Counting the Cost

The seas off the African continent continue to pose a fluid maritime security dilemma as the threats of piracy, terrorism, and robbery at sea, migrate East to West, the effects and costs of which usually sit squarely with the merchant industry.

Just last month the US Coast Guard announced that it will impose conditions of entry on vessels that had previously docked in Gambia, part of a series of security measures enacted when countries are found by the US to have deficient anti-terrorism measures in place.

The announcement follows what looks to have been a busy 18 months of investigations and dialogue between the two sides, with a US Coast Guard team known to have visited the country in December 2013, with a return visit by a Gambian Ports Authority delegation in March last year.450x299_q95

The US embassy in Banjul said that the visits ‘reflect the ongoing relationship and dialogue between the US Government and the Government of The Gambia. Whether or not this is still the case is probably a moot point.

So, from this Monday, any vessel that had previously called in Gambia up to five port-calls previously must be able to meet stringent security criteria that cover a range of tasks, up to and potentially including requiring the use of private maritime security contractors. This means industry is footing the bill.

Which brings us conveniently onto the next point, which is the continued growth and expansion of the maritime security industry, and the now commonplace use of armed guards on merchant vessels, particularly when transiting through the high risk areas.

Ten years ago when Somali-based piracy was first hitting the headlines the world watched as nations tried to figure the best way to combat the threat, as tankers, bulk carriers, and private yachts all fell victim. Naval task forces were formed and deployed, resulting in billion pound air defence destroyers being used to chase down skiffs in the high heat of the Arabian Sea.

Not cost effective right? Correct. And so private industry saw an opportunity and flooded into the security gap. Just last month another company, Aspida, was approved by French authorities (CNAPS) to conduct missions on board French-flagged vessels.

And West Africa presents opportunities for these firms, given last month’s report from Oceans Beyond Piracy that found that threats in the Gulf of Guinea in 2014 cost the best part of $1 billion, 47% of which was borne by the industry, with regional nations taking 29% of the bill. The human cost was over 1,000 seafarers being attacked in the Gulf of Guinea, 170 of whom were detained or held hostage.

Again, industry is footing the majority of the cost.

Taken as a whole, the huge merchant industry is capable of footing the bill, in providing the security that nations are unable or unwilling to provide. The question is, should they have to?

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