The New York Times October 4, 2012
WASHINGTON — It seemed like a simple idea: In the chaos that is Somalia, create a sophisticated, highly trained fighting force that could finally defeat the pirates terrorizing the shipping lanes off the Somali coast.
But the creation of the Puntland Maritime Police Force was anything but simple. It involved dozens of South African mercenaries and the shadowy security firm that employed them, millions of dollars in secret payments by the United Arab Emirates, a former clandestine officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, and Erik Prince, the billionaire former head of Blackwater Worldwide who was residing at the time in the emirates.
And its fate makes the story of the pirate hunters for hire a case study in the inherent dangers in the outsourced wars in Somalia, where the United States and other countries have relied on proxy forces and armed private contractors to battle pirates and, increasingly, Islamic militants.
That strategy has had some success, including a recent offensive by Kenyan and African Union troops to push the militant group Al Shabab from its stronghold in the port city of Kismayu.
But with the antipiracy army now abandoned by its sponsors, the hundreds of half-trained and well-armed members of the Puntland Maritime Police Force have been left to fend for themselves at a desert camp carved out of the sand, perhaps to join up with the pirates or Qaeda-linked militants or to sell themselves to the highest bidder in Somalia’s clan wars — yet another dangerous element in the Somali mix.
Somali pirates less a scourge of the seas as private security firms proliferate
The Daily Exclusive Benjamin Carlson July 30, 2012
Somali pirate attacks are plunging — thanks, in part, to a group of heavily armed ex-Navy SEALs putting their skills to use in the private sector.
In the first six months of 2012, pirate attacks plummeted 33 percent, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Through June, Somali pirates made 69 attacks, resulting in 212 captured hostages. That was down from 163 attacks in the same six-month period in 2011.
Piracy hit its highest point last year, with attacks on 544 ships from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.
One of the biggest factors spurring the drop is the use of maritime security companies that specialize in anti-piracy.
“The fact of the matter is, if you didn’t have private armed guards, it would definitely be much more dangerous — the drop would not have been so significant,” said Michael Frodl, chairman of C-Level Maritime Risks, a consulting company.
For $50,000 per voyage, shipping companies can hire a team of four ex-Navy SEALs to accompany their vessel on a 10-day voyage through the most dangerous waters in the world — the Gulf of Aden, Straits of Malacca and northern Indian Ocean — to thwart hijackings and hostage-taking.
How good are they? Thus far, not a single ship that has had armed guards aboard has been taken, said Doug Brooks, president of the International Stability Operations Association. “It’s a 100 percent solution.”
BBC Africa May 29, 2012
But unlike other private security firms which put guards on board other people’s ships, it will offer vessels of its own.
The chief executive of Typhon, Anthony Sharpe, says the plan is to rendezvous with cargo ships which sign up for their protection and form them into a convoy.
The company says it will establish what it is describing as an exclusion zone of one kilometre around the ships.
The company is buying three boats, which are currently being fitted out in Singapore.
Each of its craft will have up to 40 security officers, drawn from former British Royal Marines, as well as a crew of 20.
The ships will be fitted with machine guns and the staff will have rifles.
But Mr Sharpe told the BBC it is not a question of out-gunning the pirates.
“It’s not about lethal force matching lethal force,” he said.
“It’s more like applying a burglar alarm to the problem and the thief will be deterred – so will be looking elsewhere.”
Associated Press at MSN News Center May 24, 2012
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Danish shipper A.P. Moller-Maersk says armed guards have thwarted a pirate attack on one of its U.S.-flagged cargo ships in the Gulf of Oman.
The Copenhagen-headquartered company says “multiple pirate skiffs” headed toward the 488-feet (148-meter) long Maersk Texas on Wednesday, despite receiving “clear warning signals” from guards onboard.
The pirates opened fire on the ship, and guards returned fire, eventually forcing the pirates to abandon their attack.
No one was injured in the incident and the ship continued on its voyage to the U.S. No other details were immediately available Thursday.
Somali pirates have been increasing their range, but attacks around the vital oil lanes near the Strait of Hormuz remain relatively rare.
Bloomberg May 9, 2012
At first the video depicts a seemingly calm, sun-drenched sea from aboard the Avocet, until a pale blue skiff appears in the distance, cutting rapidly across the Indian Ocean toward the bulk ship’s starboard side.
After a tense radio exchange between the ship’s armed guards, who believe they’re under attack by pirates, their team leader steps through the bridge door and orders warning shots. Immediately, he and another guard fire dozens of rounds at the oncoming boat. The blaze of gunfire continues after the skiff crashes into the ship, with guards shooting down into the vessel, and as it then trails behind the Avocet.
“Second skiff coming in,” he shouts, then they turn and begin firing on the new boat, and the video ends.
At least some of the boats’ occupants were probably killed or injured, said Thomas Rothrauff, president of Virginia Beach, Virginia-based Trident Group Inc., which provided the ship’s security crew. He said the incident on March 25 last year was the second attempt to hijack the Avocet in three days. After spotting rocket-propelled grenades on the first skiff, the guards feared for their lives. The shootings were justified and the guards acted responsibly, Rothrauff said, firing warnings before aiming at the boat.
The gunfire exchange highlights a lack of rules governing the use of weapons on the high seas amid questions over how much force is legal and necessary to fight Somali piracy attacks, which targeted a record 237 ships last year. The video, presented at a shipping conference in December and leaked on the internet last month, has fueled debate over when is it acceptable to open fire — and to keep shooting
Associated Press March 22, 2012
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Private security firms are storing their guns aboard floating armories in international waters so ships that want armed anti-piracy guards for East Africa’s pirate-infested waters can cut costs and circumvent laws limiting the import and export of weapons, industry officials say.
Companies and legal experts say the operation of the armories is a “legal gray area” because few, if any, governments have laws governing the practice. Some security companies have simply not informed the governments of the flag their ship is flying, industry officials said.
Some members of the private security sector are urging governments and industry leaders to impose standards on the unchecked practice of storing weapons offshore to equip anti-pirate forces off Somalia’s coast.
Storing guns on boats offshore really took off as a business last year. Britain — where many of the operators are from — is investigating the legality of the practice, which has received little publicity outside of shipping industry circles.
Floating armories have become a viable business in the wake of increased security practices by the maritime industry, which has struggled for years to combat attacks by Somali pirates. But those in the industry say the standards vary widely
Pirate Wars March 16, 2012
These days, such guards are embraced as the best defense against increasingly desperate, greedy and violent pirates.
“The unique selling point for the security companies is that to date no ship with armed guards has been hijacked,” said Stephen Askins, a leading expert on maritime security and piracy at the international law firm Ince and Co. International Maritime Bureau (IMB) figures confirm this.
Armed guards are now on about 1,500 voyages every month, according to the Security Association for the Maritime Industry.
“About half of all ships [now] use armed guards, up from 25 percent a year earlier,” said Andrew Mwangura, editor of the Piracy Report, a journal in Mombasa.
Providing ships with security is a lucrative and growing business: Ship owners spent over $1 billion on “security equipment and armed guards” last year, according to “The Economic Cost of Piracy,” a report by One Earth Future, a non-governmental organization promoting better governance.
Hiring a four-man team for a single voyage through pirate waters costs about $100,000, according to security experts. They say there are hundreds of these teams operating off the Somali coast at any time
The Estonian private security company ESC Global Security fended off pirates attempting to hijack a Greek freighter off the Somali coast on Tuesday.
The incident occurred around 15:00 local time by the Port of Salalah. Eight pirates, armed with AK-47 assault rifles and one RPG, were aboard an approaching vessel, according to the company.
“[The security company] opened fire after all other deterrence measures had been tried and failed to discourage the pirates,” said Jaanus Rahumägi, company director and former MP.
Meanwhile, the company contacted the forces of the EU naval operation in Somalia, which prepared to dispatch a chopper for backup. But at 16:00 the pirates retreated and reinforcements were not needed
In September 2011, as the monsoon began to blow itself out, there were grave warnings from a number of sources and analysts that the shipping industry could expect to see a significant surge in pirate activity as conditions in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean became more favorable. Captain Keith Blount, chief of staff with EU NAVFOR, told the press1, “I think we are going to see a surge in piracy because we always have done at this time when the southwest monsoon abates and the seas become flatter.”
But as conditions cleared, the anticipated increase in pirate activity failed to materialize, to the surprise of many in the industry. This was all the more remarkable given the business model of Somali pirates, which demands that they hijack high value targets which can be ransomed for huge sums which are then used to pay off the investors who supply the equipment used by the pirates, their food and that of their hostages and so on. Without a reasonable turnover of hijacked vessels, pirates begin to run up big bills in their home ports and those cut into their profit margins. Pirates towards the end of 2011 were very much on the back foot, and successful hijackings were suddenly few and far between.
U.S. Navy Seals free American and Dane hostages from pirates in Somalia after being kidnapped in October.
Malta Today January 25, 2012
The two hostages were working for the Danish Demining Group (DDG), a refugee council, and were kidnapped in October in the semi-autonomous Galmudug region.
American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Hagen Thisted were rescued in a rare raid into the Horn of African nation by the helicopters in an attempt to free foreign captives.
Nine pirates were killed and five captured during the rescue operation according to Galmadug’s president, Mohamed Ahmed Alim who added that he was negotiating to secure the release of an American journalist kidnapped on Saturday.
Alim said attacks on pirate bases were very rare and thanked the U.S. for their intervention because pirates were considered the mafia in the region.
Two teams of U.S. Navy Seals landed by helicopter after a gun fight with the kidnappers and took the freed hostages to an undisclosed location
Stratfor Global Intelligence January 13, 2012
The pirates’ area of operations contracted during the past year while the use of some countermeasures expanded.
Although these countermeasures might have helped curtail Somali piracy in 2011, significant improvements will not be likely until serious efforts are taken on land to eliminate havens for pirates.
Furthermore, piracy comes with a large economic incentive.
Even if the Somali pirates are displaced from their current havens, they likely will find ways to operate if there are no alternatives for making money — alternatives that are scarce in Somalia, which has no significant economic resources.
Channel 4 News January 5, 2012
As British private security companies queue up to offer armed guards to counter pirate attacks off Somalia, a government report calls for tighter regulation of a flourishing industry
The report by the foreign affairs committee acknowledged that the government was right to allow the use of armed guards on boats subject to certain conditions but it expressed concerns about what the accompanying guidelines omitted, saying the rules need to be tightened.
It pointed out that there are more than sixty firms offering armed maritime protection for the region and said the government “should not offload responsibility onto ship owners to deal with the most difficult aspects of handling private armed guards”.
There is a danger that unless unequivocal guidance is produced, then we may once again give pirates the upper hand. Peter Cook
It said “the guidance on the use of force, particularly lethal force, is very limited” and that the government must not leave guidance on the use of potentially lethal force “to private companies to agree upon”.
Yonhap Seoul, Korea January 2, 2012
The famous Korean Admiral Yi Sun-shin never battled Blackbeard, Calico Jack or Captain Kidd, but his distant descendants are now joining the struggle against 21st century sea wolves — on a freelance basis.
With Korea’s economy hinging on global trade, mostly seaborne, there is a clear requirement for maritime security. And with Korea’s military generating a pool of trained professionals, private military contractors (PMCs) are supplying the security demands of Korean merchant shipping.
These “sea marshals” are not easy to find. They are virtually invisible on the Internet (a considerable feat in itself). A meeting with an executive required an introduction from a private investigator. The executive asked to meet in a coffee shop rather than his office and declined to be photographed.
Lim Yong-beom was casually dressed and in his early 40s. Of average height, he has a gentle handshake, but when he removed his jacket, a Homeric physique was apparent beneath his shirt. Lim, a special forces veteran, is the chief intelligence officer of IntelEdge, a PMC founded in 2010 that provides maritime security, consulting, intelligence and specialized hardware.
“We have around 20 regular contractors, all ex-Special Forces, and another 20 temporary, mostly British,” said Lim, whose post-military service experience with PMCs includes work in West Africa and the Middle East.
Korean sea marshals are recruited from veterans of the most elite units, Lim explained. These comprise the army special forces of the 707 Battalion (similar to the US Delta Force or British SAS); the naval commandos of SEAL-UDT, or Sea-Air-Land/Underwater Demolition teams (who won fame for the storming of the captured “Samho Dream” last January); and the operators of HID, or Headquarters Intelligence Detachment (a black operations unit so secret that the Ministry of National Defense denies its existence).
defenceWeb Thursday November 10, 2011
A private navy equipped with a fleet of patrol boats is scheduled to begin escorting ships through the Gulf of Aden early next year as private security forces take a growing role in the fight against piracy.
The venture has been organised by Convoy Escort Programme Ltd, and is backed by UK insurance and reinsurance broker Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group, Bloomberg reports. It is due to commence escorts in five months time.
“The bullet-proof boats will charge about US$30,000 per ship travelling in a convoy of around four vessels over three to four days,” Convoy Escort CEO Angus Campbell told Bloomberg.
“We are going to be a deterrent. We are not in the business of looking for trouble, but if anybody tries to attack a vessel we are escorting, our security teams will deploy force if they have to act in self defence.”
Convoy Escort will use seven ex-navy patrol boats, each with eight armed guards, costing US$30 million. The venture may expand to 11 boats, which will cost US$50 million. Campbell said venture funds, oil companies and marine insurers may invest in the business.
A private naval force was proposed over a year ago but encountered opposition over getting a state to register its ships. “Cyprus agreed to add the ships last month, following a US State Department’s veto for registration in the Marshall Islands,” Mr Campbell said.
In September the shipping industry called on the United Nations to create an armed military force to be deployed on vessels to counter the escalating menace from armed seaborne gangs