Monday, 14 November 2011

Private navy to protect ships in Gulf of Aden

The idea of a private navy used to protect shipping in the Indian Ocean is not new. News reports say, however, that the recent spike in pirate attacks has precipitated plans, and that convoy services run by a private company will start operations in the Gulf of Aden within five months. 

The Convoy Escort Programme Ltd. (CEP) will position seven vessels in the Gulf of Aden by April next year. These   ex navy patrol boats- with armed onboard security teams- intend to intervene to ward off pirates before they attempt to board ships in the convoy. CEO Angus Campell told Bloomberg that his vessels would each carry a security team of eight armed guards. The CEP will, he said, escort merchant vessels for three or four days in a convoy of roughly four vessels, charging about $30,000 per ship. The company is backed by U.K. insurance and reinsurance broking company Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group Plc.

 “This is an enhancement to the existing military services, we’re not trying to step on anybody’s toes here,” Campbell added, referring to the fact that the area of operations of this private navy- the five hundred nautical mile long Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC)- will be the same as that of the world's official navies. Campbell indicated that there was a shortage of assets protecting merchant vessels in the area, and that the CEP will be an additional protective resource.

More than twenty thousand ships carry about a trillion dollars worth of trade through the Gulf of Aden, according to the British government. Only about a quarter of these were using armed guards in June this year. Thanks to the record number of pirate attacks in recent times, that number is increasing, what with insurance companies charging record premiums for unprotected ships. Insurance premia for piracy totals about $120 million a year.  

CEP is seeking $30 million from investors in the first phase to purchase assets. Second stage plans include adding another 11 boats that will presumably increase the number of convoys. Initial issues to do with registering the vessels have been since overcome; Cyprus will now register the patrol boats after the Marshall Islands backed out under US pressure. 

The CEP is not without its critics; the wider industry debate over the use of force against pirates continues, with critics of the CEP saying that an armed response to piracy will result in an escalation of violence and get more people killed or injured. With more and more ships employing armed guards, however, the idea of a convoy under armed escort will surely find some takers- especially when backed by the marine insurance industry that is already encouraging armed guards on vessels transiting through those dangerous waters. 

“We are going to be a deterrent,” Campbell said. “We are not in the business of looking for trouble but if anybody tries to attack a vessel we are escorting, our security teams will deploy force if they have to act in self defence.”

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