Frustrated shipping companies — who, rightfully, think the global coalition of navies combating the Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden is too stretched to stop all the jolly bravos — are moving ever closer to making armed guards a standard feature of cargo ships.
Reuters reports that Danish group Shipcraft said putting armed guards on its vessels travelling through the Gulf of Aden was a deterrent and also a means of protecting its crews despite the risks involved.
"They (pirates) do not like to be there when the guards are there," said Shipcraft's chief executive Per Nykjaer Jensen.
"As long as the politicians don't make up their minds, then we have to act ourselves," he told Reuters.
Peter Hinchliffe, marine director with industry association the International Chamber of Shipping, told an IMO meeting on piracy last week there were concerns over the "proliferating private armies of security guards", who were also unregulated.
"These relate to issues of legality and liability for the use of lethal force, collateral damage and shipboard safety," he said."There is a danger that the carriage of armed guards in merchant ships may lead to an arms race with criminal pirate gangs who may be able to obtain ever more potent fire power."
More potent? The pirates are already cruising the high seas loaded down with grappling hooks, rocket propelled grenades and machine guns, as you can see in today's story about a British ship nabbing a group of men apparently cruising for prey.
Even more troubling, from the Reuters story, is the character of the 'private contractors' available for hire to stand around for weeks on the deck of a cargo ship:
John Dalby, chief executive of Spanish based MRM, which provides armed and unarmed personnel to merchant vessels, said he had concerns about the type of security companies now approaching shippers.
"Some have been kicked out (of Iraq and Afghanistan) for bad practice and being too ready to use the gun," he said.
"They are punting for work out there (Somalia) and some are getting it and making grave errors. There have been unnecessary shootings and instances spiralling out of control when firearms were not necessary," he said.
Meanwhile, a new development in a pirate story we've talked about many times — the high-seas rescue of the captain of the Maersk Alabama — call it The Tale of the Missing Pirate Booty:
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) "is investigating allegations that funds went missing on board the Maersk Alabama," US Navy spokesman Commander Cappy Surette told AFP.
He declined to offer more details of the probe saying it would be "inappropriate" to discuss the case with an investigation underway.
One surviving alleged pirate, Abduwali Muse, has been brought to the United States to face charges of piracy, hijacking and kidnapping.
Prosecutors allege Muse demanded money from the ship's captain and led him by gun point to the ship's safe, where the captain took out about $30,000, CNN television reported.
But what happened to the money remains a mystery as there is no official account of cash being recovered from the dead pirates or from Muse.
Tune in next time for more Adventures in Piracy!
Photo: Pirates shoot on the deck of the Chinese ship "Zhenhua 4" in the Gulf of Aden December 17, 2008 in this photo released by China's official Xinhua News Agency. The Chinese ship escaped pirate hijack in the Gulf of Aden after the crew fought for four hours with the help of a multi-coalition force. Nine pirates armed with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns boarded the ship. The 30 crew members locked themselves in their accommodation area, using fire hydrants and firebombs to prevent the attackers from entering, said an official with China Maritime Search and Rescue Center (CMSRC), Xinhua News Agency reported. REUTERS/Xinhua