By Dave Yonkman

“The vast criminal enterprise of seafaring piracy in Somalia’s Gulf of Aden continues its steady decline as the preeminent danger zone to international shipping on the high seas since its height in 2011.”

Counter-measures deployed by nation states and international coalitions have contributed to diminishing the threat, but the overall success can be mostly attributed to the presence of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs).

Pirates have yet to successfully attack a single vessel protected by armed security guards. This is a strong indicator that PMSCs and their onboard security teams are a major deterrent to pirate attacks.

Now that they have largely succeeded in the Gulf of Aden, PMSCs are necessarily shifting their business focus to a large degree on the emerging new “markets” in West Africa and the Malacca Strait. Counter-piracy measures are nearly non-existent in these areas despite the rapidly increasing risks to safe passage and potentially devastating effect on economic prosperity in the regions.

Reuters news agency reports recently that pirate attacks off the coast of Nigeria have jumped by one-third in 2013 “as ships passing through West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, a major commodities route, have increasingly come under threat from gangs wanting to snatch cargoes and crews.”

Furthermore, Reuters reported back in October of an attack on an oil supply vessel in Nigerian waters where pirates kidnapped the captain and chief engineer, both of whom were American citizens.

Most recently, Greek authorities reported that an oil tanker came under armed attack off the west coast of Africa, and the ship’s Ukrainian captain and Greek first engineer were kidnapped.

Conversely, maritime piracy by Somali gangs has dropped 90 percent to a six-year low, according to a new report from Control Risks.

It might be easy to try and correlate the two – West Africa and Somalia – but they are markedly different types of menaces.

Somali pirates attack ships with the first and foremost goal of holding their crew for high ransom.

West African pirates are more interested in the cargo, particularly oil, which they can sell on the black market for half the cost. They are far more inclined to simply kill or injure crew members if they get in the way than to barter their lives as currency.

This is occurring at a time when piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is emerging as a vital shippinglifeline for a dozen countries and targeting vessels that carry nearly 30 percent of all U.S. oil imports, according to the Heritage Foundation.

Indeed, the Gulf of Guinea has emerged as the world’s latest piracy hotspot.

The absence of any rule of law or consistent regulation among nation states is a ripe breeding ground for corruption, with the bad guys already exploiting the situation to their advantage.

Fortunately, PMSCs have always stood at the forefront in responding to this new frontier. They possess the most sophisticated capability and necessary flexibility to protect ships and ensure their safe passage through international waters.

This defense will be crucial until impacted nation states and international organizations operating in the region can coalesce around an agreed upon framework that includes all maritime security providers, including PMSCs.

PMSCs are not unhinged freelancers for hire, however. They are required to honor a strict code of conduct and best practices issued by maritime security organizations and the International Maritime Organization. They hold themselves to the highest standards of international conduct, including Flag and Port State controls while protecting ships in the open water.

And, unlike national naval forces, they are not constrained by bureaucracies and limited resources in their efforts to provide efficient and safe passage to all threatened vessels.

The vast majority of vulnerable nations in the emerging battleground have no official naval forces to begin with aside from two or three small skiffs that are continuously under repair.

The implications for the future of the maritime shipping industry are tremendous. The new threat environments require bold new approaches that continue to combat traditional adversaries in the Gulf of Aden, yet recognize the emerging threats in West Africa and the spillover from the Arabian Sea into nearby international waters.

The global map of maritime piracy needs to be redrawn in response to the new dangers. PMSCs are critical in mounting effective resistance to continuous pirate attacks that are often supported by corrupt nation states. They are a significant part of an overall solution in the mixture of public and private efforts to control global piracy on the high seas.

In the meantime, the private sector stands at the ready to ensure safe passage of vessels and to confront this developing criminal enterprise before it becomes too late.

Posted September 27, 2014 by rrts in -NEWS

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