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Winning the peace with Somali Piracy

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Winning the peace with Somali Piracy by Helen Mitchell*

The recent report from the International Maritime Bureau that Indian Ocean Piracy attacks are down came as little surprise to those in the maritime security industry. Attacks are at their lowest since 2007 due, in no small part, to the Shipping Industry’s efforts in using Best Management Practices and the proactive nature of international military navies, which have yielded a significant effect, containing the Somali threat within the littoral and adopting a zero tolerance of anything remotely suspicious leaving the beach. However, the third dimension contributing to this successful downturn is also due to private armed security; like it loathe it, its deterrent is still credible and widely used, ensuring the safe passage of vessels through high risk areas.

Given the fall in successful piracy attacks, Ship owners would be forgiven to believing that the threat has almost disappeared in the Indian Ocean. The recent retirement of a leading Somali Pirate (Mohammed Abdi Hassan aka ‘Big Mouth’), must reinforce the belief that they have indeed packed up and gone home, but with doubts as to the true numbers of reported attacks, ship owners, charterers and insurers still appear to advocate the use of the private armed guard. Certainly, attacks are down, but suspicious approaches to vessels are increasing and these often go unreported.

The whole issue of private or state security on board commercial vessels will also soon be scurtinised. The trial of two Italian Marines arrested for killing fishermen suspected of being pirates will test the status quo for the use of reasonable force within a rule of engagement and the use of lethal force. The private security sector has been watching this case closely, mindful that this situation could so easily apply to their operatives. Back on land in the Horn of Africa, counter piracy initiatives by the United Nations continue and a growing sense of rule of law overshadows the sense of impunity that originally spawned the trade. Even Yemen, a country perceived to be on the brink of implosion with Civil War, has recently convicted 3 Somalis for Piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Undoubtedly, of the triumvirate of deterrents, private armed security comes at a cost and despite and increasing number of providers in the sector, the actual quality and provenance of a Security Company still varies dramatically. The ‘armed’ element aside, there are also a host of non lethal options as well, ranging from acoustic devices, laser pointers, water canons, electrical wire fencing, cables hanging over the side of the vessel, even slippery and foul smelling foam! On the regulatory side, the maritime security sector is facing the prospect of another ‘standard’ via the International Standards Organisation (ISO). The ISO 28007 is a mighty document with 23 pages of compliance issues set to test any security company. Established providers, such as Actus International Security, are already training in house assessors; preparing themselves for this latest round of scrutiny, keen to distinguish themselves in the market as the provider of choice through intrinsic compliance. For now choice remains, and in a buyer’s market, the devil is in the detail: does the provider have adequate insurance, what type of contract will be used, what operatives will be used, UK nationals or International? Like all security options, due diligence is crucial: you get what you pay for and the vast majority of us in the private security sector is doing its very best to provide transparency for the customer.

With the apparent victory over Somali piracy, can peace return to the high seas? That depends greatly on its definition; is ‘peace’ a cessation of successful hijacks, or is it to be a minimum set of conditions that state and ship owner will uphold to thwart the pirates? Other maritime criminal activity goes on: human trafficking, drug smuggling, violent crime and petty theft predominantly within territorial waters. All of these threats will prevail in the shipping sector; but the private maritime security industry is intrinsic to facilitating global trade. Piracy will continue in time of war and peace. In the Indian Ocean, the public sector is winning the war but its over to the private maritime security sector to now win the peace.

*Helen Mitchell is the Managing Director of Actus International Security Ltd, a UK based company providing maritime security solutions to the Shipping Industry. http://www.actussescurity.com 

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