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When Private Interests Combat Piracy

The continuing piracy off of the coast of Somalia has created a flurry of activity to neutralize the attackers. From the sidelines, much of it seems like a lot of bureaucratic and political dust being kicked up without real action being taken. When considering the serious nature and implications of the pirate attacks on shipping and cruise lines across the Horn of Africa, the delayed response is “interesting.”

Let us look at two points of interest before getting to the crux of the event. Last week it was reported that shipping lines were reverting to the convoy tactics of World War II to help deter pirates off the coast of Somalia. These particular convoys are carrying food for the U.N. World Food Program. Initially, it might be remembered that the pirates claimed that by seizing the cargo, they were ensuring that the land-based warlords would not be able to divert the food shipments. While world navies have committed to protecting and escorting not-for-profit shipments, the for profit sea trade remains unprotected.

One of the things that exacerbates the problem of fighting the pirates is that the large Worldwide Somali expatriate population that not only feeds information to the bad guys, but also buys into syndicates and shares in the proceeds.

Somali Pirates own and operate a world-wide information gathering network, putting emphasis on searching for illegal cargo, such as the thirty-three tanks being carried on board the MV Faina, hijacked a couple of months ago.

Today, as noted by Doug Farah speaking to the UN Security Council Resolution 1851 authorizing land-based military actions in Somalia by countries fighting the pirates:

The only thing worse than taking no action when it is required is to promise action, and then fail to deliver. It reveals the weakness to do anything other than talk and threaten. If you have to do that, than you are likely not actually going to act.

Into this breach leaps American entrepreneurship and straightforward seizing the opportunity. A Texas based private security firm is now engaged in providing armed security escorts to deal with “open water threats and provide an electronic command center for threat detection and response, leveraging their teams between many vessels across the region.” While the mission was made public a week ago, there is no current indication of deployment or any engagement with pirates. However, while the United Nations, NATO and the affected nations and shipping lines await decisions to be made, a private company has taken the initiative. Rash actions? It’s hard to tell. Effective actions? We may never know.