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For the first time since pirates from the war-torn, lawless nation of Somalia began disrupting international shipping off the coast of East Africa five years ago, private security guards have shot and killed one of the criminals.
The action could mark the turning point in the United Nations’ sanctioned military campaign against the pirates, who have taken hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom from shipping companies.
The presence of armed contractors on vessels on trade routes through the Gulf of Aden is important because the warships deployed in the region are not able to adequately patrol that vast area.
In November 2008, the pirates began hijacking ships well outside the Gulf of Aden. That was a month after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution calling on countries with vessels in the area to use military force to prevent ships from being captured and their crews taken hostage.
Now, private security guards on oil tankers and cargo carriers have the opportunity to add another layer of security.
However, the initial reaction from some quarters to this week’s killing of the pirate is puzzling, to say the least.
Arvinder Sambei, a legal consultant for the U.N.’s anti-piracy program told the Associated Press, “This will be scrutinized very closely. There’s always been concern about these (private security) companies. Who are they responsible to?”
The simple answer is the companies that hire them to fight off attacks. It would be a mistake to think that the pirates are a group of rag-tag criminals. In fact, they use high-speed boats and are armed with assault rifles, RPG rocket-propelled grenade launchers and semi-automatic pistols.
And, they are ruthless. They have no respect for the law and don’t care that their criminal behavior has resulted in an increase in shipping costs and has disrupted the delivery of food aid to African countries that are literally starving due to government corruption and the drought.
It is foolhardy to apply standards to security guards that are providing a valuable service.
In the case of the killing of the pirate, the guards were on board the MV Almezaan, a merchant ship owned by the United Arab Emirates, when a private group approached the vessel twice. During the second approach, there was an exchange of fire between the guards and the pirates.
An European Union Naval Force frigate was dispatched to the scene and launched a helicopter. It located the seven pirates, one of whom had died from small caliber gunshot wounds.
A statement by the Spanish Ministry of Defense said the warship Navarra had intercepted two skiffs and a larger vessel believed to be the mothership. Spanish forces arrested the six pirates and took possession of the dead man.
The forces also sank the larger ship.
It is clear that the guards were doing exactly what they were hired to do — protect the merchant ship. The idea that the owners or the private security contractor may face legal problems is laughable.
The reality on the high seas is that violent confrontations between ships and pirates are on the rise. Crews are becoming increasingly adept at repelling attacks by pirates in the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
For their part, pirates are becoming more aggressive, shooting bullets and rocket-propelled grenades at ships to try to intimidate captains into stopping. Piracy on the high seas has gone on too long.