Tackling piracy with a private 'navy'
Pirates are no longer a relic of the distant past. Many ships have been attacked in the Indian Ocean by modern Somali pirates. One entrepreneur is now offering private protection vessels to shipping companies. He says these may be more effective than national navies.
Rum-swigging villains with a wooden leg, an eye patch and parrot seem far removed from today’s Somali pirates armed with Kalashnikovs. But one British entrepreneur is taking a decidedly 18th century approach to warding off pirates in the Indian Ocean -- he’s starting a private navy.
“We are the first of its kind for 200 years,” says Anthony Sharp. “We are putting the clock back.” Back to the days when privateers were used to keep the pirates at bay.
Sharp’s company Typhon will offer oil tankers and other merchant vessels an armed naval escort service along the most vulnerable shipping lanes.
“We put our clients’ ships into convoy, put an exclusion zone around that convoy and protect that exclusion zone,” says Sharp.
Typhon plans to use up to 10 mother ships, each one crewed by 60 armed sailors equipped with high-speed patrol boats. Sharp argues that this will be far more efficient and safer than putting armed guards directly on the merchant vessels.
And it should help the overstretched national navies -- including those of the United States and Britain -- which currently mount counter-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean.
Some analysts say they could use some help. Tom Patterson of the consulting firm Control Risks says the national navies have set themselves an impossible task:
“Some commentators have likened it to patrolling the entirety of western Europe with six patrol cars," says Patterson. "Others suggest it’s like patrolling the U.S./Canada border with a scooter.”
But this international naval task force -- and the presence of armed security guards on some merchant vessels -- have proved highly effective. Pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa fell by two-thirds in 2012. And Captain Potengal Mukundan, head of the International Maritime Bureau, says that while Typhon may help it will never be a substitute for a proper navy. He would like to see governments beef up their naval presence in the region.
“The navies are able to do some things which no private armed security can do,” says Mukundan. “They can remove weapons. They can detain. Navies can detain the pirates and then hand them over for prosecution. These are the real deterrents on piracy.”