How to Discourage Pirates (The Real Kind, Not the Software Variety)

The old methods work best, even if you rely on new technology to implement those methods. Sea Transportation: How The Seychelles Became Toxic For Pirates.

Toxic: Hazardous to your health.

Over the last year you stopped hearing about Somali pirates attacking ships off the Seychelles islands. That’s because in the last year the UAE (United Arab Emirates), India, and the United States have provided massive assistance to turn the Seychelles Coast Guard into a force that can quickly spot pirates and neutralize (capture or kill) them.

Fast patrol boats. Surveillance planes. Unmanned aerial vehicles. Combine them and you get an area of the world that is no-longer pirate friendly.

The 30 meter boats, although armed only with machine-guns, are fast enough and have sufficient firepower to handle any pirates they encounter. Last year there were several such bloody encounters and the Somali pirates decided that the Seychelles were no longer good hunting grounds.

All of this is very popular with the Seychelles population. Piracy is a bad business and bad for business.

You Would Think a Decrease In Piracy Was a Bad Thing

Those folks who like to think that governments should be in charge of everything, are beside themselves today. You see, governments have proven sadly unable to stop piracy. (The real kind, not the stealing of songs from iTunes or videos from Hollywood kind.) Private navies combating Indian Ocean pirates.

Speaker: James Brown, Military Analyst, Lowy Institute

BROWN: Well there’s three different types, the first is the 140 companies now operating in the Indian Ocean providing private armed guards, who will basically ride shot gun on your commercial ship as you go through the piracy risk area. The second type are the companies that provide escort vessels, so these are the private patrol boats armed with heavy machine guns and they will go along with the vessel or a group of vessels and basically stop anyone that comes near them and looks like it’s going to interrupt their voyage. And third phenomenon we’re seeing as well is national militaries, particularly European militaries hiring out their soldiers for use on board ships, these are called vessel protection detachments. So there’s quite a lot of activity and quite a lot of new players moving around the Indian Ocean. [note from Z-Deb: Europe has a much bigger problem with this, so it makes sense they are more involved.]

Maritime piracy is down SUBSTANTIALLY since shipping companies finally realized that the governments of the world were either helpless to stop piracy, or were just not that interested in doing so. And when they realized that, they turned to the market for support.

But you would think that a decrease in the number of people taken hostage was a bad thing, if you listen to these hand-wringers. Is it perfect? No. But then, if you haven’t noticed, that perfect world is in a different area code. Nothing is perfect. But fewer people held hostage by pirates in the hell-hole that is Somalia (how long has it been since they had a “functioning government?”) is better than more people held hostage. Even if it means relying on “private military companies” – that’s weasel-words for “mercenary.”

Concerns that they are acting in a “legal vacuum” is smokescreen. If there was a legal framework that held sway in east Africa, we wouldn’t have a problem with piracy. So yes, there is a legal vacuum off the coast of Somalia. And off the coasts of Nigeria and Ghana, the Gulf of Guinea, and other places. I believe “lawless” and “legal vacuum” are just about equivalent in these cases.

Best News In Piracy (the real kind) in Many Years

The problem hasn’t gone away, but finally, the trends are in the right direction. World sea piracy falls in first 6 months of 2012 – Falls by 54%. Not a small statistical anomaly.

The International Maritime Bureau attributed the sharp drop to “pre-emptive and disruptive counter piracy tactics” by international navies patrolling in seas off Somalia as well as increased vigilance by ships including hiring private armed personnel on board.

While I’m sure that the navies of NATO et al like to think they have had some impact, the real change in the last year or 2 is the embarkation of armed mercenaries – security forces – on ships in the worst areas.

The bureau said the decline in Somali piracy was partially offset by intensified and violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea off western Africa, where 32 cases including five hijackings were reported, up from 25 in the first half last year. Nigeria reported 17 cases, nearly triple the number from a year ago. Togo reported five attacks including the hijacking of a tanker, up from no incidents in the same time last year, it said.

Several countries in West Africa are getting aid to beef up their navies, including Ghana, which picked up a couple of surplus German fast-attack-craft.

Ghana has been reviewing measures to safeguard its waters, most importantly to protect our oil installations from pirate attacks. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is not on the scale of that off Somalia, but analysts say an increase in scope and number of attacks in a region ill-equipped to counter the threat could affect shipping and investment.

Sailing on the account, is an ancient (if not exactly time-honored) tradition. Keeping it in check means military might. That’s what worked in the 1800s, and that is what is working (finally) in East Africa.