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PIRACY UPDATE: There's Men With Guns, but Piracy Is Not War [Part 1]

By Wendy Laursen 11-19-2012 08:47:00

Seafarers have become the center of many initiatives to protect them from capture, torture and murder at the hands of pirates. Yet a long-term solution remains elusive.

By Wendy Laursen

Young deck cadet Sergey recalls being excited about his first transit of the high-risk waters off Somalia: “To be honest, I don’t fully recognize the whole danger of all of this, maybe because I’m still young.” Sergey’s transit was uneventful. On board Stena Suéde, he had the protection of best management practices, a team of security guards and, as a last resort, a purpose-built citadel.

Twenty-one-year-old trainee Dipendra did not have such support when his vessel was hijacked: “They kept us in a state of terror. We were beaten constantly with metal poles. I managed to avoid the worst violence, but I saw my crewmates being thrashed with sticks and having electric probes attached to their genitals, and one man was suspended by ropes from the ship’s mast for several hours. Even when I could not see the torturing, I could hear the screams. I can still hear the screams to this day. I don’t know why I wasn’t hurt more – maybe they thought I was too young and unimportant.”

Private Security Teams

So far, no ship with armed guards has been successfully attacked, and Stena Suéde’s Captain Steven Targett says, “The best thing the shipping industry can do, in my opinion, is what they have already done, which is to allow armed guards.” Private security companies abound, but their services are not always permitted by flag states. There is fear that a ‘fight fire with fire’ approach will escalate violence, although in some countries, such as France, it is possible for vulnerable vessels to engage guards from the French navy.

Lieutenant (retired) Dave Daniel Rachimi, CEO of maritime security company Armed Piracy Defense (APD), says that piracy will not be stopped by governments, so it is imperative to provide armed security for all vessels travelling in high-risk areas. Rachimi’s ultimate solution is to have 400 teams supported by floating armories under one unified command. This would cost around $20 million to set up and would provide security for all vessels travelling high-risk routes. Currently APD offers shipping companies access to 125 security teams from 25 companies.

Most crews are grateful for the support of private security teams, but the situation is not perfect. A few problems have been reported including guards becoming nervous, not knowing how to use the arms on board or not following procedures. Many guards have military backgrounds, but a point of contention is the differing rules of engagement used by different states. There are moves to regulate the industry globally through ISO or industry bodies such as the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) in the UK. And Bureau Veritas has joined with French maritime security consultants Securymind to provide auditing and verification services.

Non-Lethal Measures

Piracy protection has become an industry not just limited to the provision of armed guards. Trauma psychologists are building a presence in India, and family medical insurance is a growing industry there. Opus Hostage Solutions in the UK offers training for surviving a kidnapping. Along with providing intelligence and risk assessments, Risk Intelligence of Denmark is currently assessing appropriate security measures for slow steaming. From a technology point of view, Insitu’s ScanEagle, an unmanned aerial surveillance system, has been taken up by the Dutch navy. German inventor Heinz Weiss has developed an automatic rotating chain system designed to prevent pirates from boarding.

It may be an industry, but what piracy hasn’t become is war. A lot of pirates are just teenagers, says Ahamed Kibria, CEO of United Marine Security. “They are aggressive. They will do anything to hijack a vessel. They’ll throw RPGs, but you cannot compare a Navy SEAL with pirates.” Many are very young. A Seychelles court recently pardoned and returned Abdulqadir, 12, and Burhan, 11, to their parents as they were deemed too young to convict of piracy.

Nor are seafarers soldiers. “A lot of it is looked upon as a military exercise and not criminal activity, and because of that you are almost trying to make seafarers become military-minded. That just doesn’t work,” says Lieutenant Commander (retired) Glen Forbes, founder of piracy intelligence service OCEANUSLive. “That’s not what seafarers are there for.”

“I do not feel that the current situation in East Africa is a war scenario. Nor should it be considered a conflict or war zone,” says Steven Platt, Director of security company Specialist Marine Services and an advocate of nonlethal force. “Sadly, I have experienced hostile environments and been in combat situations and, although at times it may feel like it, the piracy situation is not a conflict. If service providers operate in the correct manner, there should rarely be a need to discharge a weapon.”

Given the number of armed transits, Platt believes it is only a matter of time before clashes between pirates and security forces escalate. “An armed response is not the answer and in the end will only create problems that will escalate with an increase of violence. I have found from my experience that arming certain people who are not trained or have never used a weapon before is like giving them a green light to run wild. They have a loaded weapon and plenty of ammunition and they suddenly get an urge to use it with anything that moves on the water being labelled as a pirate. Since the introduction of armed teams to the region there has been an increase in shootings and weapons’ smuggling with companies being formed just to smuggle and move weapons.”

Platt anticipates these consequences, depending on the nationality of the pirates, if a security team is overwhelmed by pirates:

1. The security team will be killed on site and dumped overboard.
2. A ransom demand will be made for the security team.
3. An example will be made of the security team.
4. The security team will be executed either publically or on camera.
5. The security team will be sold to another clan, tribe or militants.

Don't miss Part 2 of this feature article!

Wendy Laursen is a regular contributor to The Maritime Executive.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.