Command and control
Somali pirates are greedy and, in some cases, downright murderous thugs. According to maritime industry groups, crews have faced the trauma of being used as human shields, forced to operate their vessels to support pirate activity, and subjected to torturous acts such as being held by the ankles over the side of the ship.
Since 2008, pirates have kidnapped more than 3,500 seafarers. It's estimated by the industry campaign SOS SaveOurSeafarers that during this period 62 seafarers have died at the hands of their captors or from suicide, malnutrition, disease, heart attacks and drowning while in captivity.
Meanwhile, the pirates laugh at the world's efforts to try to stop them ' made worse by the legal and jurisdictional confusion on the high seas of which they are now well aware ' while they extract millions of dollars in ransoms from desperate ship owners.
Based on this staggering reality, ship owners should have the right to defend their crews and assets against attacks, even if that means stopping the pirates with lethal force. Some commercial carriers have already taken this ultimate step by employing onboard private security for transits through the Gulf of Aden. ('Hard targets,' pages 38-45.)
The best security firms often draw their personnel from the military's ranks, and it's against this backdrop that command and control on board commercial vessels must be understood.
Making sure mistakes aren't made in a military setting is difficult enough. But now these guards are expected to defend commercial vessels and seafarers where the lines of sight, communication equipment, training and a sense of duty and discipline are not always on par with the military's way.
The dilemma for ocean carriers is that the quality and professionalism of these security contractors varies tremendously. Some may adhere to the highest standards while others may act like renegades with a shoot-first mentality and less interest in the mundane work of hardening a vessel and training the crew so confrontations can be avoided.
The International Maritime Organization, at the urging of groups like BIMCO, is grappling with the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships in high-risk areas. In its interim recommendations published in late May, the IMO warned: 'The absence of applicable regulation and industry self-regulation, coupled with complex legal requirements governing the legitimate transport, carriage and use of firearms, gives cause for concern. This situation is further complicated by the rapid growth in the number of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSC) and doubts about the capabilities and maturity of some of these companies. Significant competence and quality variations are present across the spectrum of contractors offering services.'
Since it's ultimately the captain who has responsibility for a ship, its crew and content, it must be thoroughly understood by onboard security personnel that they take any order to use deadly force against pirates from the captain.