Piracy boosts maritime security business

Published 16 April 2009

In London, the business capital of the world’s maritime industry, firms shape decisions on arming ships and negotiating with pirates

Graeme Gibbon-Brooks knows a thing or two about boarding ships. During sixteen years with Britain’s Royal Navy, he served in the Middle East and East Africa as a deep-sea diver, gunnery officer, underwater saboteur, and countersabotage specialist. These days, he offers his knowledge of piracy and terrorism as part of a thriving industry that is deeply rooted in Britain’s heritage of merchant trading and naval dominance. In London, the business capital of the world’s maritime industry, dozens of maritime law firms and insurers have a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years.

Such firms provide services from security and legal advice to negotiations and handling of ransom situations - and demand has been steadily growing. “More often now, we are being asked by shipping companies to provide analysis of private security companies,” says Gibbon-Brooks, whose firm, Dryad Maritime Intelligence, consults on security arrangements for shippers.

Christian Science Monitor’s Ben Quinn writes that two high-profile rescues in the past week — one by U.S. forces of the captain of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama, and one of hostages held on a French yacht — have underscored the increasing threat from pirates. Already this year, pirates have attacked at least 80 vessels. On Wednesday, the French Navy captured eleven pirates who had failed in an attack on the Liberian-flagged Safmarine Asia. The French frigate is part of “Operation Atalanta,” a European Union’s antipiracy effort.

In response, companies are taking a variety of measures. Many opt to employ unarmed guards on ships navigating the Gulf of Aden. Taking more assertive measures is complicated by the laws governing the use of force and the carrying of weapons. Ships are governed by a variety of regulations — those of the ship’s owners, for example, as well as the laws of the country whose flag the ship flies. They are much more stringent in relation to the carrying on board of automatic weapons than shotguns. Shotguns are more common, says Gibbon-Brooks — but similar to “using a dagger in a swordfight. “You are waiting for [pirates] to get extremely close before you use it,” he says, explaining that Somali pirates typically shoot into a ship’s bridge, intimidate the crew, and then climb on board.

Dryad Intelligence sells nonlethal equipment like the long-range acoustic device (LRAD), which emits an almost ear-splitting noise when fired at targets. A device of this type was used unsuccessfully in February by former British Royal Marines working as guards