Negotiating with Hostage-Takers: We Need Doctrine
By Michael R. Shevock
While the Navy is ever-more involved in boarding suspect vessels, the Coast Guard has been doing it for a long time. Both services desperately need a comprehensive hostage-negotiation doctrine. In U.S. law enforcement this science has reached a high degree of sophistication, but seaborne situations provide complicating factors for which contemporary land-bound practices are not appropriate. We have not yet perfected policy for this, because no boarding team has yet been taken hostage. The following is intentionally limited because certain principles and tactics associated with hostage negotiation are sensitive and inappropriate for open-forum discussion; the hope is to inspire the quest for more knowledge.
Impressive Feats—And Possible Blowback
It is well known how a Navy SEAL team killed three Somali pirates on Easter Sunday 2009, thereby helping to save Captain Richard Phillips of the MV Maersk Alabama. While they performed magnificently, they inadvertently did one thing that could ultimately prove unfortunate: they made it look easy.
From May to June 1982, the Coast Guard was involved in a dramatic hostage drama. The Liberian-flagged Greek tanker Ypapanti, anchored off the mouth of the Delaware Bay, endured a mutiny in which the largely Pakistani crew took the predominantly British officers hostage in a wage dispute. In response to requests from the Greek and British governments, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral James S. Gracey directed the involvement of USCGC Alert (WMEC-630), which embarked an FBI special-weapons-and-tactics team and conducted negotiations with the mutineers, later assaulting the Ypapanti. All hostages were rescued with no loss of life.
The success of this operation can be attributed to the highly improbable coincidence that the Alert’s commanding officer, Commander Armand L. Chapeau, was one of the few who had been trained in hostage negotiation. Before commanding the cutter, he had been the branch chief of Commander, Coast Guard District Twelve (Oil), and had examined in detail hostage-negotiation doctrine as it pertained to the maritime environment. In the Ypapanti situation, Chapeau did not relinquish operational control to the FBI. He deviated from conventional negotiation practice with good cause and great results, based on his singular understanding of both the contest and the arena.
The United States has thus far met such maritime situations with extraordinary talent and very good luck. Admonitions regarding just how poorly things could conceivably go should not be necessary. But one crucial fact about hostage negotiation that must be understood at the outset is that much of it is counterintuitive. For example: A little knowledge about negotiation doctrine is dangerous, but expert knowledge can, in certain situations, be even worse.
The Stockholm Syndrome
In an incident named for the location in which it occurred, the Swedish capital, a would-be bank robber held four hostages for six days before he surrendered to police. Later, the victims repeatedly claimed they were more afraid of the police than the criminals (the original perpetrator demanded that a friend be allowed to join him, which the police granted). That the captives clearly sympathized with their captors exposed a remarkable psychological phenomenon. Specifically, it is not merely common but rather the rule that hostages will bond with their takers.
Generally, hostages are taken as a result of inconvenient circumstances and impulse. The criminal finds himself threatened and so grabs the nearest insurance policy to force his demands. The hostage’s world is immediately transformed. He or she is suddenly under the complete control of another person—who is either armed or otherwise lethally potent. The captive cannot eat, drink, sleep, or even breathe without the permission of the captor. The overriding psychological drive is to survive, which in this case means pleasing the hostage-taker.
This is fueled by the same impulse that makes a drowning person claw for a life ring, with the same focus and passion. In addition, the situation generally involves a number of armed law-enforcement personnel surrounding the scene. Fear distills agendas down to their most basic elements. The typical hostage—even a trained military member or a police officer—is going to repeat the mantra “Just do what he says.”
And that is not bad advice. The hostage-taker is usually frightened as well. He knows a live captive is his only insurance policy, even though certainly vexing. The captor cannot help but recognize the person’s value. Worth breeds affection, even if perverted or misplaced. If the hostage can bond with his captor, the likelihood of someone dying is significantly diminished. A cornerstone of any doctrine provided to potential boarding-team members is to promote rather than resist the urge to connect with the hostage-taker. Naturally, the benefits of this still come with unintended and inconvenient consequences.
More Side Effects
At times, hostages have shielded their captor from enforcement personnel with their own bodies. The behavior doesn’t have to be rational to be predictable. Top SWAT teams are aware of this and train accordingly. The worst possible hostage is one who is trained in assault tactics or negotiation strategies, because, if circumstances allow for the Stockholm Syndrome to engage, he or she will probably divulge these doctrines to the captor. For this reason, boarding members should be provided with absolutely no information on negotiation doctrine. The total picture of Navy and Coast Guard information in this area that is disseminated to operators must be treated as highly sensitive and limited to commanding and executive officers’ eyes only. Period.
Boarding members should receive training appropriate for the roles they are most likely to experience. For example, they should know that if one of their number is to be released, they are to eschew heroic impulses to “stay with the team.” They are to vacate, even if it means leaving shipmates (temporarily) behind. They should feel obliged to engage the hostage-taker in dialogue and learn as much information as possible—including biographical and personal eccentricities—and they should have code words that can be used at the outset of a situation to notify the command that they have been taken hostage.
It is worth noting that not all incidents called hostage situations will fit the definition that law enforcement uses when formulating doctrine. If hostages are confined in a separate space, held by a group with a specified hierarchy, and monitored by different individuals on watch rotation, the psychological dynamic will be that of prisoner and guard as opposed to hostage and hostage-taker. It is still advisable for service members confined in this sort of situation to engage captors, but the Stockholm Syndrome will probably not apply. It also bears noting that some terrorists have been provided with training and tactics that will allow them to resist bonding with hostages.
Wanted: Specialized Doctrine
Without betraying details of conventional negotiation strategies, it is obvious that certain givens accompany most land-bound incidents. Law enforcement usually has perimeter control, the hostage-takers generally have limited logistical capabilities, utilities—electricity and water—can be cut off, and the captor is most often denied that which he craves most: mobility. None of these conditions pertains in a maritime scenario. The ideal time to plan possible resolutions for a kidnapped boarding team is long before confrontation with deadlines and a ticking clock.
Obviously a last resort, assaults at sea are not easy. Everything about a ship is hazardous to SWAT officers. Closed firefighting systems, watertight doors, ladders instead of stairs, exposed fuel and electrical lines, steam pipes, toxic chemicals, functioning machinery, combustible fumes, and a rolling deck—all of these amount to a nightmare for a tactical officer. Metal bulkheads and decks yield a ricochet problem that makes every missed shot a potential friendly fire issue. Unless the assigned sniper is a sea-service professional, he will probably get seasick.
During the assault of the Ypapanti, a joint FBI–Coast Guard team swarmed over the taffrail and performed a well-executed roundup of all suspects. During the protracted negotiation phase and under the supervision of Commander Chapeau, the Coast Guardsmen drilled at this for weeks. Had the joint assault team been required to perform on shorter notice, the outcome might not have been so satisfactory.
The Navy has SEALs, but the Coast Guard has no special operators. Yet because the Coast Guard performs the higher number of boardings, it has the greatest likelihood of getting into a hostage situation. Should the service not develop its own special-weapons-and-tactics capability? A hard-core SWAT capability would require an improbable mutation of the Coast Guard culture. The service should have an agreement in place with other agencies (presumably the FBI and Department of Defense), according to which specific tactical-response forces would be identified; these same forces would conduct realistic underway exercises to determine ahead of time what performance could be expected.
Thus far the Fates have been kind to the Coast Guard and Navy, but it would be folly of the most inexcusable sort to expect past good fortune to predict all future events. The probability of future hostages surviving an incident will be in direct proportion to the quality and intensity of preparation.
Coast Guard Maritime LNG
By Lieutenant (junior grade) Joe DiRenzo IV, U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. maritime services should seriously consider liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative energy system for future vessels. As Jeff Rubin, former chief economist for Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce World Markets, explained more than two years ago, “We’ve exhausted our supply of easy-access conventional oil and now we’re turning to unconventional sources in shale, tar sands, and deep water. It’s unconventional sources of oil and the prices required to facilitate extraction that are problematic for us” (L. de Franco, “Headspace: Economist Discusses Peak Oil,” Spacing, 7 April 2011). A number of solutions such as LNG are gaining traction in other countries and in the civilian industrial sector, especially in Scandinavia. The Coast Guard can build on that success.
Through its Energy Coordination Office, the U.S. Navy has taken an aggressive posture regarding energy. This will support the service’s Task Force Energy, coordinator of the overall strategy. The Navy has also deployed a “great green fleet” that uses biofuels, infused high-efficiency heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and hybrid electric drive for Arleigh Burke–class ships. These are significant initiatives, but LNG could be a strategic game changer.
Not Just a Domestic Fuel
Switching to LNG will lead to greater energy security for the Coast Guard. Currently, almost all natural gas used in the United States is produced domestically (89 percent), imported from Canada through pipelines, or shipped from Trinidad and Tobago as LNG. Several sources, including the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), predict that natural-gas production will outpace demand, causing the United States to export LNG by 2016. Specifically, the EIA believes the Gulf of Mexico coast and Alaska will become major shipping hubs. By 2027, the United States may be shipping as much as 4.5 billion cubic feet per day of LNG. Even if these predictions are wrong, a number of LNG-exporting countries are U.S. allies, including Norway, Trinidad and Tobago, and Australia. They could easily satisfy additional demand.
The recent boom in the production of natural gas from shale and tight formations has driven down the cost to approximately $13 per million British Thermal Unit (13$/mmBTU) including small-scale LNG distribution costs, compared with 21.2$/mmBTU for marine-grade oil based on 2010 prices. According to the initial draft of the EIA’s 2013 annual energy overview, natural gas used in the industrial sector will increase from 6.8 trillion cubic feet in 2011 to 7.8 by 2025, a 16 percent increase from 2011 to 2025.
Since the marine transportation sector is generally included in the industrial category when predicting the future use of fuels, it is likely that more commercial shipping companies will make the transition to natural gas from standard marine-grade oils. According to projections from the American Clean Skis Foundation, in ten years LNG will cost at least 41 percent less than certain marine distillate fuels for equal energy equivalence. The EIA also predicts natural gas will expand to other markets, such as heavy-duty freight transportation in the trucking industry.
To definitively decide whether LNG is viable for future cutter classes, the Coast Guard should conduct a feasibility study. The actual effectiveness of switching from marine oil to natural gas needs to be gauged, which means considering the actual payback period of the cutter, available fueling facilities around the world, and money saved over that lifetime in fuel costs. The Coast Guard has an impressive track record of maintaining cutters two to three times past their designed life-cycle, as is the case with the medium-endurance cutter. An extensive cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to determine if LNG would be an appropriate fuel source. Additionally, the feasibility study’s theoretical framework should account for the following variables:
• A vessel’s average annual fuel usage
• The “delivered” future LNG price
• Whether the Coast Guard can lock in a price to ensure the costs do not go up at homeport
• Whether multiple fuel options are needed (the ability to switch between LNG and marine-grade oil)
• The distance the LNG must travel from production site to the vessel’s homeport, as well as the number of other vessels in the area that use LNG (if high, this would result in savings from bulk shipments)
Coast Guard–fueled LNG cutters must be able to maintain long endurance and receive LNG from commercially available refueling sources, specifically in ports overseas. Forward locations to refuel in the Coast Guard’s patrol area must be considered in the cost-benefit evaluation. Several import and export LNG terminals already exist in the United States. Based on their density, LNG peak shaving facilities (plants that supply additional power to the grid during periods of high demand) and satellite LNG peak shaving facilities, the best location in the United States to start an LNG pilot program would be the central Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast.
But between the conception and use of LNG on Coast Guard cutters, a large gap remains. Possible solutions include building ships that can be powered on multiple fuel sources and a localized proof of concept (in this case, a smaller vessel built to demonstrate that all these different fuel sources can be used) if LNG is considered for future cutters. Coastal patrol boats and small boats would be ideal for this, since they operate in defined areas.
Other Countries Use LNG
Private companies and governments throughout the world are turning to LNG to fuel everything from coastal patrol boats to large car carriers. In 2012, STX Finland Oy’s Rauma Shipyard started production of a next-generation offshore patrol vessel to be built for the Finnish Border Guard; it will begin service in November 2013. The Norwegian Coast Guard has three different coastal patrol vessels that use natural gas: KV Barentshav, KV Bergen, and KV Sortland can switch between LNG and diesel for different operations.
A number of private companies have also made the move. Totem Ocean Trailer Express plans to convert two Orca-class vessels to service the Anchorage, Alaska–Tacoma, Washington trade, and is building two LNG-fueled freight vessels to operate between Jacksonville, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Companies that produce standard marine LNG engines include Wartsilla, Rolls-Royce, and Mitsubishi. Major ports in Europe such as Hamburg, Germany, are beginning to put in place required LNG facilities to accommodate vessels fueld by it.
Regulations are in place in several countries for the safe operation of these engines in the marine environment. Det Norske Veritas, an independent Norwegian classification society that creates safety guidelines for the shipping industry, has produced the most specific regulations. Others overseeing safe operations at sea—the International Maritime Organization, Lloyd’s Register, Germanischer Lloyd, and the American Bureau of Shipping—have adopted similar ones. With these numerous guidelines in the private sector for natural-gas use, the Coast Guard needs to do little to create similar procedures for its future cutter classes.
Complementing the Mission
No regulations are aimed at carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but many expect new standards to pass in the future, as has happened in other industrial areas over the past three decades. Natural gas is better positioned than marine diesel to meet these standards because it produces less harmful emissions than marine oil. According to Germanischer Lloyd, switching to natural gas will reduce CO2 emissions in marine vessels by 20–25 percent, and sulfur-dioxide emissions by 90–95 percent, as well as reducing almost all particulate matter. Additionally, LNG allows a vessel to be Tier 4 compliant under Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
An LNG-powered cutter will assert the Coast Guard’s position as an LNG expert. In exercising its authority on various marine-safety engineering issues, the service must review and approve all LNG-designed vessels built in the United States. With an increasing number of private LNG ship designs in development, the Coast Guard Marine Safety Center will be able to apply to its consideration of commercial-vessel LNG designs internal lessons on this type of fueling.
Low-sulfur diesel fuels are becoming more expensive, and biodiesel programs remain in their infancy. Hydrogen technology is in the prototype stage. The Coast Guard must turn to developed energy sources as it continues to re-evaluate what fuels it should use as different technologies become more available and feasible. As it carries out this spiral development of its strategies and requirements, thorough attention should be given to liquid natural gas–powered propulsion systems. This gas is clean, abundant, and already being used effectively.
After graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2010, Lieutenant (j.g.) DiRenzo served his initial deck-watch officer tour on the USCGC Vigilant (WMEC-617) as assistant navigator, then first lieutenant. He has now received a Fulbright scholarship to study natural-gas technology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim.
The Triangle Works