In two years of operations, a Virginia-based maritime security company has escorted commercial vessels through pirate-infested East African waters 300 times without incident. Nexus Consulting Group of Alexandria’s impressive record is the latest evidence of a surprising turn in the five-year-old international war on Somali pirates. More and more, for-profit security guards are taking over from the world’s navies on the maritime front lines.
But as it grows its protection business, Nexus — “the world’s leading provider of private maritime security solutions,” according to a company press release — might want to heed the hard lessons learned by one of its rivals. As it turns out, the ship-protection biz is rife with risk, of the diplomatic and AK-47-wielding variety. Carrying guns aboard commercial ships has the potential to cause all kinds of legal problems.
Nexus boasts of its “former military members and elite special forces personnel armed with highly-specialized weaponry,” which the firm says “ensures shipping companies that their crew and cargo will not be harmed by pirate attacks — even the threat of RPGs.”
But it can take more than firepower to navigate the perilous western Indian Ocean. British sea-merc company Protection Vessels International — an older company than Nexus, and with 1,000 successful escorts under its belt — found this out the hard way in December, when four of its guards stopped for fuel in Eritrea while sailing to a scheduled ship-protection gig off Somalia. Eritrean officials detained all four men and accused them of plotting “acts of terrorism and sabotage” against the impoverished nation.
As evidence, the Eritreans cited the PVI crew’s weapons and military equipment — the same type of stuff that Nexus boasts about in its press release. It took six months for PVI and the British Foreign Office to secure the guards’ release. “A series of unfortunate events,” is how PVI spokesman Paul Gibbins described the incident.
But naval officers and shipping company officials have been worrying about diplomatic snafus for years. And there are other examples of foul-ups besides PVI’s. Just last week, police in Mozambique arrested five employees of Greyside, another U.S. maritime security company, on charges of carrying unauthorized weapons.
“Each state and each nation has its own legal restrictions on the purchase, possession and storage of firearms,” one Florida-based security organization warned. “Many of these laws are very stringent with severe penalties for infractions.”
It just goes to show: You can scare off Somali pirates hundreds of times and still get into big trouble in the world’s most dangerous waters.
Photo: Courtesy of Lockforce