Have hired guns finally scuppered Somali pirates?
By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent
ABOARD RMS QUEEN MARY (Reuters) - Posted between septuagenarian passengers in deck chairs, lookouts stand watch over the Gulf of Aden, scanning the horizon for pirates.
After more than half a decade of Somali men attacking Indian Ocean shipping from small speedboats with AK-47s, grappling hooks and ladders, the number of attacks is falling fast.
The last merchant ship to be successfully hijacked, naval officers monitoring piracy say, was at least nine months ago. It's a far cry from the height of the piracy epidemic two years ago, when several ships might be taken in a single week to be traded for airdropped multi-million dollar ransoms.
But as the Queen Mary 2, one of the world's most recognisable ocean liners, passes through the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and out towards Dubai, its owners and crew are taking few chances.
"The pirates have weapons and are not afraid to use them," Lieutenant Commander Ollie Hutchinson, the British Royal Navy liaison officer aboard the liner for its trip through the Indian Ocean, tells a briefing of passengers in the ship's theatre. "Once the pirates have identified their target, they will try whatever means they can to get on board."
To underline his point, he displays a picture of an Italian helicopter hit by small arms fire from a pirate dhow late last year followed by assorted images of gunmen holding AK-47 assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades.
In truth, the Queen Mary 2 - carrying 2,500 passengers and 1,300 crew from Southampton to Dubai on the first leg of a world cruise - is not particularly at risk.
Some 345 metres long and 14 stories high, even its promenade deck is seven floors above the sea. The liner is fast, hard to board and - on this passage at least - moderately well armed. Continued...