About Me

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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. Until recently, I was a contributing editor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Monday, December 1, 2008

PIRACY HAS NO “QUICK-FIX” SOLUTION

The problem of piracy cannot be solved with a “quick-fix” solution. The root cause extends further than just the failed state of Somalia. But, unless drastic, hard-hitting action is taken on both land and sea, the pirates will continue to flourish off the East African coastline and continue to intimidate and capture ships and their cargoes and crews. While the world watches and responds with shock and words, and does nothing, these simple operations by the pirates are simply fuelling more crime and filling the pirates’ coffers.

For some very strange reason the shipping companies believe that a few men armed with a water cannon and a noise-generating device can actually stop an armed assault on a ship. This attempt to stop armed crime with a quick-fix solution is both irresponsible and stupid. But, it is probably considered “humane” and unlikely to interfere with the pirates’ human rights.

I recently wrote a counter-piracy document for a very large shipping company. The gist was to stop the pirates before they even got close to the ship they were targeting. Whereas any such plan is only a temporary solution to a growing but more complex problem, the ideal plan will be to take the war to the land bases the pirates occupy and destroy them on the ground. But, no government or organisation has currently got the courage to do this. Besides, the UN would most probably condemn it and call for sanctions to be put in force on the “aggressors”.

My plan was also not what the shipping company was looking for as they apparently felt the plan was “too forceful” and besides, why harm these poor men who are simply trying to create a livelihood? Although this wasn’t directly said, it was clearly implied. Plus, they only want a very small group of between 3 and 4 men to protect their ship, the crews and the cargoes.

The Times of 29 November 2008 ran an article on the “British and Irish anti-piracy experts” who were forced to jump ship – the very ship they were contracted to protect. Whereas the article (see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article5253731.ece) pointed out that the men had, for 40 minutes, held the pirates at bay before jumping overboard, it does highlight some of the problems associated with a “quick-fix” solution. It also illustrates very clearly that 3 unarmed men aboard a ship cannot fend off an armed enemy. But, good money was paid by the shipping company and no positive result was forthcoming as the guards abandoned the ship - the Liberian-flagged tanker, Biscaglia with its cargo of palm oil - and its 27-member crew.

The Biscaglia is the 97th vessel to be attacked this year in the waters off Somalia. At least 15 ships, and more than 300 crew members, are currently being held for ransom. This will most certainly not be the last vessel to be captured by the pirates.

As the situation off the Somali coastline steadily develops into a high-risk zone, more and more PMCs (some with very little or no experience) are vying for contracts to protect ships sailing those waters. Some are trying to “economize” on manpower and maximise on profits. Others are looking at other “non-lethal” methods of stopping this high-sea crime. In many ways, this is akin to taking a knife to a gunfight – they are bound to lose. But, cheap solutions usually deliver cheap results – or in this instance, gave the shipping company a false sense of security but will cost, in the long run, a lot more than they bargained for.

A counter-piracy team must be able to give more to a shipping company than simply a warm, fuzzy feeling. These men need to be armed with real weapons, with real bullets and take every action possible to prevent the pirates even approaching the ship they are supposed to be protecting.

The concern that a trained guard will accidentally fire his weapon into some hazardous cargo does not hold much water. Real soldiers are used to carrying weapons on aircraft, submarines, inside vehicles, next to ammunition and so forth. Fire discipline is something every good soldier is taught. But, how many of these guards are well trained and sufficiently dedicated to honour their contracts?

International customs laws, in an effort to contain the illegal movement of arms and ammunition, provide an obstacle some shipping companies simply do not want to challenge or overcome. But, if a ship is not allowed to take whatever measures it needs to take to protect itself, then international law needs to be revisited and reviewed.

Well-trained, well-armed security teams on a ship must make life so unbearably dangerous to the pirates that they prefer to stay on land. Failure to respond to the IFF protocol should lead to an immediate sinking of the pirate vessel with no time being wasted on saving them for a court appearance. But, of course there are groups that will argue that such actions will infringe on the human rights of the pirates and that furthermore, such actions will be politically incorrect.

It is because of always trying to be politically correct that the world finds itself in the position it is in. Crime is rampant and will continue to flourish as long as everyone allows criminals such as these to operate with impunity.

Piracy can be stopped but it will require more than just words and water cannons.

Added on 3 December: Here is an interesting article on piracy for those who wish to read it: http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/12/piratemerc-late.html#more Also see http://feraljundi.com/ for Blackwater's approach to solving this mess.

Another update on 3 December 2008, 1500B: Finally, they have woken up….The United Nations Security Council has approved a law that allows countries to enter the troubled Somalia sea waters and use military force against the dangerous pirates who are hijacking commercial ships off the coast of the Horn of Africa.

The Security Council newly adopted resolution gives authority to any country to attack the pirates. The European Union says in six days time it will be there in Somalia with a massive air and naval offensive against the pirates. The Council's authorization of a military solution against piracy in Somalia will be for a period of one year.

24 comments:

Jack The Ripper said...

Is it not possible to have a boat as a base in international waters and operate from there. Weapons stored on this boat can be used for security on these ships and once the ship has passed the danger zone the security personell returnes back to the mother ship????? Until the contract...

The boat can be registerd in a country that would support this action. What are your thoughts.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am sure that could work, Jack. My only concern is that such a boat will become a major target to the pirates and the possibility that they will try to sink it are very real. If one implements such a plan, I would think that due to the size of ocean that needs to be covered, you may need more than one such “mother ship”.

It is nevertheless a plan that could work, especially as far as weapons storage is concerned. I am also sure that one could overcome the logistical problems that may arise.

Rgds,

Eeben

Fuzzy Lojic said...

The current attempt to protect ships is laughable. What exactly were they expecting from 3 unarmed men? I think you are very right in saying the only way to beat this is by force. The excuse that this is just these poor people's livelihood is ridiculous! Crime is not a livelihood. And until force is used this situation is just going to continue and become worse. The fact that no government is willing to step up and set the example is a testament to what the world is becoming. No one wants to make a move unless it directly affects their own pockets.

Jack The Ripper said...

Eeben, Thanks for your insight. If I understand correctly, the sums of monies that are involved are huge, ie Loss of personel, ships, cargo, time, products spoilt and so on. Is this protection of ships not a potential bussiness that someone with good military experience and contacts could persue? Your thought on this!!!!

Regards

E Richard said...

Hey Eeben,
Just using force does not seem to be the most reliable solution to problem of this nature.
Coalition building would be the first step before coming to the table to negotiate.
Eeben, do you have a diplomatic liaison officer at EO, you could get in on this.
What interest should shipping carries have in actually combating pirates on the high seas?
A much less litigious approach would be to just write off the losses due to piracy as a necessity of doing business (overhead expense) and disperse the costs as a percentage of total cargo shipped, probably not even a percentage point. Consumers will absorb the costs, no problem.
As long as the pirates keep playing fare, treating hostages well, returning ships and cargo in tact, all will be well, nobody gets hurt and good press when everyone comes home.
Or, use the Afghanistan model and use the area a a live fire range.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Jack, the shipping companies are looking for a cheap, quick-fix solution. I doubt that this type of operation can be done on a shoe-string. There are several good companies trying to break into the market but many of them are hampered by the inability of the shipping companies to agree to taking a long-term view on the problem.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I tend to disagree, Richard. Crime is crime no matter how it is packaged. Coalition-building in Somalia will be extremely difficult due to the fact that there is no effective government and then of course, there is the religious aspect that needs to be considered. EO sadly ceased to exist in 1998. But, at that time, we didn’t have a diplomatic liaison officer as no diplomatic corps wanted to be seen talking openly to us. Again, writing off the losses will simply encourage the pirates to continue with their actions – and by doing so, will give them a measure of respectability. One cannot shoot indiscriminately at anyone but for that reason, there ought to be a IFF protocol in place. Failure to respond correctly to it will imply that the receiver has no interest in following the procedure.

Rgds,

Eeben

He of difficult days said...

Why do people (or the media) need to know if you sank a pirate ship?

You sink it, thereby destroying any trace of it. Case closed.

Nobody saw nuttin' as they say in the classics.

Loggi said...

Hi Eeben

There is bound to be an entire new generation of security companies popping up with so called Iraq credentials to get their slice of this new pie. The insurance companies are bound to demand some anti hijacking protection teams when traveling that route and the Somalis will soon have a lot of fresh American ex Marine hostages.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I hear what you say, He of difficult...It is just a pity that we in the West have allowed the "humanitarians" to dictate how we should act against crime. A well-placed round, a hole in a boat and that will be the end of that pirate action.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I know Loggi. But as the situation in Iraq evolves, many of these PMCs will be forced to look for new markets. I believe you are correct insofar as the insurance companies are concerned. The shipping companies will want to fulfil the insurance requirements, regardless of the quality of men they employ. And let’s face it, there are some pretty poor, ill-trained, ill-disciplined men out there claiming to be “experts”. I am however surprised that the UN hasn’t claimed this as another “peacekeeping” role for themselves.

Rgds,

Eeben

E Richard said...

ey Eeben, I'm having problems with my google and do not know if I have sent this.
Yes a military option exercised correctly would correct the problem outright. What I am saying is that in the current world political environment this option is not an option, so what can really happen.
Have you heard what out new Secretary of State had to say at her acceptance speech? Lots of jobs in the diplomacy field on the horizon.
From a procedural standpoint how is a freight carrying ocean liner suppose to deal with "un-friendlies" after engagement, considering that weapons will be the procedure for dealing with pirate engagement. Are they to leave dead and wounded afloat at sea, are they to have containment areas on deck for pirates. Are non combatants expected to exercise the Geneva Convention treatment of prisoners?
I'm not for giving anyone something for nothing, but the cost for an acceptable procedure for dealing with pirates will be much more than just letting them have their booty.
Flagged naval vessels should and will patrol the million square mile area with a bit more frequency, which will at least entice the pirates to be not too careless.
Realistically, pirates could be fisherman carrying weapons to protect themselves from pirates. A couple of good news stories on the wire will temper any aggressive response for flagged naval vessels.
Why not have UN Monitors aboard all ships (whale watchers) to monitor potential human rights abuses.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I must confess that I do not know if the Geneva Convention applies to criminals as well but one cannot deal with criminals in a “soft” manner. In South Africa, we know what the results of these types of actions are. Diplomacy too has its limits and one cannot reason who people who are driven by greed and religion – and expect them to accept our soft approach. The current international political approach is exactly the reason these types of things happen.

As for what to do with the pirates after sinking their boat – let them swim back to the beach. This will force those who don’t want to swim/cannot swim to try their actions close to the shoreline. You will only have to do it once and the rest will quickly learn that they need to rather stay on ground where it is safer for them.

I disagree with your comment on costs ER but then, maybe I am missing something.

You may find fishermen carrying arms to protect themselves but they would immediately respond to an IFF protocol. It is the ones who refuse to respond to it that should be targeted.

As for UN monitors? Well, my experience is that they will probably cause an even greater problem without bringing about a solution.

Rgds,

Eeben

matt said...

Mr. Barlow, I did not know you had a blog. Outstanding. I am the author of Feral Jundi, a security contractor blog, and I have been writing a lot recently about the piracy stuff.

To me, it is ridiculous to think that water cannons and LRADs are sufficient to repel pirate attacks.

I was curious what your thoughts were of Blackwater and their McArthur boat? It sounds like they will be using it as a mother ship, but that is about all I know about it.

Anyways, I just wanted to say hi and I will definitely link/promote your blog on my site. Cheers. -matt

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Welcome to the blog, Matt. I shall give your blog a squizz a bit later today.

As I do not know Blackwater and its staff in person, I really cannot comment on them. I do know that my old company was given a lot of stick in the media – most of it lies and disinfo – so I can appreciate that what I read about Blackwater may not always be true or correct.

What I am sure of (and hope) is that they will refrain from trying to fight fire with water and noise.

Rgds,

Eeben

TCO said...

Eeben, you are exactly right that there is no 'quick fix' as the act of piracy has been around since the second boat was built, probably 10'000 years ago.

Piracy will always be with us as long as boats float. Whe we can do though, as you rightly point out, is make a higher number of these boats 'harder targets' and thus put pirates off-balance as they never know which ships are armed or protected.

To date the 'game' is one of low risk and fantastically high rewards for the pirates. Who could really blame a guy sitting in the Mog for having a crack? However, when the equation changes to lethally-high risk in exchange for low rewards we will see a change in their behaviour.

Not to fear. I think our problems may just be solved as I recently read that the EU is now sending a flotilla of ships armed with bean-bag cannons, loud speakers and other assorted weapons that are capable of inflicting such devastating injuries as superficial bruising, minor abrasions and ringing noises in the ears which in some case can last several hours. That outta level the playing field.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are quite correct in saying that piracy will be around as long as there are boats, Jack. But, we can make the pirates so terrified that they would rather stay in the harbour than be caught out at sea. That, and that alone will deter them. I have, however, always maintained that a thorough assessment needs to be done before any measures are implemented. This will ensure that any measures implemented achieve maximum success with minimum input costs to the shipping companies.

As for the EU’s anti-piracy weapons you mention – it is time everyone stopped being so politically correct. This crime/war is very real and it should be taken right into their harbours. If not, it will merely serve as encouragement to others to follow the same route.

Rgds,

Eeben

combatoperator said...

As you better than anyone these things must unfold in long drawn-out and painfull stages. What is required, as we all learned as young military officers, is decisive action to take the center of gravity away from the enemy. As you suggest going into the ports and harbor sites to deal a blow to them is the best method. But alas there is no political will yet to do this.

Interestingly, what I am starting to see is that some shipping lines and shipping owners (many of the shipping companies do not 'own' the vessels) are quietely starting to allow guards onboard. This is a sort of a 'pilot' program and over time once this model is proven it will be more widely accepted. When Company X is able to say 'We traversed the Suez canal 100 times last year without incident' that will be a badge of honor and other companies who had incidents will take notice and begin to adopt a more hardened 'defensive' posture. Keep up the good work on your blog. I would like for you to write about the issues going on in Zim and DRC as they are particularly relevant and from a 'humanitarian' perspective they are much more demanding than the piracy issue. I worked in Iraq with some old Koevoet guys as my guess is we know many of the same people. SF Jake

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Decisive action today is always accompanied by human rights outcries, Jake, hence the lack of will power on the part of politicians to do anything. If nothing is done, no one will shout at them. That seems to me to be the overall political strategy the West is following – and it will cost us all dearly one day.

I am busy with a piece on the DRC conflict and will post it when I have completed it. Yes, this issue is more important than the piracy issue as so many lives are being wrecked and destroyed. But these conflicts, despite being on-going for years, are of no relevance to the West at all.

I agree with your take on the companies who use armed men aboard – as long as they are properly armed and not with BB guns in order to be politically correct. They will only need to repel, with fire, a few pirate attacks and then the situation will change for the better.

There were some really good men in Koevoet.

Rgds,

Eeben

E Richard said...

Hey Eeben,
Interesting article out from Christian Science Monitor on line today about the pirates.
You can't see me but I'm shaking my head in disbelief at the positive press they are giving them in the disguise of news.
Yes, in todays world you can rape the public for millions, even billions, but rob a liquor store for a couple hundred bucks and go to jail.
I can't help but wonder about the many who actually ingest the news from these sources and rally with them as opposed to using the information as a balancing act to judge the other extreme.
Have you had a chance to view the movie
Idiocracy yet?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I have ordered the film from our local, ER. Will let you know as soon as I have seen it, thanks.

In today’s media world, it seems as though there is a drive by certain journalists to elevate “wrong” to “right”. I have noted the comments of others as well who say that the pirates are essentially good people as they have harmed no one. A bit sick I’d think. But then again, as you say how many people don’t rally with false information?

Rgds,

Eeben

Loggi said...

Hi Eeben .

Can you believe this remark by the head of the AU.

"It is not piracy, it is self defence. It is defending the Somalian children’s food

http://www.thetimes.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=933989

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

There have been some very strange remarks about piracy, Loggi. This surely ranks alongside some of them.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your mail Anton.

I remain once bitten twice shy when it comes to the media and would therefore prefer not to enter into discussions with the media. I understand that you want to do your job well but I have learnt that the best way to prevent being misquoted is to hold my own council.

Rgds,

Eeben