Friday, March 24, 2006

The Jamaica-Somalia Connection

The Star Princess after the fireYesterday’s cruise ship fire was all set to pass below the Gates of Vienna radar. And why shouldn’t it — what, after all, does yet another cruise ship debacle have to do with jihad?

However… we have an occasional correspondent in the intelligence business, and last night she contacted us with an intriguing idea from the murky shadows of spookdom. Apparently certain elements in the intelligence community are convinced that Al Qaeda has taken an interest in cruise ships as targets after the attempted pirate attack on such a vessel off the coast of Somalia last November.

Mind you, this latest incident on the Star Princess seems unlikely to be jihad-related. News 14 Charlotte gives the details of the story:

A fire apparently started by a cigarette broke out aboard a cruise ship early Thursday as it sailed through the moonlit Caribbean, injuring 11 people and scorching about 100 rooms. One elderly American passenger died from a heart attack, the cruise ship company said.

The Star Princess, carrying 2,690 passengers and 1,123 crew members, bore evidence of the nighttime drama as it pulled into Montego Bay’s port. About 85 exterior cabins were blackened from the fire, a stark contrast to the otherwise gleaming white exterior of the ship.

If this was a mujahideen operation, they must be embarrassed by the result. Smoke inhalation and a heart attack! Not much of a payoff there.

‘Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat’ by Dennis Malone CarterBut consider: cruise ships are horizontal skyscrapers, and this one had more than 3800 people on board, more passengers and crew than the number of victims killed on September 11th.

Those two-bit Somali pirates failed in their efforts, but suppose the Great Jihad took on the task instead? It would gain an enormous propaganda victory, cripple an important component of the tourist trade, and make sea travel every bit as burdensome as air travel is now.

You can picture the burning, sinking ship on live video taken from circling helicopters and beamed to every TV set in the world for days on end. Images of charred bodies floating in the water, injured victims screaming while being winched into Coast Guard helicopters…

How could Al Qaeda not do it?

I’m a hayseed when it comes to intelligence matters, so I invite readers with expertise and/or opinions on the topic to contribute ideas. Here are a few areas to think about:

  • Munitions: something better than the Somali pirates had. More powerful explosives, and a better means of launching them.
  • Delivery: a suicide bomber could pull off a USS Cole on a cruise ship. Those floating hotels have less armor than a battleship.
  • Timing: nighttime, no moon, when the ship is far from shore.
  • Followup: spread oil on the water, and set it alight timed to coincide with the launch of the lifeboats.
  • Collaborators: men on the inside. Stewards, kitchen help, mechanics, etc., planted as sleepers until the time is right. The US government couldn’t screen for Pakistanis or Arabs or Farsi speakers. Can the cruise ship companies engage in racial profiling?
  • Use these collaborators to disable as much of the ship’s electronics — radios, in-ship voice lines, etc. — as possible.

That’s what on old geek like me can put together after ten minutes of fooling around with the idea. What do you think those Al Qaeda bastards are dreaming up in the lantern-lit caves of Waziristan?


Kirk Parker said...

How about we don't do their brainstorming for them?

Baron Bodissey said...

Kirk -- if those guys can learn anything from the rants of a bozo like me, they must be pretty pathetic and nothing to worry about.

They are well-educated and dedicated strategists, many with engineering degrees and with explosives and warfare training by the ISI. They're quite capable of thinking of much more sophisticated and workable plans than my ideas.

Besides, our side needs to be seriously looking at all these kinds of scenarios. If they're not, let's goose 'em and get 'em started.

Fat Man said...

My first attempt would be to rule out insurance fraud.

ik said...

maybe you knew this stuff - but here goes
William Langewiesche wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly in September 2003 "Anarchy at Sea" which covers lots of these scenarios. That site requires registration so here is a copy of that article

Here is a conversation with him

He also has a book
The Outlaw Sea : A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime

There is also a show on it

Baron Bodissey said...

Ken --

The URL in your comment messed up the post width. I made it into a link.


Ken Lydell said...

Remember the Achille Lauro. It took only four Palestinian terrorists to pull it off.

Scott said...

Never say never and there is no such thing as unsinkable but I'm
sure the cruise ship industry has
given plenty of thought to the problem.

Then there is the fact that modern
cruise ships are big. Very big. The
USS Cole was a 8000 ton midget next
to a 70,000 to 150,000 cruise ship.
I don't think the Cole's hull was
any tougher than that of say the
Queen Mary. Armor belts are a thing
of the past. Even so the bomb used
against the Cole was about as big
as al Qaeda has ever used with the
exception of some truck bombs of
the type used against Khobar Towers
and the Marine barracks in Lebanon.

So a Cole sized bomb or even one of
larger size might severely damage a
100,000 ton cruise ship, sinking it
would be unlikely.

As has been mentioned a reprise of
the Achille Lauro might be the real
problem. Here you could have a few
men seize a huge and fast ocean
liner and pose the kind of security
dilemma 9/11 did.

Imagine the new Queen Mary being
seized. 158,000 tons of very fast
ocean liner bearing down on a LNG
tanker as it was unloading. The US
military would be aware the Queen
Mary was off course, travelling too
fast and about to cause a disaster.
But its got 2500 passengers aboard.

Given that might it not behoove the
Cruise ship industry to reserve a
few cabins for some special forces
troops to use. Mutually beneficial
arrangement one might think. The
soldiers get a nice R&R spot and in
return the cruise ships get a free
security force.

mnc said...

Don't forget Superferry 14 sank after an explosion February 04. 100 dead, claimed by Abu Sayyaf, accident says Pilippine Government.

Unknown said...

The first such instance of a passenger liner hijacking was the Santa Maria in 1961 by rebels protesting the regimes of Franco and Salazar.

Mark Tempest said...

Actually, the buzz on al Qaeda and cruise ships has been around for a while. The Turkish government currently has a man on trial who asserts he was going to blow up some Israeli cruise ships off Antalya, Turkey. More here and here. After his arrest in August 2005 he engaged in some posturing: "...'I have no regrets,' Sakra shouted to journalists from a window after he was led into the courthouse. 'I was going to attack Israeli ships. If they come, my friends will attack them.'

'I had prepared a ton of explosives,' he added in a barely audible voice.

He also shouted 'Allahu akbar,' Arabic for 'God is great,' before officials pulled him back and closed the window. He spoke in Turkish with an Arabic accent.

A police official said Sakra was planning to attack Israeli cruise ships with speedboats packed with explosives. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because only top officials are allowed to speak on the record without prior authorization."

And don't forget the frequent rumors of al Qaeda divers, either...

Edna Barney said...

Baron - Thanks for Nothing! You are creeping me out. For the first time in almost twenty years I've signed up for a cruise next month. Up until just now, I was worried about "Bird Flu". I'll be thinking of you.

Captain USpace said...

These terrorist monkees MUST be exterminated!

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
make good use of terror