Maritime security has existed to protect slow moving oil drilling equipment, private luxury yachts and even undersea cable laying projects. The industry was word of mouth, providers were known by their past clients and there was little demand by traditional shipping companies. The spike in attacks in 2008 forced ship owners and charterers to find ways to reduce risk and rapidly increasing “exception” insurance premiums for routes like the Gulf of Aden and a rapidly expanding piracy zone in the Indian Ocean.
The former military who provide security to ships in dangerous waters are called Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel or PCASP. Many of these men are veterans of the contractor circuit in Iraq and Afghanistan. Somalia Report’s 2011 first‐hand report provides a glimpse into this world of tedium interrupted by a few minutes of intense action. Somalia Report was the first news service to leak a State Dept document showing the pragmatic evolution of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s anti‐contractor to pro‐contractor stance as well as see first hand how this emerging sector actually works in Yemen and Somalia. It is clear that the industry is not only here to stay but will demand proper recognition of of PCASP’s role in keeping ship, crew and cargo safe.
In a perfect world there would be no threat. Or if there was, the government under whose flag the vessel sailed would provide the required security. In the real world of flags of convenience and aggressive pirates the industry has simply dealt with the unknowns under the rubric of “No ship with armed guards has been taken by pirates”. This simple fact is borne out month after month of confidential reports posted by ships and security companies at sea. It is not made public knowledge for fear of tipping off pirates to tactics or exposing the client to unwarranted criticism for employing lethal force. When this paradigm fails and pirates do overpower or outwit a armed security crew, the media will be the first to point out the exception.
Additionally there is a growing public, government and industry concern that the provision of this force may be yet another armed group that needs to be regulated. Much of this concern, like similar situations in Iraq is driven by videos or fears, rather than hard evidence. On the whole, the security industry is populated by military, police and trained professionals who must meet the stringent concerns of shipping companies. But the potential for missteps, such as the murder of fishermen, is high and the ability to adjudicate or gather evidence in the event of a violent event gone wrong, is lower than land‐based operations.
The media is historically inclined to disparage armed private security, but governments are not that helpful in supporting the industry either. It is only last year that the United States and the UK have come out in full support of using armed guards on ships. Sadly the number of international commercial vessels flagged by either nation is minuscule compared to flags of convenience.
Although the provision and use of weapons at sea for self defense is legal, there are a myriad of contradictory laws as soon as those security teams start heading to port. These contracts are so lucrative for the security contractors that they have been reported to (wink wink) drop their weapons overboard when the vessel they are guarding is about to enter a weapons‐restrictive port and then purchase new weapons for their next contracted voyage. The reality is that many security companies require creative work arounds to avoid the stiff fines and penalties levied by developing and often rightfully paranoid nations in Africa and the Middle East. Maritime security providers have been arrested and jailed in Somalia, Egypt and Kenya. Not only must the industry meet the legal requirements of over a dozen countries when docking they are also under the watch of the UN Arms Embargo inspectors, international regulations and numerous pressure groups who see ill intent in having armed men on board ships.
To further complicate and frustrate the maritime security industry, the best official position of the the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was delivered in a May 16th 2012 speech by IMO Secretary‐General Koji Sekimizu. Sekimizu described the evidence of maritime security providers in preventing hijack as “anecdotal” and instead of endorsing the industry, laid it out as: