The demand for armed protection has boomed since the IMO issued security guidelines.
Demand for armed guards in the Indian Ocean has rocketed since the introduction of guidelines on using security companies, says one of the largest private military-style operators in the region.
Dominic Mee, who heads Protection Vessels International (PVI), which uses ex-British Royal Marines, thinks increased security is a must as he predicts one of the most active and violent piracy campaigns ever is about to begin.
Commenting on last month’s guidelines from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Mee said: “When the IMO guidelines came out there was a big increase in requests for protection services and we have had to increase capacity in the region. The market still has some scope to expand.”
Mee says there has been a sea change in attitudes on the use of armed guards in shipping.
“When we first started we were offering patrol-boat vessel-escort services because the idea was to keep the guns off ships. Now the biggest part of our business is providing on-board security guards,” he explained.
The IMO guidelines, he believes, help owners feel confident about using security firms, as there is an emphasis on auditing.
“We welcome the guidelines because they give the industry good guidance and it has made the business more professional,” he said.
“We have no problem with shipowners who want to visit us and see how we work,” he added.
Mee estimates there could be 1,000 men working in the region protecting shipping. The rate for standard protection for ships in Asia heading to the Mediterranean through Suez is around $50,000.
But there are savings to be made from potentially smaller insurance premiums and reduced fuel costs thanks to cutting speed in the danger area. But it is usually the crew that gets the most benefit from an added sense of safety that professional armed guards bring.
“We get a lot of satisfaction when we get on board and see the relief on the crew’s face that they know they have protection from ex-Royal Marines,” Mee said.
PVI has had 31 confrontations with pirates but, says Mee, no one has been injured. The strategy is to show there is an armed force on board and that is often enough.
Mee believes the Somali famine and a lack of funds at the Al Shabab terrorist organisation, suspected of being a benefactor of piracy, threatens to make pirates more desperate.
“We have seen pirates getting more violent than before. The situation in Somalia will up the ante even more,” added Mee.