April 30, 2009

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, suggests some ways in which the private security sector can contribute to countering the piracy off the Somali coasts.

In contrast to both what he describes as the “pusillanimous school” that frets about private security firms “inevitably lead[ing] to an escalation in violence” as well as those who advocate putting armed security personnel on most, if not every, commercial vessel transiting through pirate-infested waters, Dr. Pham argues that while “the private sector is a crucial to resolving the piracy threat, it will not be by putting armed security teams on commercial vessels.” Rather, the essay outlines some other possibilities:

First, private security firms with tactical expertise can provide merchant marine crews with professional training in any of a number of measures which commercial vessels can take to make themselves less vulnerable to pirate attacks…include[ing] non-lethal means which the crew can deploy when an assault occurs as they are underway…

Second, other firms that specialize in intelligence and security offer an array of services which commercial shippers might avail themselves of to their benefit…Given that it is increasingly clear that the piracy gangs are employing spies at various ports to pass along information on prospective targets as well as monitoring ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communications, ship owners would benefit from thorough [operational security] assessments conducted by professionals which would identify changes needed in current countermeasures as well as suggest additional steps…

Third, security experts can also assist governments and, more specifically, port authorities in the region to implement their obligations…[including] assistance with conducting assessments of the vulnerabilities of their facilities, reviewing and updating their security plans, and carrying out active measures to counter threats…

Fourth, private firms are a critical component in…the only sustainable response to the scourge of Somali piracy, the stand-up of effective coastal patrols along the Horn of Africa’s littorals.

The article goes on to detail some of the rationale behind and characteristics of the proposed coast guard before concluding:

Last week the International Maritime Bureau reported that, notwithstanding the increased naval presence, the Gulf of Aden and eastern coast of Somalia saw ten times the number of attacks on merchant shipping during the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2008…Given that the first months of the year are not the most favorable meteorologically for forays in the skiffs used by the brigands, one can only imagine that the year ahead will be another record year for piracy. Thus the United States and other members of the international community need to get behind a concerted effort to promote durable solutions to the challenges to global order and security emanating from the Horn of Africa. Such a push needs to summon “all hands on deck,” including those experienced hands found among private security firms.

To read the full text of the article, “Countering Somali Piracy by Involving the Private Sector,” click here.