Public-Private Partnerships at Sea – in Fact & Fiction

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Public-Private Partnerships at Sea – in Fact & Fiction

Though we generally try to distill naval operations down to their simplest binary terms – fleet versus fleet – maritime operations in both peacetime and in war are more complex endeavors. Today and throughout history, contractors, mercenaries, and other non-governmental entities have played more of a role in maritime security on the high seas than most navalists would like to admit.  Some of these arrangements are contractual and sanctioned by legitimate government entities, some of them are ad hoc, and some operate on legally murky waters.  Some are based mutual economic benefits, but many are designed to enhance security.

Public-private partnerships, as they are sometimes called, are making a difference at sea across the globe.  Especially in Africa, there are numerous recent examples encompassing both for profit and non-profit organizations. In South Africa, Operation Phakisa brings together teams from government, business, academia and other sectors to accelerate the economic benefit stemming from marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, and aquaculture, while protecting marine resources.

In the Gulf of Guinea, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy recently entered into a Public Private Partnership with a company for the supply, maintenance and bunkering of vessels. The vessels will be manned by the personnel of the Nigerian Navy on a Supply, Operate and Transfer (SOT) basis for a 10 year period after which ownership of the vessels will revert to NIMASA.   Also in the Eastern Atlantic, last year, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society supplied a ship, fuel, and crew to conduct law enforcement patrols under the direction of the Government of Senegal’s Ministry of Fisheries.  Operation Sunu Gaal, as it was called, focused on investigating and intercepting vessels involved in illegal shark, tuna, and sword-fishing.

In the Mediterranean, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has established a contact group with officials from Libya’s Coastguard, the Port Security Department, the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, the Red Crescent, the International Red Cross, the International Medical Corps, and the EU border management agency, to improve coordination and communication between the Libyans and international actors participating in maritime rescue.
On a related note, the success of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station’s rescue campaign in the Mediterranean has allowed the organization to secure the funds that it needs to become a global organization.  MOAS has rescued nearly 12,000 migrants at sea with its ship and state-of-the art unmanned air vehicles provided by a corporate donor and will expand into Southeast Asian waters. These pseudo-Coast Guards and Para-navies see themselves as filling a maritime security gap and that is exactly the way governments should view them.

Claude Berube is one of the handful of experts who speaks from a position of knowledge on maritime non-state actors such as those discussed above.  Though he’s written non-fiction works on how private security companies and emerging maritime activists are shaping today’s maritime security arena, it’s his novels, including the newly released Syren’s Song, that give a glimpse of how future wars at sea might resurrect the chaotic 19th Century era of privateers and pirates.

Berube continues to perfect his craft in this novel, the second of his Connor Stark series.  The characters are deeper, and the settings more vivid than in The Aden Effect, but the non-stop action at sea continues. In the book, a resurgent off-shoot of the Tamil Tigers allies itself with a shadowy multinational corporation to threaten a motley assembly of U.S. Navy and private maritime security vessels.  The choice of antagonist is fitting, given that the Sea Tigers represent one of the most lethally effective insurgent naval branches in recent history.

A critical plot enabler in the book is the letter of marque that the Sri Lankan government issues to Stark’s security firm to investigate the Sea Tigers.  Though this arrangement may seem far-fetched or antiquated to some readers*, the reality is there are many contemporary examples of contractors performing similar roles for Western militaries.  Contractors fly manned and unmanned surveillance assets overland and at at sea, for several countries, including the United States. These arrangements are perfectly legitimate, but generally not well publicized and understood.

Syren’s Song is an entertaining read for those who enjoy geopolitical thrillers.  The novel reinforces an important point: our adversaries exploit their own collaborative networks of commercial interests – both legal and illegal – to meet their objectives. Conversely, modern navies should recognize that public-private partnerships in their many forms are a tool that can augment and enhance their fleets while filling maritime security gaps in countries that have neither the will, nor capacity to police their own waters.

*Letters of Marque were generally outlawed in 1856 by the Declaration of Paris, but continued for some time, especially during the US. Civil War.

Posted by Chris Rawley at 8:43 PM

This entry was posted in Maritime and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply