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Ex-Marines Fighting Pirates as World Shipping Lanes Attacked

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) -- About 1,000 former Royal Marines will be deployed by a British company next year to protect oil tankers and other vessels transiting the world’s most dangerous shipping lanes off East Africa.

Protection Vessels International Ltd. will add about 250 guards to its existing force of 750, said Managing Director Dom Mee. PVI is providing security for about 180 ships and has a 50 percent market share. An estimated 17 percent of ships in the Indian Ocean will have armed ex-marines next year, compared with 15 percent now, Mee said.

Maritime piracy costs the global economy an estimated $7 billion to $12 billion annually, and attacks rose to a record in the first half of the year, according to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization. About 23,000 ships carrying $1 trillion of trade pass through the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia every year, the U.K. government estimates.

“What was shunned at first is now being seen as an effective solution,” Mee said by phone from Caddington, England. “The pirates will back off and wait to find a vessel that isn’t armed. For the vessels that are unable to protect themselves, the violence will be quite intense.”

PVI guards in September repelled a pirate attack on a vessel owned by Torm A/S, Europe’s largest ship owner specializing in refined oil products, Mee said. A.P. Moller- Maersk A/S, the largest owner of vessels that carry manufactured goods, said this month it would start using armed security on some of its oil and gas tankers.

Daily Rate

PVI charges a flat daily rate and the average cost is $50,000 a voyage. The company hires only former Royal Marines, according to its website. The average journey lasts eight days. PVI has a staff of 60 to handle regulatory compliance and the company buys all its weapons in the U.K., Mee said.

The company’s guards have come under attack 30 times in 3 1/2 years and repelled all the assaults without incurring any deaths or injuries, according to Mee. Warning shots are enough to turn back pirates, he said. Attacks will increase in the next several months as the monsoon season ends, he said.

Pirates operating in the Indian Ocean, an area as large as Europe, attacked 187 vessels and hijacked 22 in the first half of the year, according to data from the IMO.

The U.K. government will “soon” announce a change in its policy of discouraging the use of private security on board ships, Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham said in a speech to the Chamber of Shipping this month.

UN Petition

The International Chamber of Shipping, representing 90 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, petitioned the UN last month to set up a military force to fight Indian Ocean piracy.

Naval forces released as many as 1,500 pirates since 2010 because their governments didn’t want the responsibility of prosecution, according to Giles Noakes, head of security at the Baltic and International Maritime Council, which represents owners controlling about 65 percent of global vessel tonnage.

The European Union naval force patrolling in the southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and western Indian Ocean typically has 10 warships at most to cover 2 million square nautical miles, its website shows.

 Souce: Bloomberg Business Week


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