A group of British businessmen backed by some international shipping firms have set up a private naval force to crack down against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean along the coast of East Africa.
According to the British Sunday Times, the force will be Britain’s first private naval outfit to be set up in two centuries. The navy, which has been named ‘Typhon’ is being set up by a group of businessmen led by Simon Murray, the chairman of Glencore, a global commodities trading concern with various interests in shipping.
Typhon chief executive officer Anthony Sharp said the need for a private navy arose because the Royal Navy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) patrolling off Somalia lack the vessels required to conduct effective patrols against Somali pirates.
Sharp said the international naval forces already operating in the Indian Ocean also do not have a sufficient budget to sustain effective anti-piracy patrols in the huge area affected by piracy. “They (anti-piracy naval forces) can’t do the job because they haven’t got the budget. Deploying a billion pound warship against six pirates with US$500 of kit is not a very good use of the assets,” he said.
He said the Typhon force will operate one 10 000 tonne mother ship and deploy high speed armoured patrol boats to be crewed by 240 former Royal Navy marines and sailors. Sailing under a sovereign flag to give them legal rights to carry weapons into any harbour, the fleet will provide security escorts to oil tankers, bulk carriers and private yachts along the coast of East Africa.
However, the formation of the force comes as global concern over piracy shifts from the Indian Ocean and Red Sea to the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. The International Maritime Bureau has recorded a decrease in maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia as a result of the operations of the international counter-piracy naval forces there. However, it has already identified Nigeria as the new epicentre of a piracy scourge that has spread into the entire Gulf of Guinea, making it the world’s next maritime piracy danger zone.
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has evolved into an international problem because of a security vacuum in the territorial waters of the countries which neighbour the Gulf of Guinea. The ICG also blamed countries in the Gulf of Guinea for failing to co-operate in securing the region. It warned that the continuing discovery of oil and gas resources in the region will make it more attractive to pirates and other maritime criminal syndicates such as oil thieves and bunkerers.
The group said the availability of oil resources in some of the region’s impoverished nations is a leading cause and multiplier of maritime crimes, especially in countries where the majority of people are excluded from sharing the benefits, leaving governments and business elites as sole beneficiaries.
“The weakness and general inadequacy of the maritime policies of Gulf of Guinea states and the lack of cooperation between them have allowed criminal networks to diversify their activities and gradually extend them away from the Nigerian coast and out on to the high seas.
“Crime does not affect only the oil industry; it has diversified to include piracy and increasingly audacious and well-planned sea-borne raids. Criminal groups have learned quickly and appeared along the coasts of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipé, Benin and Togo, taking advantage of troubled socio-political situations,” the ICG said.
The ICG also blamed the rise in maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea on poor governance and a collective failure by states to control economic activities in their maritime zones, the international waters and ensure the development of their coastal communities. It said this provides opportunities for criminal networks to take advantage of the needs and resentments of the communities to set up coastal bases and recruit locals as operatives in lucrative maritime crimes.