These statistics are not universally accepted. Non-governmental organisation Ecoterra – the Global Society for Ecology and sound Economy - says Navfor deliberately underreports hijackings by counting only "high-value, often British-insured vessels". But even Ecoterra's count is on the way down: from "at least" 35 larger vessels and 18 smaller vessels in July 2011, to 26 large and 18 small ships in January of this year. Both EU Navfor and the London-based International Maritime Organization say the decline is proof of the success of their hard work. The piracy scourge is being "contained", an EU Navfor commander told a European Parliament seminar last year. The IMO hailed "relatively good progress" in a recent missive. European Commission president Jose Barroso said last month that EU Navfor "had proven successful".
But attacks by pirates on merchant shipping have by no means disappeared. Indeed, they were running at historically high levels in January. What has changed is the pirates' success rate: it has fallen from 20 percent at the beginning of 2011 to a low single-digit figure. Why is this? The combined maritime forces of EU Navfor, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United States no doubt make a difference. But the real reason is more disturbing: vessels transiting the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean now routinely carry mercenaries. Commonly referred to by the politically correct term "armed guards", these mercenaries come at a cost of around $1,000 a day each. While they have on occasion been accused of shooting innocent fishermen, mercenaries have until now successfully scared off all pirates. Armed guards work.
Despite this, the maritime industry is understandably furious. By allocating insufficient resources to patrolling the high seas, the international community has outsourced the problem to the private sector. "We have now reached the point where we need to arm the ships; the international community has failed," said chief executive of Clipper Ferries Per Gullestrup, a Danish ship owner. "We are deeply frustrated and angry," Gullestrup told an industry publication. "It is totally unfair that we must arm our ships and expose our seafarers to a group of criminal elements in order to conduct international trade and transport. It's madness."
Is there any alternative? Some governments, such as the Netherlands, still believe the use of force should remain exclusively in the hands of the state. It is illegal to place mercenaries on ships flying the Dutch flag. Instead, the government offers ship owners vessel protection teams of military men. The cost? Some €400,000 per voyage, half of which must be borne by the ship owner. Given that this is ten times the cost of the private sector solution, Dutch ship owners have decided to simply break the law and hire mercenaries. While the Dutch government is for the moment refusing to budge, the majority of European governments have reluctantly agreed to legalise armed guards.
The result is a burgeoning industry made up of both professionals and trigger-happy cowboys. It is totally unregulated. The liabilities of those involved in a fire fight, and indeed the master of the vessel, are unclear. By outsourcing the use of force, the international community has set a dangerous precedent. Can governments no longer afford to police international trade? Where will mercenaries next take over from the forces of law and order? We can only hope it is not a trend with unstoppable momentum.
Source: Defence Management