Research into the use of private military security companies in the Indian Ocean has found the fight against Somali-based pirates has become a private battle as global defence cuts reduce naval counter-piracy deployments.
The report, ‘Pirates and Privateers: Managing the Indian Ocean’s Private Security Boom’ sheds new light on the serious problem of Somali piracy and highlights new problems with the rapid increase in private military security companies protecting commercial ships transiting the Indian Ocean.
“There is a legitimate role for private companies in fighting piracy, possibly half of ships travelling the Indian Ocean are employing them. But private naval fleets are operating in a legal vacuum” said report author James Brown, Military Fellow at the Lowy Institute.
Released today, the report also finds up to 40 private armed patrol boats are, or will soon be, operating in the Indian Ocean with plans to escort commercial shipping and intercept suspected pirate attacks. Some of these private armed patrol boats are being outfitted with drones and helicopters.
“Private armed guards on ships seem to have been effective in reducing piracy but already shootings at sea have led to accidental deaths and international disputes”, Brown said.
The report outlines the rapidly growing use of vessel protection detachments, armed teams from national militaries placed on board commercial ships and paid for by the shipping industry. Brown warns that countries should be careful about hiring their soldiers and sailors for use on private ships,: “by ceding some authority for military personnel to shipping companies, national militaries risk becoming embroiled in disputes beyond their control. This has the potential to do serious damage to national reputations and cause serious diplomatic incidents”.
In February, two Italian marines in a vessel protection detachment shot and killed two Indian fishermen. They remain in an Indian prison awaiting trial for murder.
The report is part of a research project into Privateers in Australia’s Conflict and Disaster Zones, generously funded by the Australian Civil-Military Centre.