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Last months story on Yacht security got me thinking about Piracy.

Speaking to several experts I was reminded of an old phrase — “You know what you know, and you know what you don’t know, but you don’t know what you don’t know.”

I know how to set up a defense against pirate attacks that we’ve seen before.  I know how to equip teams of experts with the knowledge and technology to deal with known threats of piracy.  These actions rely on intelligence – understanding the pirate’s mode of operation and place of operation.  There are strategies that allow a yacht, at harbor, at anchor, or underway to address encounters with pirates.   If an encounter appears imminent, there are several ways to avoid the encounter using tactical advantages such as speed, evasive maneuvers, and disrupting an approaching vessel with high-pressure water, sonic pulses, and other less than lethal weapons.  Last, but not least, if an attack does occur the available options need to have been well rehearsed in advance.  The choices are; engaging the attackers; retreating to a safe room (if one exists); and/or, being prepared in advance to becoming a hostage.

IBA Training Aug 2011being prepared in advance to becoming a hostage.

I know I don’t know exactly what makes a specific region more susceptible to piracy, but there are plenty of clues.  Clearly, it does not occur where the rule of law is well established and respected.  Locations that are most vulnerable to piracy are generally in a transitional phase between lawlessness and order, and during these transitions Anarchs emerge.  We also don’t observe piracy in areas where governments practice orderly transition of power –- we see it where power is obtained by force.

Where the rule of law exists, piracy is low — as an organized state must, above all else, protect commerce.  Where piracy emerges, so does a voluntary order which allows the pirates to operate.   I’m reminded of a great book by Peter Leeson titled The Invisible Hook on the economics of piracy, which is a fascinating history.  Here’s a link to Leeson in an interview format.

I’ve learned that piracy has some operational similarities to small-scale mining.  While occasionally a miner will find the mother lode, more often than not they make just enough to pay for their supplies – with hopefully enough extra to cover debauchery — booze, toys, and drugs.  The real profits of piracy accrue to those who sponsor the enterprise — boat dealers, money launderers, and suppliers of the pirate’s vices.

The prospects of piracy in our future are projected, by those in the know, to get worse.  Conditions in many locations are ripe for an explosion of piracy.  Further, with commercial vessels carrying smaller crews – it’s easier for pirates to take to overtake a ship and crew.  An unintended consequence of new technologies that reduce the need for crew is the increased vulnerability of a ship to piracy.

It is expected that Somalia will continue to be a mess for at least another ten years — but there are other countries sliding into trouble.  Yemen is currently using 40% of its water for irrigation to grow the narcotic khat, and the warlords are taking over from a weakened government.  Today, many “Somali” attacks are being launched from Yemen.  Other states with an eroding rule of law are Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and Argentina in the West — Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece in the Mediterranean – Egypt, Qatar, Yemen, and Kenya on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.  Nations moving toward the rule of law are Haiti, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Myanmar.

The most dangerous region at present is not Somalia, but Nigeria.  There the attacks are not about ransom, they are simply strong-arm theft.  In these cases, the hijackings are brutal and violent.  The IBA, through our sister group ILETA, is involved in teaching Maritime Protection, both anti-piracy (prevention) and counter-piracy (reclaiming the ships).

I have heard several warnings from those who regularly sail in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and the Antilles.  The governments of most of the Lesser Antilles are exceedingly corrupt — the most visible, for past deeds, are Turks and Caicos where the Brits actually had to terminate the government of the dependant territory because it was so corrupt.  And the government of Antigua was more or less purchase by Alan Stanford (Sir?).  Other islands in the region are also mired in corruption.  While the region is safe to sail – if you stay away from Venezuela, Honduras, and Guatemala — it will become a hellhole if Cuba is recognized by the U.S.  It is projected that U.S. tourists will flood to Cuba in place of the Lesser Antilles and other islands, depriving the Lesser Antilles of a major source of their income.  Cuba is closer, more reasonably priced, more exotic — and has been forbidden for fifty years.  The balance of travel will likely revert to the way it was in the 1950’s — 95% Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico) and 5% Lesser Antilles.  The tourism dependant economies of the Lesser Antilles will collapse, creating an increased toleration of piracy and smuggling — as we’ve seen before in the region.

One last observation.  Did you ever wonder how pirates are trained?  Do any of them have a Bachelor of Arts in Freebooting, or a Masters in Naval Economic Liberation?  Oddly, the answer is yes — sort of.  Most of today’s pirates were trained as police officers or security personal – many served in coast guards or navies.  We know that many Somalian pirates were trained in paramilitary camps in Yemen by ex special-forces personnel, and that Al Qaeda saw piracy as a lucrative side game.  Others have been trained by American and EU forces to be part of a well-trained Somali Coast Guard, but when government funding for the coast guard and police dried up, — or the winds of fortune changed — these trained men chose to use their skills to make a living at what was available.  During wartime it’s good to have a security, police, or military job — but when peace breaks out, or the government collapses, the ranks of those employed drops quickly.  With few other employment opportunities, even trained experts turn to crime.

There are many roads leading to a life of piracy — all with some flavor of moral and economic justification.  From the Barbary Coast pirates (no work at home, so why not plunder Christian ships), or the Buccaneers of the Caribbean (The Spanish did like them in Tortuga, and killed all of the animals, so they plundered Spanish ships), to today’s Somali pirates (illegal fishing ruined Somali waters — so the locals hijack foreign vessels).  They can all rationalize how they got into pirating, but they stay in it for the money.

Political unrest in the world quickly spreads to the adjoining seas — a region necessary for global trade, an arena men have been trying to both occupy and defend ever since they first learned to navigate.  It is a vast, untamed, wild, and remote world.  We’ve made incredible advances in navigation and communications, but pirates have the same tools.  This particular threat is emerging in more ways than I could ever have imagined.

Following is a link to resources on piracy from the ICC — an excellent site for basic intelligence and information.  http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre

This Executive Protection article was written or edited by Baron James Shortt, the Executive Director of the IBA. http://ibabodyguard.com

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