The saga of America’s private-sector pirate-hunting Navy is over. That’s right. Blackwater’s (Or Xe’s) Navy is up for sale–in Spain, no less!

Make an offer! Blackwater’s former flagship, the McArthur, is a modified 183′ Norfolk Shipbuilding Expeditionary Yacht. And it can be yours for $3.7 million dollars–so put your money down! There’s been a “Major Price Reduction” already, so this ship won’t last long! Here’s what you’d get:

The “McArthur” is totally self-contained, makes her own water, and has satellite communications systems that provide for continuous broadband service and satellite telephone. The vessel has a two bed hospital and carries adequate stores of food and supplies to support her crew and 30 additional personnel for 45 days without re-supply. She has the ability to land and fuel small and medium size helicopters and store, launch and retrieve 3 small craft up to 15 tons and 36 ft. in length. She has temporary sheltering for over 100 survivors from disasters.

Now, all this must come as a rude shock to those in the milblogosphere who happily regurgitated Blackwater propaganda or credulously promoted Blackwater’s anti-pirate Navy. Here’s an example of the irrational press-release-fuelled exuberance:

“…The French are already using private contractors for these purposes. This is the next logical step based on those calls. Unless the citizens of the US are ready to push the US Navy to make this a top priority, something that requires political action, this is seen as one of the limited but cost effective ways for the shipping industry to respond…”

Blah, blah…The only thing was that nobody in the shipping business saw Blackwater as a cost-effective means to fight piracy. And few in the blogosphere bothered to do their due diligence–most just joined in the hype and began braying away (it’s a distressing habit that extends to the latest topic-of-the-day–be it ASBMs, piracy, or whatever–beware those who constantly hype the popular programs and suck up to the powerful people).

Sadly, blog-hype was unable to compensate for a platform that just was inappropriate for the job at hand.

I didn’t join in. Rather than pass on media releases, I began covering the hype in October 2007, after Wired’s Sharon Weinberger broke the McArthur story. In April 2008, I noted the ship had been sitting for about a year, unengaged in anti-piracy operations, and by October 2008 began wondering why milbloggers still fawned all over the concept when it just wasn’t working. It all got worse last year, when, in January 2009, I found McArthur fighting pirates from a Norfolk berth.

And by May 2009, the ship had dissolved into something more akin to Animal House than a buttoned-down pirate fighter. But then what does one expect from a company run by a boss who, after reaping a political windfall, cries like a baby once the going gets hard?

Maybe, one day, a company somewhat like Xe might get it right. But in the meantime, let’s raise a glass to a defunct Navy, and hope that our navies (whatever nations you readers might hail from) can avoid a similar fate…

h/t Moose! (BTW–what are you doing shopping for multi-million dollar yachts?)




Posted by Defense Springboard in Homeland Security, Maritime Security
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  • http://informationdissemination.net Galrahn

    SB,

    Your dislike of me has made this blog post factually inaccurate. Perhaps you failed to notice that Maersk Line chartered a vessel for antipiracy security purposes today.

    Ironic the Maersk Line stated reasons for the charter are for the same reason I stated and you quoted. Perhaps you misrepresented me in this post sir, as you clearly tried to discredit me only to discredit yourself.

  • http://feraljundi.com/ Matt

    What is interesting about this, is the timing. I really think a private ship escort service for lets say chemical tankers or natural gas tankers, is the way to go. That’s unless some country out there wants to volunteer a naval vessel to do that work. Because something needs to draw the pirates and their assault, away from those floating bombs. Xe also has the reputation that no one really wants to associate with.

    The next point is arm the boats. Yet again, if some country would like to donate that armed security for the entire shipping industry going through the GOA, I am all about it. But in reality, that cost should be on the shipping industry, and private contractors can fill that need. Hell, they will gladly fill that need, just as long as the price is right and the particulars with weapons and rules of engagement are worked out.

    I also think these ultra expensive navies, who are tasked with stopping this piracy, should focus more on hunting pirates or acting as a quick reaction force to vessels in trouble. The can’t protect every ship, but a ship’s security can protect it. That would also mean setting up secure communications with ships and their security.

    Because armed security is what will buy the ship enough time to get up to speed and out maneuver these thugs, or hold them off long enough for a QRF to assist. If there are dead, or if there are pirate ships that are disabled with pirates on them, then the QRF has something to do. They can arrest and they can search and seize and they can gather the bodies to ship back to the country of origin.

    The other component, is that we must stop releasing pirates. Some country, and probably the US, just needs to step in and get control of the legal mechanism involved with piracy. There should be no catch and release program for pirates, and each one arrested should be dealt some kind of justice. But that kind of justice requires a leader to get everyone on the same page and hammer a system through.

    Finally, the land component needs to be dealt with. We learned this time and time again in the history of piracy. If these guys have a safe haven to go back to, then that is a no go. Time to bring back ‘the shores of Tripoli’ theme, and call up the Marines to take care of that issue. Do something, because the failed state called Somalia is a huge problem, and a big reason why this is happening in the first place.

  • Eagle1

    I note that one company’s failure to make it in a line of business, doesn’t mean that no other company can thrive where one failed. Coca Cola thrives while dozens of other soda makers have fallen by the wayside.

    As Galrahn indicates, Maersk was not put off the “private protection” path by the failure of Blackwater to have a solid business plan.

    There are plenty of other private contractors out there who are doing okay in offering a variety of ship protection plans.

    As far as whether or not it is wrong when someone “jumps” on a bandwagon to support a program, it is not just as bad to do the opposite and bad mouth every new “topic of the day?”

    Where is your due diligence report on what other companies have failed or succeeded in the ship security business? Can the concept never work? What steps could be taken to fix whatever problems Blackwater had?

    Is it just a PC animus toward Blackwater (Xe) and Mr. Prince that drives this post and the crowing therein?

  • Desert Sailor

    Springboard,
    You cheapen my 20+yr subscription. Admin remove this monger from your site, his input is infected.

    OBTW…http://www.cphpost.dk/news/international/89-international/47866-maersk-hires-war-ship-to-protect-tanker.html

    Yeah, pirates are still a threat and yeah some companies recognize the need for non-national security. Your hyperbole needs to reside at your home website.

    Pathetic.

    USNI, you know better.

  • http://springboarder.blogspot.com Defense Springboard

    Security aboard a merchant ship is one thing. Hiring a private security vessel is something else entirely. And since 2007, we’re only able to cite two instances where carriers chartered private security vessels for near-Somalia traffic?

    That’s not exactly a definition of success.

    Is there a case for floating private security vessels? Heck yeah. Are they being put to work in other places? Sure. But the case for cost-effective (or even plain old effective) employment of private security vessels sure has a long way to go to prove itself in the Somali theatre of irregular naval conflict…

    Fact is that the Blackwater used the blogosphere as an advertising arm. And as more companies, agencies and organizations start getting into this business, they sometimes forget that hue and cry is no substitute for effectiveness.

    So let’s tread carefully when rubbing up against PR people. We owe it to the nation to do so…

  • Claude Berube

    Springboard,
    I’m a little familiar with this issue having written about six articles, spoken at a couple of maritime security conferences, etc. In preparation for a book, I spoke to several firms including Blackwater and those overseas looking at developing this service/capability/business/whatever. I spent several days aboard Blackwater’s ship and interviewed one of its captains and many crewmembers. I also spent two hours interviewing Prince both on and off the record about his concepts.

    What I think it helpful instead of falling into the “Blackwater rules!” or “Blackwater bad!” trap, that we might want to look at the circumstances that give rise to such firms (such as the decline in state navy numbers), and logically look at both the pros and cons of the issue. Under some circumstances, including regulation and possibly in situ federal accountability, then something like private escort ships might work. But we’d all agree there are also a host of concerns. As with any issue Proceedings addresses, it’s helpful to look at both sides analytically.

  • Ardmore

    “So let’s tread carefully when rubbing up against PR people. We owe it to the nation to do so…”

    Sorta like using the blogosphere to press for more Navy in one’s local area.

    http://springboarder.blogspot.com/search?q=san+francisco
    http://springboarder.blogspot.com/2009/04/stop-domestic-disengagement-how-to-make.html
    http://springboarder.blogspot.com/2009/09/who-shrunk-san-franciso-fleet-week.html

    Or…well, crap.

    I tried to find some more examples of you pushing something positive, but all I could find was San Francisco. Nearly everything else you have every written was snarkily negative…

  • http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/ Sven Ortmann

    Excessive enthusiasm is a quite widespread problem among milblogs, I think that topic (and I think that is the real topic here, because I don’t care about Xe) deserved the attention.

  • Moose

    The fate of Blackwater’s naval ambitions absolutely has a place in discussions of this topic, it’s a prime example of how use of PMCs has to be carefully considered. Sure, there are first-class outfits which will do the job, but once that door is open the danger of a poorly-run PMC getting the chance to thoroughly screw the pooch gets ever greater.

    Guardian-GBS isn’t just lower-profile, they’re competent enough to know to Maintain that low profile rather than advertise themselves with press photos of their boat or promo vids on YouTube. Guardian is also smart enough to stick to the contract, even if that means a completely boring cruise across the pirate zone. Blackwater was making noises like they would treat any pirate-related contracts as a Letter of Marque, not something any corporation in the world wants tracking back to them if it goes poorly.

    From the looks of it, Maersk is not the only firm to approach the decision carefully. Blackwater wouldn’t be selling their boat at near-fire-sale price if they thought they’d have a shot at other contracts.

  • Spade

    You know, SB brings up interesting information and points a fair amount of the time, but his whole style is just off-putting.

    Pro-tip: More people are apt to read your stuff, and invite you to things (even if they disagree with you) if you don’t come off as a jerk.

  • Ardmore

    Spade – well put and, in retrospect, what I wish I’d said.

  • http://springboarder.blogspot.com Defense Springboard

    Sven, I totally agree. We underestimate the impact blog-level grass roots (or astroturf) marketing has upon wider news coverage–and, ultimately, even some of our strategic choices.

    And Admore, just for yer reading pleasure, here’s a nice positive post (one of many)–from just a few days ago! You may have skipped over the post while you perused my place–as the post is not a politically-charged issue or anything…

    http://springboarder.blogspot.com/2009/12/meanwhile-5th-grade-class-adopts-ship.html

  • Eagle1

    Another example of a country offering naval escort for hire:

    http://www.mschoa.org/FairplayStoryDisplay.aspx?articlename=dn0020100105000016

    I don’t know Blackwater’s cost structure, but I’ll bet it is hard to compete with a local naval force on a price basis.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “I don’t know Blackwater’s cost structure, but I’ll bet it is hard to compete with a local naval force on a price basis.”

    To turn a phrase and go WAY off topic:

    I don’t know Insurance Company X’s cost structure, but I’ll bet it’s hard to compete with the Federal Government Health Plan on a price basis. Stand by for the medical care version of the Tanzanian Navy.

    There. I said it. I feel better.

  • Ardmore

    Defense – a couple of posts doesn’t change the overall tone.

    Spade nailed it…and you.

  • James

    I think if you look at the insurance company’s cost structure you’ll find it’s cheaper to pay ransoms. The shipping industry has made the calculation that escorts are very cost-effective as long as someone else is paying for them. If the industry has to provide their own security they will build panic rooms on the vessels and make the ransom payments because that’s what pencils out as the smart move from a business standpoint. They certainly would not use billion-dollar destroyers as escort vessels against men in open boats carrying small arms.

    The major navies could, of course, acquire their own small craft and use them as escorts but that kind of lateral thinking is beyond the imagination of modern admirals, which is why force numbers are in decline. Navies right now are competing to design and build the most perfect ships, not carry out effective operations.

    That having been said, I shed no tears for Blackwater and entirely share DS’ contempt for private military units. The worst periods of piracy (and brigandage on land) have coincided with the use of privateers and mercenaries. It’s very easy to romanticize the golden age of freebooters but they were replaced by state armies for very good reasons. What is needed in the Gulf of Aden is better public policy from our State Department and more innovative leadership from our 170 billion-dollar-a-year Navy, not private guns-for-hire.

  • http://feraljundi.com/ Matt

    Moose Says:

    The fate of Blackwater’s naval ambitions absolutely has a place in discussions of this topic, it’s a prime example of how use of PMCs has to be carefully considered. Sure, there are first-class outfits which will do the job, but once that door is open the danger of a poorly-run PMC getting the chance to thoroughly screw the pooch gets ever greater.

    Guardian-GBS isn’t just lower-profile, they’re competent enough to know to Maintain that low profile rather than advertise themselves with press photos of their boat or promo vids on YouTube. Guardian is also smart enough to stick to the contract, even if that means a completely boring cruise across the pirate zone. Blackwater was making noises like they would treat any pirate-related contracts as a Letter of Marque, not something any corporation in the world wants tracking back to them if it goes poorly.

    From the looks of it, Maersk is not the only firm to approach the decision carefully. Blackwater wouldn’t be selling their boat at near-fire-sale price if they thought they’d have a shot at other contracts.

    Hey, if you have a link to the source of that information, I would like to see it. I have been following the Letter of Marque thing pretty closely, and I have yet to see Blackwater or Xe make any mention of using such a thing.

  • C J Sparrow

    Probably more cost effective to have “operators” on shipping vessel versus maintaining a security ship.

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