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What if private guards were the solution to piracy… Bof!


(B2) Interesting hypothesis developed by students of the Master's in International and European Studies, Sciences Po Grenoble, Paul Houot & Jonathan Crozier: "what if the employment of private guards on board ships was not the best response to piracy?"The instruction for the exercise - as they explain - was to embody a consulting company based in Brussels (a fictitious company nevertheless) contacted by groups of shipowners such as the CMA-CGM in order to meet their security requirements. during the passage of the Gulf of Aden. The students started from a statement by a CMA-CGM delegate in the press (published by my colleague from the Point, Jean Guisnel on his blog "Open Defense"), asking for the generalization of the boarding of armed contractors on ships to protect them from pirate attacks. And they wanted to defend "this option, quite controversial, (to) study all the aspects in order to make it as credible and effective as possible".

The work is quite successful. You can judge for yourself (by downloading the memory). The format – study style, lobbying firm – is easy to read. And the irony they wielded there is seductive. The text is worked and documented. The argument is intended to be very committed and convincing. A little too much. Because such an initiative, which has a certain economic or operational advantage, also has serious drawbacks. Starting with the international and legal context, but also at the international level. A few points I want to develop here...


Legal and liability context.

At the international level, only military or public authorities are, in fact, empowered to track down maritime piracy. The fate of the pirates who might be apprehended, injured or killed is also left up in the air. As for the problems of liability of the shipowner or the captain of the ship, they remain complex. The employment of armed private guards can be (and often is) considered by insurance companies to be an additional risk factor (and can lead not to a reduction but an increase in the premium, or
then under conditions of exclusion from the insurance).

The question of the qualification and seriousness of private security companies. We have seen in the not-too-distant past a few private guards running away from the ship they were supposed to be guarding. The shipowner is a triple loser here: he pays for security, the boat is captured, the pirates are not inclined to make concessions if the boarding conditions have been “harsh”. Finally, the risk of slippage and transformation is not appreciated. Piracy for the moment stems from armed banditry, sometimes brutal but not bloodthirsty. The employment of private guards cannot therefore be done without serious supervision by the flag State, a bit like the Spaniards did with the guards deployed on the tuna boats flying their flag.

A regal activity par excellence

Finally, there is, in my opinion, a question of principle. the exercise of sovereign police and judicial functions can only be delegated to private persons under certain conditions. If the private sector can intervene in certain support functions (analysis, advice, training, etc.) or even presence on board, the development of private militias on board ships would have an inflationary cost and would not really solve piracy globally. The pirates would either attack ships that had no protection – which in terms of collective protection would not help – or resort to more brutal means.

It is conceivable that the safety of the 16.000 merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden attracts private companies looking for a market. One cannot renounce what constitutes one of the primary motivations of a state. Safety has a certain cost for the community. But that is why States were established: to ensure collective security and the monopoly of the use of force as well as its legitimacy. The use of private forces cannot therefore be considered solely from the angle of technical efficiency and cost.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(pictured: Checking a suspicious dhow by EU maritime anti-piracy forces - Swedish navy)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).