Sharp’s told the Telegraph that “The Typhon force will be the first of its kind for probably 200 years and will protect private shipowners’ assets at sea.” The statement is incorrect since several other companies have either attempted to provide this type of private security or have actually conducted operations. The former company Blackwater offered a decades-old NOAA ship, the M/V McArthur, RHIBs and an embarked helicopter with the intent to protect ships from pirates. But the ship arrived in the Red Sea without clients; absent business, the ship left the region and the industry. Since then several companies have either claimed to have vessels or intended to procure them for the purpose of maritime security specifically in the Gulf of Aden. Others, like Protection Vessels International (PVI) have operated several security vessels.
According to the Telegraph article, Sharp “hopes to have 10 vessels on the water within 24 months.” This is an ambitious number particularly since other companies have made similar unfulfilled projections, such as one U.S.-based company which initially claimed it had fourteen vessels. It isn’t clear if the current level of piracy will support additional vessels. To date, no commercial ship with an embarked private security detachment has been taken by Somali pirates. The threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden may have already peaked. According to the International Maritime Bureau’s just-released 2011 piracy report, annual actual and attempted piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden were as follows: 2007 – 13; 2008 – 92; 2009 – 117; 2010 – 53; and 2011 – 37. This downward trend can be attributed to the increased use of private embarked armed security (as well as private armed escort vessels), improved Best Management Practices by the shipping industry, and the creation of Combined Task Force 151 as well as other international maritime operations in the region.
While piracy attacks in the heavily-trafficked Gulf of Aden have decreased, incidents have increased elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. If Typhon and other firms are interested in filling that maritime security gap, they will have to identify larger ships that have the range and speed or improve their logistics that can support clients in a broader region.
LCDR Claude Berube, USNR, is the co-editor of Maritime Private Security: Market Reponses to Piracy, Terrorism, and Waterborne Security Risks of the 21st Century (Routledge, 2012). The views expressed are his own and not those of the U.S. Naval Academy or U.S. Navy.