Global Policy Forum

Pirates and Privateers: Managing the Indian Ocean's Private Security Boom

A recent report issued by James Brown from the Lowy Institute for International Policy sheds light on the current “private counter-piracy security boom” taking place in the Indian Ocean. Shipping companies operating in the Gulf of Aden are increasingly contracting private military and security companies to protect their crews and cargo from the spread of Somalia-based pirates. The report shows that “over 140 recently launched PMSCs employ at least 2700 armed contractors onboard commercial ships, with more than a quarter of commercial ships now using armed security.” These warriors are unaccountable and they represent the end of a long tradition of unarmed merchant ships. Ultimately, they may deepen the region’s instability, as shootings at sea have already led to international disputes and accidental confrontations.

By James Brown

September 12, 2012

To read the full report, click here.

Executive Summary

The fight against Somali-based pirates is becoming a private battle as global defence cuts reduce naval counter-piracy deployments. Because governments have struggled to contain the spread of piracy in the Indian Ocean, shipping companies have turned to private military security companies to guarantee the safety of their crews and cargo. Private armed teams have proliferated on commercial shipping and several private armed vessels are operating in the region. Meanwhile, some governments are hiring out their own national militaries as security guards onboard ships.

However, this private counter-piracy boom is creating fresh problems. Already shootings at sea have led to international disputes and accidental confrontations. And murky legal and consular difficulties loom. There is a legitimate role for private companies in fighting piracy. But the challenge for governments will be to recapture the policy agenda and define the limits of what that role is before it leads to new kinds of trouble on the high seas.

Key Findings

The maritime security business in the Indian Ocean is booming as ships turn to private military security companies to help in the fight against piracy. Over 140 companies now provide armed protection for ships in the Indian Ocean. At least 2700 individual contractors are employed as armed guards on ships and 18 floating armouries are operating in waters near the Gulf of Aden.

40 private armed patrol boats are now, or will soon be, operating in the Indian Ocean. The most sophisticated of these private navies is outfitting three large boats in Singapore - each with a crew of 20, capable of carrying 40 private marines, and equipped with a helicopter and drones. The use of these boats, and the aggressive tactics they employ, should be discouraged by governments and the International Maritime Organization.

Because of shipping company demands for armed teams and shrinking defence budgets, governments are now privately hiring out their soldiers to provide security onboard commercial ships as ‘vessel protection detachments’. The use of these teams potentially has serious legal and political consequences for states should they be involved in disputes.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.