Friday, October 24

War at sea: piracy and the rise of private navies

This story is so 21st Century in so many ways. The Somali pirates who captured the MV Faina are still in a standoff with the Russian and U.S. navies. Tomorrow it'll be a month that the pirates captured the ship -- the one with 33 battle tanks and large heavy weapons and ammunitions caches aboard.

When last I read the Russians are talking about storming the ship and the pirates are threatening to kill the crew.

Meanwhile, everyone's still trying to understand why Kenya bought those tanks from Ukraine; the gossip is that they were trans-shipping them to southern Sudan although when last I heard they're hotly denying.

I wonder what Lord Avebury and Baroness Cox are up to these days.

The question is why Ukraine's government didn't send a guard ship to accompany a ship loaded with weapons that they knew was sailing into pirate waters. The answer seems to be that they didn't want to draw international attention to the Faina's cargo.

NATO has finally creaked into action. Seven NATO warships are to begin antipiracy operations off the coast of Somalia within the next few days to protect food aid shipments. As of the 23rd, rules of engagement were still being worked out. The catch:
"This is obviously a very, very complicated thing they are trying to do,” the NATO spokesman said. “There are a host of pirates, but they don’t identify themselves with eye patches and hook hands that they are pirates.”
Gee no kidding. Maybe they can do something about the skyrocketing human trafficking in the Gulf of Aden while they're trying to figure out the difference between a pirate and fisherman.

Meanwhile, big business is tired of depending on governments to protect sea traffic from pirate attacks, which are being vastly under-reported because companies fear a big leap in their insurance premiums. Knowing this, the pirates are making out like -- well, bandits. Blackwater's plans to build a private navy are a harbinger of things to come.
Blackwater Floats Private Navy To Fight Pirates
William Pentland 10.23.08

[...] More than 70 shipping vessels have been attacked off the coast of Somalia in the past year. Eleven of those ships and 200 crew members are still being held for ransom by rogue Somali pirates.

Foreign navies have begun patrolling the Gulf of Aden to rein in the pirate gangs off the coast of northern Somalia, but they have had only limited success. As a result, ship owners have seen insurance premiums for coverage of passage through the Straits of Aden climb from an average of $900 to $9,000. [...]

It's bad news for shippers, but an opportunity for Blackwater Worldwide, the North Carolina-based private military contractor. Last week, the company announced plans to dispatch the MV MacArthur, a 183-foot vessel with a crew of 14 and a helicopter pad, to the Gulf of Aden to provide escort services for ships in need of security.

"Billions of dollars of goods move through the Gulf of Aden each year," said Bill Matthews, executive vice president of Blackwater Worldwide, in a press release. "We have been contacted by ship owners who say they need our help in making sure those goods get to their destination safely. The McArthur can help us accomplish that."

The mercenary outfit--founded by former Navy SEALs in 1997 and heavily involved in U.S. military efforts in Iraq--has tentative plans to build a small fleet of two or three anti-piracy vessels, each able to carry several dozen armed security personnel, according to reports in Lloyds List Maritime. Although the Blackwater vessels will not be armed, the crew will be. Unlike official military personnel, they may have fewer qualms about using those arms against pirates. [...]

The company will need a State Department license to sell its services to a foreign government or business, said Anne Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman.

The company's decision to provide maritime security services reflects rising concerns in the maritime industry about sea piracy. The growth of global commerce in the past two decades crowded the oceans with cargo vessels, dry-bulk carriers and supertankers loaded with every good imaginable.

The world currently transports 80% of all international freight by sea. More than 10 million cargo containers are moving across the world's oceans at any given time.

The heavy ocean traffic (and its valuable cargo) spawned a surge in sea piracy and a new breed of pirates, the bloodiest ever seen. More than 2,400 acts of piracy were reported around the world between 2000 and 2006, roughly twice the number reported for the preceding six-year period.

Although pirate attacks have at least tripled during that time period, the actual number of attacks remains unclear. Shipping companies frequently do not report attacks out of concern that it could increase insurance premiums.

And nearly every group or government monitoring sea piracy believes that number is seriously undercounted. The Australian government estimates the actual number of piracy attacks is 2,000% higher. Piracy is estimated to cost between $13 billion and $16 billion every year and could cost substantially more in coming years.

"Piracy is not going away," said Peter Chalk, an international security analyst at the RAND Institute. "In fact, it's getting more serious and more violent; and it's only a matter of time before you need to take it more seriously."

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