CHENNAI : Private maritime security services was touted as a $7 bn business globally three years ago but it is fast shrinking, generating just one-fourth of that revenue now owing to a substantial drop in instances of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
When Somalian piracy was at its peak in 2010, it cost merchant vessels $40,000-80,000 to engage four privately contracted maritime security personnel on board for a seven-day voyage between Sri Lanka and Suez Canal. “Today , we provide the same number of armed guards at $12,000-15,000 per trip,” said director of an Indian maritime security agency , registered in Singapore, but headquartered in Mumbai.
Attacks by Somalian pirates have declined steadily over the past five years. At least one incident per day was recorded in 2010. It dropped to 200 cases in 2011 and 75 in 2012. “Less than 50 attempted instances of piracy only were reported last year in the Gulf of Aden and Somalian coast,” said Girish Sehgal, who has sailed in the region for more than 20 years.
Naval fleets of many world nations including that of India provide escort to merchant ships that ply between Red Sea and Arabian Sea, but that is hardly enough taking into account the number of vessels that operate in the region and the geographical spread of the menace of piracy . Most mer chant ships prefer carrying a few private armed guards on board. They embark and disembark merchant ships in high seas off Sri Lanka and A Suez Canal or at designated ports in the region.
It is estimated that there are about 30,000 armed guards providing security to ships across the globe. At least 5,000 of them are Indians, say industry sources. There are five security agencies promoted by Indians, but none of them are registered in the country owing to stringent laws governing the sector, especially regarding use of firearms. While most security firms get arms licence from the UK, some go to North African nations like Djibouti from where arms licence can be secured in a jiffy . And quite a few operate out of Sri Lanka.
International Maritime Organization (IMO) specifies that armed security personnel can travel aboard ships only in designated high-risk areas like the Gulf of Aden. Five floating armouries – boats full of guns -are located near Gulf of Aden, which supply armed guards to ships that require their services. They are supposed to use only sporting semiautomatic weapons. Use of automatic weapons in ships is banned by IMO. “India, which does not fall under high risk category, has been consistently opposing entry of armed guards into its territorial waters (12 nautical miles from the coast within which provisions under Indian Penal Code are applicable)”, said retired commodore R S Vasan.
Before a ship carrying armed guards enters Indian territorial waters, the master has to deposit all the arms and ammunition in safe locker and declare the same to Indian authorities. It is inspected by Indian Customs officials when the ship reaches coast. Armed guards are also not allowed to board ship from India.
“Dealing with pirates is a cumbersome process.In the wake of India arresting 120 Somalian pirates, we moved an Anti-piracy Bill in the Parliament. But it is yet to be passed,” said Vasan