Those Somalian pirates aren’t going away; in fact, they’ve extended their span of operations pretty considerably, and that – combined with some recent murderings of unransomed hostages – is understandably causing concern for shipping operators (though the cynic in me notes it took the murder of white Americans to get the appropriate level of ire stoked up).
But what to do? Mercenary escorts are useful, but expensive… so collective risk mitigation is one potential answer. have you paid your piracy insurance?
The Convoy Escort Program, a nonprofit company assembled by the Jardine Lloyd Thompson brokerage group in London, wants to sell a more efficient way to insure and protect merchant vessels, since the current method — of buying expensive ransom insurance and hoping that some navy ship will sail to the rescue if pirates attack — hasn’t lowered the risk of piracy.
Through the CEP, ship owners would be able to buy, say, a few days of war-zone insurance on the Lloyd’s of London market and also pay for a quasi-military escort past Somalia. The escort would give armed protection without the cost and hassle of armed teams on board every cargo ship. Shipowners have learned that expensive (and controversial) armed teams are one sure way to ward off a hijacking.
“The concept is that shipowners will not be paying any more than at the moment and maybe a lot less,” said Sean Woollerson from JLT. “But they will be afforded proper protection and the presence of the escorts will be a great morale booster for the seafarers.”
Great idea! Well, a great idea assuming you like the idea of what’s essentially a private navy, of course… and as the Miller-McCune article goes on to point out, this is how arms-race escalations of conflict can start:
Of course, a private navy could also change the atmosphere on the water off Somalia. Strict rules of engagement currently keep national navies from shooting or even arresting most pirates, and until recently, the pirates have been relatively gentle with their hostages. But the last couple of months have seen more aggression from the navies and a corresponding rise in nastiness from the pirates.
Presumably private boats would have more freedom to open fire, though no one wants to say so. The Royal Navy would have the Convoy Escort Patrol under “operational control,” but wouldn’t “manage” it, according to the London Times. “The crew would have to conform to international rules on combat and engagement,” the paper writes.
Oh, international laws on the conduct of warfare! They always get followed to the letter, don’t they? Especially when the press aren’t around.
My concern here is that – like so many of the solutions proposed to conflicts generated by massive wealth disparities – the CEP is a cure for the symptom, but not the disease. We all know how futile a game of whack-a-mole can be, but it seems we have deep-seated species-wide jones for it nonetheless.
[ Yes, yes, I know, the Crimson Permanent Assurance turned pirate rather than protecting against pirates, but I couldn’t pass up a chance at such an obscure Python reference. Sue me. ]