selection of heavy weaponry would probably suffice.

  38. cphi

    bolt-on point defence kit

    wonder why some sort of portable automated point defence kit hasn't been developed. I imagine even a TOW size warhead would be enough to disable a small pirate ship - might make piracy less cost-effective. would be more effective than combat teams who seem to do no more than deter an attack until the next ship. still, have a fair bit of sympathy for the somalis - we took their fish now they take our goods.

  39. Argus Tuft

    nosiy nukes

    the put-down on electric subs is interesting.. Canadian, Australian, and Dutch electric subs have repeatedly taken out nuclear attack subs, carriers, anti-sub frigates, etc in exercises - mostly without loss.

    And that includes the Walrus class subs.

    On the 'listening to communications' - wouldn't it just be easier to station a couple of big floating steel things with lots of guns in clear view just off the main trouble zones?

  40. Dave Bell

    Legal problems

    The essential problem is that, while all countries have legal jurisdiction to deal with pirates, the legal systems have changed since the 18th Century. We're protected against some of the excesses of power, as a result.

    And Navies have to follow the rules, or they're just another sort of pirate.

    Still, I don't have any objection to some low-tech naval gunnery being employed, if you're sure of the target. It's a pity they have to waste mass and space on guided missiles.

  41. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Lots of uninformed comment on here...

    OK just 2 points that i thought should be mentioned:

    1) Somali, even if it has no functioning government, is still a soverign state it would be HIGHLY illegal under international law to launch any attack on its landmass (so attacking pirate bases are a big no-no) without almost universal backing in the UN. Which lets face it is never going to happen... Same deal with sitting a couple of destroyers outside of Somali ports. International Waters starts 200km out, so you can sit outside that zone if you want but that does give a lot of room to play in...

    2) People keep talking about equipping ships with guns or creating Q ships. But have you actually seen the size fo the freighters were talking about here? On most of these ships the sailors use bicycles to get from one end to the other. So if your being attacked at the front of the boat, it would take you about 5-10 minutes to get to the front to repel the attack. Additionally, Pirates dont advertise when they are about to attack (they use small zodiacs for a reason - they dont show up on radar). The larger mother ship is usually just a fishing vessel and it usually does not get anywhere near close enough to be recognisable as a potential threat. So arming crew on board these ships is a very good way to end up with a lot of dead people on both sides and potentially even more weapons in Somali hands. (A pirate at the moment has no reason to harm the crew of a ship as they get more ransom for an unharmed crew. But kill a couple of that pirates mates and he's going to be decidedly less caring about your welfare, whats 1 or 2 million dollars off the ransom in comparison to the joys of revenge?)

    Truth betold if there was a real desire to stop the attacks, then there are only a few ways to do it, a) create a viable alternative for employment for young somalis so that they actually have a choice not to go into piracy, and b) halt (or at least reduce) the amount of weapons making it into the worlds hotspots. Unfortunately i dont see either of these options being explored right now...

    1. Anders Halling


      Yes, the amount of "Pah, that's easy, nuke 'em all"-posters here is quite staggering.

      Torpedo that 15-foot zodiac with a 533mm topedo! Shell that 70-foot mothership with 3in guns (or 9x16in broadsides from USS Iowa....)! Convert 10% of the traffic in the worlds busiest sea lanes to Q-ships or embark troops on the same number of ships (thousands)!

      But don't spend a dime helping the locals to have an alternative to piracy...

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For Sale

    One used and slightly bent submarine. Free crew with every order. A few decorative bullet holes, but otherwise in top nick. Sensible offers only. No times wasters

    Teh Somali Pyrates, Mogadishu

    BTW stop nickin' our fish, kthxbai

    1. Anonymous Coward

      FINALLY !!!

      ..the enemy we have been preparing for the last 60 years !

      It will be real fun to see how the NATO admirals duke it out who has the privilege to sink that kind of opponent.

      Adm Pfennighuber: German subs are the most silent, we have the most experience, we must take out that rogue submarine.

      Adm Sir Collingfart: Don't dare ! You lost the war and now you want to take away the priviliege to go into action from the victorious Royal Navy ? Never !

      Adm Villeneuve-Camemebert de Fauxpas-Vichy: The submarine pirates offended the pride of France by attacking a chum of Mr Sarko. We must be given the task to destroy them ! It's a matter of national existence !!!

      Adm John Yankman: We are the biggest, the best and our burgers are the most tasty. This is a unique opportunity to try our Nuclear-Tipped MK48-N on a real target. We must be tasked with this !

  43. Anonymous Coward

    Holland <> Netherlands

    "According to a NATO statement issued yesterday, Holland agreed to assign one of its four submarines following a request from Alliance military officials."

    That's like saying England agreed to assign one of its subs rather than Britain.

    Holland is part of the Netherlands, not all of it.

    </pedant, sorry>

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