At London International Shipping Week in September, I listened intently to Admiral Chris Parry Royal Navy – a retired naval officer and analyst; Admiral Philip Jones Royal Navy – the incumbent Fleet Commander and Major General Martin Smith Royal Marines – the current Operation Commander of the European Union Naval Force Atalanta (). Chatham House rules prevent me from quoting these wise gentlemen but the general flavour of their opinion was:
- The threat of Somalian piracy remains, if currently latent, and is very real indeed.
- The three legged stool of naval presence, adherence to BMP 4 and the use of armed guarding by credible PMSCs led to the successful containment of Somali Piracy in / around 2012.
- The three legged stool requires all 3 legs to remain in place in order to maintain the status quo – ergo “keep taking the medicine”. Keep the navy. Keep the BMP 4 measures. Keep the armed PMSCs.
- International forces will be committed to the region for the foreseeable future
To be entirely honest, I was surprised to hear institutional endorsement of armed guarding since they were most certainly not welcomed to the party by Governments as the industry burgeoned back in 2008, but times and attitudes change. And so it is now.
Despite the official advice to “keep taking the medicine” and the judicious reduction of the HRA, we are seeing ship owners, operators and cargo interests come to us to discuss de-escalating from armed guards since it is difficult to justify the costs in light of the lack of attacks. It is similar to paying for crash helmets for all of your staff in case they are hit by a piece of ice falling off an aircraft.
It is an interesting time; it is not possible to recommend one all encompassing policy all the time, the key is to conduct a risk assessment to review the current and specific circumstances. But isn’t that where we should have been all along?