There is a growing realisation that naval forces, many of which remain subject to swingeing cuts, cannot eliminate maritime piracy on their own. The role of the private maritime security sector in combating this scourge therefore continues to grow apace.
Scores of private maritime security companies (PMSC) now offer protective services to vessels transiting piracy-prone sea areas. Most specialise in supplying on-board security teams, while an increasing number operate armed escort vessels. The quality of service provided can reportedly vary markedly, and some PMSCs prove to be short-lived enterprises. It is an industry ripe for consolidation.
There have been some recent significant developments on the private escort vessel front. Brooking Shipping has commissioned two new purpose-built, armoured 36-metre support, escort and intervention vessels for operations in East African and Gulf of Aden waters. Also, private interests in UK are refitting the former Royal Navy of Oman patrol ship ‘Defender’ for anti-piracy duties. Armed with 40-millimetre cannon, the 38-metre ‘Defender’ is the most potent PMSC escort seen to date, to be deployed off East Africa escorting towed oil platforms.
Now comes news of a major technological and operational advance in the private maritime intelligence sector. A dedicated anti-piracy intelligence facility has just been commissioned, the latest venture by UK-based maritime intelligence outfit Dryad Maritime. It represents a new level of sophistication for private maritime security, and is intended to assist both commercial vessels and cruising yachts.
Dryad’s 24/7 computerised global operations centre features display screens, on which client vessel positions, and potential piracy threats, are plotted. The centre fuses both real time and predictive intelligence on pirate activity, enabling Dryad to advise its clients on the planning and execution of safer passages for their vessels. Dryad provides situation reports at least every six hours advises on rerouting in response to evolving threats and can pass piracy threat information to naval units to help facilitate intervention.
The company utilises a range of dedicated maritime threat intelligence sources, including collated piracy reporting provided by the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur. Dryad is promoting the cost-saving potential of its services, pointing out that the provision of accurate, analysis-led threat intelligence can significantly reduce the length of time for which escort vessels and on-board security teams need to be hired.
Dryad was formed in 2007 to plug a perceived gap in the maritime security market, namely the provision to ship operators of predictive intelligence and advice on piracy threats that might be encountered. It is named after a now-defunct British Royal Navy (RN) navigation and operations training establishment, and retains close links with the service. The company’s new chief operating officer Karen Jacques is a former RN warfare officer and destroyer navigator, and is married to a senior RN warfare officer. The global operations centre is manned mainly by experienced ex-RN intelligence and operations personnel, and is situated in Portsmouth, the UK’s largest naval port.
Jacques says that the relationship between the naval, PMSC and commercial shipping sectors, despite operating independently with differing objectives, should be a symbiotic one. International maritime problems continue to grow in scale, she says, and these three circles of influence are going to need to overlap to a greater extent than they currently do. Dryad’s new operations centre looks set for a major role in forging this relationship.
Trevor Hollingsbee AFNI