Pirates Ahoy!

Private security at sea


Piracy—the sort involving eye patches and parrots, not folks who sell bootleg DVDs—has been on the upswing in recent years. Even in the digital age, the stuff we buy travels mostly by boat, and oil is still pumped at vulnerable offshore oil platforms.

According to the International Relations and Security Network, pirate attacks cost about $16 billion annually in ship and cargo losses and increased insurance premiums. Enormous container ships are especially vulnerable at "choke points" such as the Malacca Straits, which connect the Pacific and Indian Ocean, where pirates in smaller, quicker boats can pull alongside and board.

Enter private security companies. Businesses and governments alike have been hiring firms with names like Seawolf Marine Patrol to raise the cost of doing business for pirates. The privateers ride shotgun with cargo vessels and train sailors in the use of small arms.

Tom Ridenour, director of maritime operations at the private security firm Blackwater, thinks protection against pirates is a growth market. New offerings from the firm will include a ship capable of deploying small rigid-inflatable boats, helicopters, and a 30-man security team. As of now, there is no demand for the ship. But Ridenour told ISN Security Watch, "we've applied the Kevin Costner 'field of dreams' concept. If you build it, they will come."