LONDON–The growing use of private security firms to protect ships from pirates in the Indian Ocean is throwing up new risks for ships navigating those lawless waters, an Australian think tank said in a report Wednesday.
The private maritime security industry has exploded in recent years in response to increased attacks by Somali pirates on vessels in the Indian Ocean, and many analysts have attributed the sharp decline in piracy attempts this year in part to the greater use of armed security guards.
According to the Lowy Institute for International Policy, over 140 recently launched private maritime security companies currently employ around 2,700 armed contractors on board commercial ships.
The think tank said that although the use of such companies seems to be effective, it is not without risks.
Government policy, international organizations and international law have failed to keep pace with the rapid changes that have taken place within the industry, which means private maritime security companies operate in murky legal waters without regulatory oversight.
The proliferation of armed patrol boats operating in the region also present fresh risks, the report said.
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According to the Lowy Institute, at least 40 private armed patrol boats are or will soon be operating in the Indian Ocean, providing protection for the vessels that hire them.
“If unchecked, these fleets could be more akin to sea-borne vigilantes than to private incarnations of naval counter-piracy forces,” the report said, adding that the use of private armed patrol boats should be actively discouraged.
The emerging practice of hiring out military personnel is also worrying, the Lowy Institute said.
“This practice will involve militaries accepting new kinds of risk and could well distort traditional civil-military distinctions,” it said.
“There is a legitimate and long-term role for private companies to provide security at sea. But their use requires more regulation and coordination than we have seen thus far,” it added.
-By Sarah Kent. (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.