Private Security – Is It Enough To Stop Pirates?

John Konrad
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March 11, 2013

U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson

Private security firms are proving that armed security teams are an effective means of protecting individual ships but is it the only option?

In 2012 the number of successful pirate seizures fell from a 2009 figure of 38 to 21 according to the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) command in Bahrain, but another statistic published by the group highlights a more troubling trend.

In an official press release, CMF states:

“The number of attacks, including attempts to seize a vessel, within the HRA has increased from 145 in 2009 to 183 last year.”

In short, we are no closer to solving the problem, which has only become more complicated since 2009 when Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, former deputy of U.S. Africa Command, referred to piracy near Somalia as a “a very, very complex situation”.

Since that time the global cost of piracy has steadily increase with current estimates exceeding $7 billion per year as new resources continue to flood the region. Some experts however, conclude that the addition of coalition warships, diplomatic working groups and private security firms, increases complexity and further confuses ship owners looking for simple solutions.

For this reason, the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Liaison Office (MARLO) recently announced that improving communication and coordination between stakeholders is a top priority for the US Navy. In recent press release, MARLO has stated the need to “coordinate political, military, and other efforts” in the region and to continue its mission to “promote cooperation between the U.S. Navy and the commercial maritime community.”

With real time naval intelligence, thousands of Combined Maritime Force (CMF) sailors and dozens of warships available to protect commercial ships transiting Somali waters, MARLO has a lot of firepower at its disposal.  To be effective, they need the help and support of ship owners and operators.

In a short phone survey of readers, gCaptain found only a small percentage of ship operators admitted to taking advantage of naval support, many were unaware of programs (e.g. public intelligence reports, convoys, etc) and, most surprisingly, some were not aware that naval officers are available at MARLO and CMF to answer their questions. All were confused with some of the options available to them.

“Private security teams have proven successful in preventing pirates from taking hostages but they are not the only resources available to ship owners.” said Joe Allen, CEO of Six Maritime, an American private security company based in San Diego.

Six Maritime has taken a unique position in its fight against pirates. Co-Founded by the former head of Research and Development Acquisitions Department at Undersea Naval Special Warfare Group, the company has former Navy SEALS ready to board ships but the company is uniquely focused on helping ships assure they don’t have to utilize weapons at sea.

“We have highly trained, combat proven, veterans providing armed security for our clients’ assets, but the first order of business when our teams board a client vessel isn’t to set up how they are going to fire their weapons at attacking pirates.” Said Allen. “The first thing they set about doing is making sure the emergency communications procedures are ready so the ship is able to utilize all the resources available to it.”

Allen agrees with MARLO on the need to improve communication and coordination between ships and military assets in the region. As a former Navy surface warfare officer himself, Allen knows first-hand that naval support has limited effectiveness unless it is preceded by a close working relationship between ships and naval assets in the region.

“The Navy will respond to Mayday calls but too often they respond blindly which limits the amount of help they can provide,” says Allen. “If a ship wants to be safe and well defended it must help the Navy respond not just during but before an incident takes place.”

With most ships operating with less than two dozen people, a handful of which being English speaking officers trained in maritime security procedures, how will sailors find the time to communicate with naval assets?

Allen and his partners at Six Maritime believe they have the solution. Using a model designed to produce Six Sigma results of success, the company has trained its operators in the use of lethal weapons to a level surpassed by none, but they also place significant emphasis on filing reports, communicating with naval assets and early detection and monitoring of ongoing threats.

“We are looking at meeting the needs of shipowners and, in pirate waters, there is a need to provide more than weapons. There is a need to communicate, coordinate, transmit reports and help our clients understand the other assets available to them. Assets, like naval air support, which our clients don’t need to pay for.”

Six Maritime is sponsoring a series of lectures titled “Pirate attack! What naval assets are available to help you and how do you get their help?” This brief presentation from Six Maritime will teach owners and operators how to engage Navy assets and what to expect after they are engaged. The first lecture will be held at noon on Tuesday March 19th at the Shipping 2013 conference in Stamford Connecticut. 

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