Emerging Markets

How can private maritime security companies contribute to maritime security beyond counter piracy?

At a recent gathering at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London (The Private Military and Security Conference: Security in an Uncertain World) the use of Private Security Companies (PSC) by NGO’s in fragile states was under discussion. As military forces are withdrawn from major conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the subsequent reduction in numbers, the private security sector has noted this drawdown for its services and started to identify new markets, such as the developing world.

Throughout the conference, there was no doubting of the PSC’s much-needed contribution, despite the mere fact of their existence is still highly contentious. Basic provisions of human and physical security remain, but other services such as logistics are also now on offer. Whilst the Department for International Development (DfID) delivers aid in 21 of the acknowledged 28 fragile states, PSC’s now feature in conflict zones delivering far more services, such as the provision of forensics, capacity building and even training. This diversification is having a significant effect as the difference between PSC and NGO becomes increasingly blurred, where the former looks to deliver a broader range of services on a commercial basis and the latter strives to maintain neutrality, impartiality and of course the highest levels of humanity. Considering the spread of PSC’s in the maritime domain, the similarities are obvious where considerations are beginning to turn towards to how Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSC’s) can contribute to global maritime security, an area of responsibility traditionally dominated by Governments.

A recent US study of ‘Maritime Irregular Warfare’ (2012, Dunnigan et al) concluded that ‘maritime’ PSC’s possibly have a far wider contribution to make. Aside from counter piracy operations, they are also in an excellent position to supplement maritime training, patrol narcotics trafficking routes, assist naval forces in maritime counter insurgency efforts and with the provision of the majority of manpower for maritime/civil operations. As the global economic downturn continues and Governments struggle to police international sea lanes, key trade routes and territorial waters, does this represent an opportunity for PMSC’s to deliver a broader range of maritime security services in a way that land based PSC’s have supported Government contracts as a matter of routine?

There are obvious issues of Command, Control and Territoriality, but global private security has been around for some time, whether it be an armed guard outside a domestic house, a supermarket or an embassy. The relatively newer private maritime security sector is probably the most scrutinized and well acquainted with issues of command and control of counter piracy on board commercial vessels. The complexities of flag state & international law combined with the nuances of rules for the use of force within and beyond littoral waters are well understood by PMSC’s. Of particular note, the security delivered on the oceans comes with a high degree of sensitivity, where the placement armed guards on board a ship – a seafarer’s home – is undertaken with careful consideration. The liaison between the TL and the Master on board in deterring piracy is crucial to the success of the safe transit of the vessel. PSC’s on land are only just beginning to realize the importance of their services working in harmony with a variety of stakeholders coupled with a cogent understanding of the complexities of the environment.

More people than ever before are working in more dangerous places, be they NGO’s in a fragile states or vessels transiting the HRA. The requirement for robust, credible and effective private security remains and if global prosperity is to return, a safe and secure trading environment is key to enabling this. The private maritime security sector is well placed to capitalize on its expertise in the maritime domain in support of navies, coastguards and law enforcement organisations; perhaps it is moreover a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ for that expansion to occur.


Article written by Paul Gibbins.  Paul is a freelance consultant to the Maritime Security sector. www.pgc-global.org @pgcomms

Previous Article
Next Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *