Danger Room: Pirate-Fighters, Inc.: How Mercenaries Became Ships’ Best Defense

23.08.11

Categorie: Africa, David Axe, Mercenaries, Naval, Piracy, Somalia, Wired |
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PVI Maritime Security on watch in the Gulf of Aden, April 2011. PVI photo.

PVI Maritime Security on watch in the Gulf of Aden, April 2011. PVI photo.

by DAVID AXE

It was a normal morning in April last year. Normal, that is, by the crazy standards of the fishermen, ship’s crews, navy sailors and Somali pirates plying their dangerous trades on 2.5 million square miles of lawless ocean stretching from India to Kenya.

“Dave,” a 44-year-old from Wiltshire in southwest England, was standing watch on the upper deck of a commercial car carrier bound from Mumbai to Mombasa. Scanning the horizon with a pair of high-powered binoculars, the former British Royal Marine of 24 years’ experience spotted something suspicious ahead of the carrier: a small freighter matching the profile of a pirate “mothership,” a sort of floating base for heavily armed sea bandits and their small boats.

What happened next was like something out of a Hollywood thriller. But for Dave and a fast-growing number of for-profit ship guards, it was just another day on the job — and evidence of a surprising turn in the years-old, international war on piracy.

The world’s governments are waking up to the sobering fact that the gazillion-dollar warships they’ve sent to the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean can’t keep up with the region’s elusive pirates. The hijackers’ simple, brutal tactics are too effective. Their business model is too attractive. And they’ve got nothing to lose but their lives.

The days are probably numbered for 10,000-ton Burke-class destroyers chasing down illiterate Somali thugs sailing in souped-up fishing boats called “skiffs.” The future of the piracy war could belong to Dave and guys like him, standing lonely guard on gigantic, fortified commercial vessels speeding through pirate-infested waters.

Destroyers are expensive and ill-suited to long, tedious piracy patrols. Armed guards are comparatively cheap and, as Dave proved that April morning, highly effective. Sure, guards come with their own limitations and complications. But hiring professional ship-protectors beats the alternative: an endless, pointless military exercise.

Dave and his three teammates from Protection Vessels International, a 3-year-old, English firm offering “safe passage for vessels, master and crew through high-risk environments,” watched as the suspected pirate mothership silently approached the car carrier. “When it got to approximately seven miles distance, we saw a small craft being launched from it and it began to approach from the port side at 23 knots,” Dave recalled. The boat carried four men, at least two of them armed with AK-47s.

That’s when the PVI guards, all former Royal Marines, knew for sure that the carrier was under attack. A hijacking could mean: months of captivity and abuse for Dave, his teammates and the ship’s crew; a multimillion-dollar ransom for the vessel’s owner; and a small but meaningful blow to an already-rickety world economy. “We immediately increased speed to 19 knots, altered course, activated the piracy alarm and informed [the authorities],” Dave told Danger Room.

They prepared for battle, “kitting up” with body armor, helmets, warning flares and rifles. At that moment the front line of the piracy war, which has claimed scores of lives on both sides and cost ten of billions of dollars in ransoms, insurance premiums and lost property, intersected the fast-shrinking span of water between his ship and the approaching pirate skiff.

Read the rest at Danger Room.

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One Response to “Danger Room: Pirate-Fighters, Inc.: How Mercenaries Became Ships’ Best Defense”

  1. tulsi parsad bantha says:

    hello i wante to join the ship security guard so what type of training was have me ple

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