What most Americans know about piracy near the Horn of Africa (HOA) is that Navy SEAL snipers shoot and killed Somali pirates from the deck of a US ship and rescued the merchant ship captain that was being held hostage. Most Americans do not know that according to International Maritime Bureau there were 278 piracy attacks worldwide, and that 71 of those attacks occurred near Somalia.
The ramped piracy in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean has been a boon to the private security industry. In order to protect themselves from pirates and high insurance premiums, merchant shipping companies have been hiring mercenaries to protect their cargo. To avoid the cost and complication of transferring arms through customs, mercenaries are now establishing floating armories:
About 20 ships stocked with assault rifles and other small arms as well as ammunition, body armour and night vision goggles are scattered around the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, the EU naval force has confirmed.
The legal status of these armouries is unclear, and industry experts are concerned that the absence of regulation leaves the armouries vulnerable to attack from the pirates they are intended to guard against.
The presence of armed guards on board ships has helped dramatically reduce hijacks by Somali pirates, but raised problems of the legality of the arms used. Carrying weapons into a country can be considered arms smuggling, using weapons without licence, breaching an arms embargo (especially in Somalia) and other offences. Some countries that permit ships to enter port with armed guards may not allow them to leave with their weapons.
Before floating armouries were introduced, security companies either went through the costly and complicated process of using a handful of officially approved onshore armouries or got round the problem altogether by buying guns illegally in Yemen and dumping them at sea when going in to dock at a port. Now they are able to drop weapons off at the armoury and collect them again when heading back out to sea.
By using armouries private security companies are able to avoid the bureaucracy of local ports, save on port costs and not waste time deviating to ports to collect guards.
Photo: Sailors assigned to the visit, board, search and seizure team (VBSS) aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) prepare for an operation on the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel Falcon Trader II which sent out a distress call reporting it had been boarded by pirates. (Photo by by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert Guerra)
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