Expert Flags Up Perils Of Using Private Navies Off West Africa

Using armed guards or private navies to fight piracy off West Africa is a very bad idea, warns an established maritime-protection firm, due to the complex nature of crime in the area and the extreme violence it could set off.

“There is no place for armed private Western security. That would end up in a bloodbath, and I do not recommend it under any circumstances,” said Nick Davies, chief executive of Gulf of Aden Group Transits (GoAGT) at a London briefing.

Davies says pirates operating off West Africa are more sophisticated, well informed and target the cargoes they want to steal. They come equipped to pilot tankers to a destination where they can unload refined fuel-product cargoes onto prearranged bunker barges.

He recommends that crews retreat to a ship’s citadel and let the attackers get on with stealing the cargoes to avoid being the target of very aggressive attacks.

GoACT says maritime attacks in the Gulf of Guinea can be part of very complex criminal and political issues that are unlike the piracy problems in the Indian Ocean.

However, Davies cautions that ship operators must not become complacent about reduced levels of reported pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, and drop the use of armed guards.

“The Somalis will just wait for ship operators to drop their guard,” he said.

GoACT claims to have guarded nearly 2,000 transits since setting up in 2008, with no pirate skiff approaching to within 600 metres of a client vessel.

Davies is also scathing about plans to set up convoy escorts using fast patrol boats.

“If you have got skiffs coming in from three or four directions, I don’t care if you’ve got helicopters and three or four rigid inflatable boats with the best SBS [Special Boat Service] in the world, there is still going to be one that gets through and the last thing you want is a firefight right next to a vessel.”

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