As the Roundtable of Shipping Associations call for the establishment of a U.N. force of armed military guards onboard merchant ships, there are many who believe that such a step would be unlikely to ever come to fruition.
BIMCO, Intertanko, Intercargo and The International Chamberof Shipping are apparently concerned about the unrestricted growth of unregulated, privately contracted armed security personnel – they are also seemingly concerned about the costs for their members of contracting these companies.
While it is clear that answers are needed it is equally clear that UN detachments onboard ships will not work. According to John Drake, senior risk consultant with security firm AKE, a U.N. naval solution was unlikely to solve the problem.
Quoted by Reuters, Drake believes that other options are needed. He stated, “A blockade of ports may be successful as this will allow naval forces to concentrate their efforts in a very small area of water, but this will antagonise the Somali population and cut off fishermen from their work. It will also be difficult to enforce, both from a practical perspective and potentially from a legal perspective, and if legal barriers are overcome this will likely involve a lengthy process.”
Drake said piracy remained a land-based problem, “It might be a better use of world resources to tackle poverty, famine, the effects of drought and a chronic lack of political and civic institutions on the land in Somalia.”
While in many ways the calls to have UN troops on vessels has merit, in a practical sense many experts believe it to be simply unworkable. The requirements from the military to have troops on a vessel are prohibitive for most vessels, they will usually require at least a force of 12 to be onboard, there are medical provisions to consider as well as a host of other logistical requirements.
Quite whether the UN would countenance the funds to provide such cover to commercial vessels is also highly unlikely. There are a number of observers who have raised concerns that shipowners earning significant sums of money from their transits across the High Risk Area would look to “drain the limited resources ” of the UN peacekeeping force.
If the UN were to allocate manpower and resources to police vessels, there is a danger that a landbased solution would actually become less likely. There is a real danger that such moves could actually prolong the Somali piracy problems, rather than ending them.