Dad’s army of the sea to tackle piracy

They have been dubbed the Dad's army of the sea, but this old rust bucket is being repurposed as a modern day Letter of Marque – the first in more than two decades.

Lauren Arena

With piracy costing the global economy upwards of $10 billion a year it might be time to consider engaging and killing pirates on sight according to a world leading defence analyst.

Executive Director at the Australian Defence Association, Neil James says piracy was only crushed in the 19th century because pirates were killed and becoming a pirate was like signing a death sentence.

"International rights do-gooders have essentially created more pirates and recreated a very serious international problem.

“Piracy is out-of-control and it’s a problem caused by UN Convention lawyers who were too smart for their own good and didn’t think of long term implications of their decisions," he says.

James was commenting in response to maritime security company Typhon's announcement that they will attempt to tackle the spread of piracy across the Indian Ocean with the world’s first private navy in almost 200 years.

Typhon's offering is a tailor-made navy escort service to the commercial market, allowing ship operators to safely cross the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. Armed vessels, including a 10,000-ton mother ship and high speed armoured patrol boats, will be led by a former Royal Navy commodore along with 240 former marines and sailors as part of Typhon’s integrated protection model.

James, says this modern twist on a Letter of Marque is only a quick fix.

“It’s purely a case of the commercial market filling a vacuum because the United Nations have their arms tied,” says James.

“A private security convoy is a reactive measure, they’re operating as a guard force and can't proactively engage with pirate vessels in order to address the problem and really make a difference in the long term.”

The company’s CEO, Anthony Sharp, says, “The areas we will protect are too vast for current naval resources to monitor effectively and this will be an even bigger issue when Operation Atlanta comes to an end”.

Winding down... Operation Atlanta

“With millions paid out in ransoms to pirates and much more money lost by businesses in fuel costs avoiding pirates, it is important that businesses are granted a safer passage with their cargo through dangerous waters.”

But safe passage doesn't come cheap. A private navy escort will cost between $5000 and $10,000 dollars per day.

Under current United Nations Security Council (UNSC) laws a person engaged in piracy must be taken into custody to undergo a fair criminal trial before being charged. According to James, this is at the heart of the problem.

He suggests Somali pirates have become more flexible, adaptable and better organised and have more modern weapons and communications. Western naval analysts also say they are extending their range to the Oman sea.

“Pirates are operating across enormous distances and Somalia has become a 20th century Tortuga,” says James.

Piracy is spreading rapidly from its Somali roots across the Indian Ocean as far as the Gulf of Guinea, Bangladesh and Indonesia, yet the EU naval presence in the Gulf of Aden is due to end in 2014.James says the UNSC needs to revise its laws in order to stamp out piracy for good, but doubts whether the necessary changes will ever occur.

“An international agreement would require a pirate atrocity to take place in order to concentrate international minds on the issue,” he says.

Typhon is set to escort its first convoy of oil tankers and bulk carriers in April, but there's still a lot of work to be done before then.

The first of Typhon’s intended fleet of 10 ships, a 130-foot container vessel, is currently being retrofitted in Abu Dhabi and the crew of ex-Royal Marines and sailors is yet to be hired.

To-date the company has acquired three container vessels, only one of which is expected to be ready in time for the inaugural voyage in April, while Sharp and his management team attempt to finalise an insurance deal with Lloyd's of London.

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