Ships are hard to steal in real life, but we do have a few examples. The crews of two Brazilian dreadnoughts mutinied in 1910, threatening to turn their guns on Rio De Janiero before giving up. In 1931 the Chilean Navy mutinied, with crews seizing ships and dockyard areas for about a week. Also in 1931, the Invergordon Mutiny briefly took control of four Royal Navy battleships. The Russian Navy, of course, suffered several mutinies in the early twentieth century.
Fictional thefts have enjoyed more success. In The Hunt for Red October, a small cadre of treasonous officers manages to steal a nuclear ballistic missile submarine. In Crimson Tide, the act is repeated under somewhat different circumstances. In Under Siege and again in Battleship, small groups with inside knowledge manage to steal the USS Missouri. In Star Trek III (oddly, probably the plot most similar to that of the Pakistani effort), a group of five officers orchestrates the theft of a Federation starship.
And so people have imagined stealing ships, and people have successfully stolen ships. With this in mind, how outlandish was the Al Qaeda plot to seize a Pakistani frigate and use it to attack U.S. warships? How hard is it to steal, and operate, a modern warship? After discussing the question with several naval professionals, the short answers seem to be: It depends, and it depends, but under any circumstances hijacking a warship would prove almost absurdly difficult.
How many people would you need? The answer depends on the condition of the ship, the sophistication of its systems, and the expertise of the personnel. Many functions are fairly basic, if the hijackers understand how to perform them. Engines that are in good condition can run with minimal maintenance for a time, and a handful of experienced sailors can steer a ship. A sufficiently prepared hijacking attempt might well manage to get a ship underway, depending on the level of base security. Slipping out of port (a complex task which depends on interaction with shore controllers, tugs, and other ships) would be more difficult.
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