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Armed Guards- The end of the “Golden Age” of Somali Piracy? February 17, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Industry News, Piracy & Maritime Security, Risk & Risk Management.
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Debate over the use of armed guards has raged for several years as the those who advocate for the use of armed guards applaud their use and those who oppose their use argue that they are ineffective or exacerbate the problem.  Last year I wrote a whitepaper on how armed guards prevent hijackings.  (Deterrence Theory).   With 2012 we are finally are beginning to see objective data on the impact of armed guards.  David Rider’s article: “The Pirate Surge That Never Was” outlines some interesting facts that demonstrate that armed guards are the best line of defense for a ship in high risk waters. According to statistics in the article, October 2011 saw 26 attacks with only one successful hijacking.  Of the 26 attacks in October 2011, fully 16 of them were repelled by armed guards on the vessels.  November 2011 saw 11 attacks with 5 being repelled by armed guards.

When asked why pirate attacks are down in 2011, Robert Young Pelton, who publishes SomaliaReport.com states unequivocally:

“A very simple answer. Armed security on ships. When we analyze every single regional (HOA) contact between the maritime industry and pirates, over 90% of the reasons why pirates broke off attacks, hovered then left or made initial attempts to board. The use of warning shots, shots to the skiff engines and the use of visible force prevented a successful attack,”

Unfortunately, those who study security and criminology find little comfort in the statistics.  While “traditional” hijackings are being stifled, it is anticipated that the pirates’ tactics will evolve in an attempt to continue their criminal activities.  It is a classic case of the ‘arms race’. As stated by Pelton:

“[We will see] More audacious attacks like the near land or at anchor attacks, land based attacks to grab western victims. It is an entrepreneurial model with low cost of entry, multiple attacks to try new tactics and little risk. So I fully expect pirate groups to surprise us with each attack in 2012 rather than maintain the status quo, which as Somalia Report predicted last year, is now dead.”

2012 will prove to be an interesting time for armed security providers.  It is anticipated that demand for their services will drop as pirate attacks continue to drop and companies re-evaluate their risk and need for armed guards.  The increasing competition coupled with the reduced demand is likely to see a significant shakeup on the industry with a large number of companies no longer in business by the end of 2012.

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