Private Practice

The sudden rapid increase in piracy attacks around the Horn of Africa and the, at first, slow response of the international community has led to the rise of a new form of protection for those shipping owners willing and able to pay.

The huge boom in private maritime security companies (PMSCs) has been startling and in a similar vein to their land-based counterparts the initial period of operations created something of a ‘wild west’ environment.

Somalia End of Piracy

However, as naval patrols have brought the incidence of piracy attacks down around the Horn, the environment has begun to change. Easy contracts have been harder to come by and there has been a shift towards increased professionalism in the PMSC community as they look to access new markets and provide a service benchmarked by quality.

In the latest issue of International Maritime and Port Security, Ian Simpson, general manager of Neptune Maritime Security, points out there has been a move by the community to set out and adopt internationally recognised standards, such as ISO (PAS) 28007, which can be used as a stamp of quality. These new standards are designed to give ship operators and owners the assurance they need when they hire the services of a PMSC.

The new standards will also be a handy selling point as PMSCs look to access new markets. As James Bridger explains in his article, there has been a big increase in the number of piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea. Recently there has also been an increased level of organisation to the attacks with pirates being able to pinpoint and target specific ships.

In this respect it would be easy to argue that this would be an ideal market for PMSCs. However, the littoral countries of the Gulf of Guinea prevent private individuals from carrying weapons in their coastal waters. This has altered the role that can be played by PMSCs in the region with advisory and consultancy services more in demand.

Similarly, South East Asia is also becoming a complex environment in which to operate. Low level piracy and theft remain the major issues in the region, although there is the occasional larger act of piracy. However, there are lots of cross cutting jurisdictions and complex political issues for PMSCs to navigate.


Although there has been a shift in its concentration, piracy remains a real problem globally. As Simpson points out:

‘According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau, there were 116 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea from January to June in 2014 globally.’

PMSCs have had to adapt to this new environment and not all have survived. There have been several recent announcements of companies going under as they fail to find new contracts or have difficulties being paid by some of the more shady shipping operators. However, it is clear that many of them are adapting to this new environment with gusto.

In the next issue of IMPS, Claire Apthorp will be exploring the environment that PMSCs must now operate in and will be talking to some of the companies about how they are meeting these new challenges.

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