Tag Archives: featured

CIMSEC Elections 2014

You may have noticed a tab appear on our homepage over the past couple of days. It leads to a page announcing the upcoming election for CIMSEC’s officers for the 1-year 2014-2015 term. If you haven’t seen it, here it is quoted below:

CIMSEC will accept nominations and hold elections for its officer positions over the next several weeks. We here at CIMSEC are an all-volunteer force, so we especially rely on the commitment of our officers to carry out the day-to-day functions of the organization. If you are interested in taking on additional responsibilities to help us succeed in our mission of encouraging intelligent discussion about the maritime issues facing the world today we strongly encourage you to consider running for a 1-year term in office.


Interested persons may nominate themselves or others. All members will receive an email with further instructions on the nomination process during the week of 18-24 May. Check back on the elections tab for more details on how to nominate during the week.


– Must be general members at the start of voting (email membership@cimsec.org if in doubt to determine).
– May be members of the Board of Directors
– May run for more than one position
– Must accept their nomination and upon acceptance confirm they have read CIMSEC’s By-Laws and conflict of interest policy
– Will be asked to provide a statement for voting members to read regarding their qualifications, their goals, and, if an incumbent, their accomplishments.
– Need not reside in the DC Area nor be U.S. citizens

Click here for a list of voting officer positions. We also have non-voting officer positions not subject to election, if you area interested in assisting with one of these, please contact the Chairman of the Board at director@cimsec.org.

Click here for a list of CIMSEC area chapters. We are looking for motivated members to lead chapters in geographic areas, who will be elected by those members in their geographic area. If you don’t see one in your area, we welcome you creating one with the stipulation that you hold at least one informal event over the next year.


Voting on nominees will be conducted from 26-31 May by general members of CIMSEC. More to follow.


18-24 May: Nomination period open
26-31 May: Voting on nominees
01 June: Winners announced
07 June: Winners take office

West Africa: More Dangerous Pirates, Less Adequete Security

West Africa is home to the world’s most violent pirates—who are now proving capable of overwhelming armed guards. Last month pirates killed a crewmember during an attack on German-owned oil tanker. Instead of fighting off the pirates, the embarked security team retreated to the ship’s citadel safe room.

For the shipping and insurance worlds, the widespread adoption of armed guards aboard vessels essentially ‘solved’ Somali piracy, as no vessel employing them has been hijacked by pirates. An attempt to transfer this panacea to the pirate-prone waters of West Africa, however, has proven inadequate and ill-suited to local conditions.

On the night of April 29, pirates attacked SP Brussles 35 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria. Local security forces guarding the vessel were unable to prevent the pirates from boarding and retreated to ship’s citadel along with the crew. The guards did not emerge until the following morning, only to find that the ship’s chief engineer had been killed and another crewmember injured as they failed to reach the citadel.

This incident and others like it highlight three important issues that distinguish West African from maritime crime in other parts of the world.

First is the distinctive operating environment in which international naval patrols are absent, the response capacity of regional security forces is limited, and the use of foreign armed guards is prohibited.

Second, is the uniquely violent nature of Nigerian pirates and their propensity to engage in shootouts with security forces.

Finally, are the multiple shortcomings of using local armed guards aboard vessels and the inherent danger the shipping industry faces in being overly reliant on this measure.

Getting Around the Neighborhood

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is a Nigeria-centric problem that primarily occurs within 100 nautical miles of the coast and targets the ships plying the regional oil trade. Local naval forces have provided a modicum of security for transiting vessels, but their ability to respond to pirate attacks outside of territorial waters and secure anchorages is limited. The pirate’s proximity to shore coupled with local concerns over state sovereignty has prevented international naval operations from deploying as they have off Somalia.

These same confines have restricted Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) from operating in the region as national laws prohibit foreign guards from carrying weapons within the 12nm limit of territorial waters. For embarked security, shipowners are forced to rely on armed guards contracted from littoral states. These guns on deck, drawn from national police and naval forces, are often poorly trained and undermanned, making them ill equipped to match the threat they face.


A recent UN report found that pirate attacks in West Africa from 2006 to 2013 have been proportionally more severe (involving vessel hijacking, hostage taking and violent acts towards crew members) than those in the Western Indian Ocean and South East Asia. West African pirate attacks have also become more violent over time, the report notes, particularly from 2011 onwards. International Maritime Bureau data records show more crewmembers were injured and killed off Nigeria than other country from 2012 to first quarter of 2014.

Regionally distinct pirate ‘business models’ partially explain this phenomenon. When Somali pirates hijack a vessel, they must ensure that the hostages are kept alive so that ransom negotiations for the return of the entire crew and ship can proceed smoothly.

West African hijackings, by comparison, are usually “extended duration robberies,” in which the crew and vessel are only held hostage until the ship can be pumped of its petroleum cargo. When maritime kidnappings occur, pirates take only the most valuable (usually Western or Asian) officers for ransom while leaving the rest of the crew and vessel behind. Under both scenarios, the majority of the crewmembers hold no value for the pirates and are thus considered disposable assets.

Armed to the Teeth

West African pirates are also better armed and trained than other maritime criminals, reportedly wielding heavy machines guns, such as M60s, and RPGs. Many of these weapons are ‘legacy firearms’ circulating from previous African conflicts, while others are sold or rented from corrupt security forces.

This heavy armament is a product of the pirate’s proximity to their onshore bases in the Niger Delta, which allows them to carry more weight in weapons and ammo and less in fuel and water than their Somali counterparts. Nigerian pirates also display military-grade tactics, explains Kevin Doherty, Owner of PMSC Nexus Consulting, “they know how to skillfully maintain and fire their weapons, they ambush security forces, and they board vessels with tactical precision.”

The weapons and tactics displayed by the pirates are often superior to those of the security personnel hired to protect vessels, notes a report from the counter-piracy think tank Oceans Beyond Piracy. As a result, local soldiers contracted to guard ships have reportedly hidden during pirate attacks. “They hide, just like that,” exclaimed a regional seafarer, “When we ask them why they hide, their answer is simple, ‘The weapons of rebels and pirates are stronger.’” An alternative, often anecdotally reported explanation is that naval guards have colluded with pirates in exchange for a share of profits.

Nigerian pirates are often undeterred by onboard security forces and willing to use deadly force to achieve their objectives. While shootouts between pirates and embarked security are exceedingly rare in the Indian Ocean, they are becoming increasingly common in the Gulf of Guinea, resulting in multiple casualties.


Fatal Nigerian Pirate Attacks 2012-2014*
Date & Location Incident Details Casualties
February 13, 2012100 nm South of Lagos, Nigeria Pirates fired on, boarded, and robbed a drifting bulk carrier, MV Fourseas, off the coast of Nigeria. The pirates killed the ship’s Master during the robbery, while Chief Engineer died from injuries sustained during an attempted escape. Master and Chief Engineer killed.
August 3, 201245nm SW of Bonny Island, Nigeria Pirates armed with AK 47s overpowered the Nigerian naval personnel guarding an oil barge, Jascon 33, and kidnapped four crewmembers for ransom. Two Nigerian guards killed, two guards injured, four crewmembers kidnapped.
December 13, 201225nm SW offshore, Bayelsa, Nigeria Pirates armed with machine guns attacked an offshore supply vessel, PM Salem, and engaged in a 20-minute firefight with onboard security guards before retreating. One Nigerian guard killed, one guard injured.
February 4, 2013Lagos Anchorage, Nigeria Pirates attacked and boarded an anchored chemical tanker, Pyxis Delta, conducting STS operations off Lagos. The onboard naval security returned fire and eventually repelled the attackers. One crewmember died from injuries sustained during the firefight. Two pirates were also killed.
February 5, 2013Near Angiama, Niger Delta waterway, Nigeria Gunmen ambushed an Indian-owned oil barge as a Nigerian military detachment escorted the ship through the Niger Delta. Two Nigerian soldiers killed, one crewmember killed, three crewmembers wounded.
April 29, 201435nm W offshore Bayelsa, Nigeria Armed pirates boarded a product tanker, SP Brussels, underway. The onboard security forces fired at the pirates before retreating to the citadel along with most of the crew. Chief Engineer killed, Third Officer wounded. Two pirates were also killed.


The Wrong Answer

Armed guards aboard ships in West Africa do not provide the silver bullet security solution that PMSCs have in the Indian Ocean.

A key differentiator in the latter theatre is that ship owners have a number of tools for vetting the quality and compliance of the armed security they hire.

For example, the GUARDCON contract developed by BIMCO, the largest international shipping association, provides a standard agreement between ship owners and PMSCs that covers guidance on Rules of Force and other security issues. In addition, there is the ISO/PAS 28007 accreditation that allows PMSCs to certify their compliance with appropriate regulations and best practices.

Vetting and compliance is much more problematic in West Africa as vessel owners and Masters have far less oversight over the armed guards they bring aboard. Owners can either hire security forces directly through a local agent, or engage a PMSC to act as an intermediary to employ local guards and provide unarmed logistical support and leadership. In either case, BIMCO notes, the local security forces will operate under their own rules of engagement and cannot be bound to the provisions of GUARDCON.

When a vessel contracts local security, it is the soldiers’ commander, not the shipowner, who usually controls the number of guards posted. An undermanned and poorly drilled guard team bears responsibility for the fatality aboard the SP Brussels, argues Rene Toomse, CEO of the PMSC Aburgus. “What was missing,” Toomse explains, “was a guard assisting all the crew into the citadel while others were fighting with the criminals.” The vessel had only two armed guards onboard at the time of the attack, rather than the BIMCO recommended staffing of four.

Maritime insurers and PMSC owners have privately expressed reservations that an overreliance on onboard guards is contributing to lax safety and security standards in West African waters. One source close to the London insurance market noted a particular problem of vessels with embarked security rejecting advisories to avoid prolonged exposure in high risk-areas close to the Niger Delta, opting instead to save time and fuel by using shorter routes and “shooting their way out” of any potential pirate attacks. The majority of these incidents, it was further noted, are never reported to authorities and thus contribute to a cycle of inaccurate threat perceptions and inadequate security measures.

Multiple Layers

It is very unlikely that the laws barring foreign armed guards from West African territorial waters will change, despite pressure from PMSCs and shipping organizations. Concerns over sovereignty and control understandably run deep, particular in Nigeria, and the current regime of renting local guards to foreign ships is too lucrative to give up. Unarmed PMSC advisors working with local guards offers an improved measure of security, but BIMCO still warns that the ability of PMSC leaders to effectively control their teams will be limited.

As no single defense against West African piracy is impenetrable, a multi-layered security system must be implemented. This begins with a pre-transit risk and security assessment and requires up-to-the-minute information on pirate activity and vessel vulnerabilities. Communication security is also essential, as pirates are known to select their targets by obtaining route and cargo information from open and private sources. Vessel hardening measures such as the use of citadel safe rooms are key, but it is also imperative that crews are regularly drilled for emergencies. Vessels also need a well-staffed 24-hour watch duty as West African pirates primarily attack at night.

Even with all these measures in place, the most important lesson to draw from the SP Brussels and other fatal pirate attacks is that no vessel should ever be lulled into a false sense of security.

James M. Bridger is a Maritime Security Consultant with Delex Systems Inc. in Herndon, VA. His current areas of focus and expertise address piracy, terrorism, and other irregular threats to global maritime transportation. He can be reached at jbridger@delex.com

Book Review: “Saving South Sudan”


Disclosure: I have been following the evolution and progress of Robert Young Pelton‘s work on Sudan for several months. I am quite pleased with what came of this trip for Robert and his filmmaker / photographer cohort, Tim Freccia. Enjoy!

“Violence and bloodshed can never have morally good results” – The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Saving South Sudan is an ambitious, multimedia event from World’s Most Dangerous Places, author Robert Young Pelton and master photographer/filmmaker Tim Freccia. VICE went big on Pelton’s quixotic journey with Nuer Lost Boy Machot Lap Thiep to “fix” South Sudan. The three enter the world’s newest nation, at a time of extreme crisis and bloodshed, creating a grand yarn with bold characters and high adventure set against sweeping, brutal savagery.

The story of South Sudan as viewed through a Western lens is unbelievably complex, but Pelton gives us an African perspective where the current crisis is demystified by those closest to it. South Sudan has plunged into another round of playground rivalry where the contested sandbox is the world’s newest country and the opponent’s bloody noses, busted lips and black eyes are dwarfed by the physical and emotional damage inflicted on its spectators.

Saving South Sudan gives us an intelligent summary of the history, religion, cultural anthropological aspects, militarism, oil economy and “baksheesh-ocracy” that makes South Sudan tick. Serious students of the subject are encouraged to consider all of these facets while reading / viewing this oeuvre: No actions are promoted, no outcomes are predicted- and this is how it should be. This is Africa.

Pelton’s 130 page print piece and 40 min documentary grants the viewer unparalleled access into an Africa where there are no orange sunsets framed by acacia trees. A place where war is irregular, ferocious and unpredictable. In THIS Africa even the “rebel leader” bristles at being identified as such. In an earnest conversation, ousted Vice President Dr Riek Machar relays his desire isn’t to incite violence but to have a seat at the table in order to discuss options and opportunities to end the conflict. Pelton takes the filter off: behind the rhetoric, the violence continues in real time and we know that securing a seat at the table and successful negotiations (see recent media reports) bear little impact on the battle for oil on the ground. If fighting has indeed ceased, most roving bands have yet to receive the memo.

I can’t exit this review without mentioning the main reason to take the time to get briefed on the region through Pelton’s Saving South Sudan. The human touch interviews with the rulers, rebels and raconteurs would be reason enough. So would Freccia’s breathtaking portraits of the people, landscape and conflict. But taking you along this expedition is Machot- an affable, handsome (still) young man and former lost boy. His story is one of sorrow, success, and optimism. His is perhaps the best lens of them all.


Finding the print issue of the magazine can be a challenge but distribution sites are posted at the VICE website. The entire article can be found at: http://www.vice.com/read/theyre-all-coming-here-0000283-v21n4

The “Saving South Sudan” world premiere documentary can be found on-demand here: http://www.vice.com/en_us

Stephanie Chenault is the COO of Venio Inc, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business which focus on plans, policy, architectures and problem-solving across the Department of Defense for multiple clients.

New Strategic Geography Ends “Long Army Century”

Some historians attempt to reframe the timeline of history in order to highlight trends that might otherwise remain submerged in more traditional categories. The British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn, for example, re-classified the long period from the French Revolution to the beginning of the First World War as the “long” 19th century. This change showcased a particular period of European ascendency through the Napoleonic, Revolutionary, Victorian and Edwardian periods. A similar effort might now be applied to the influence of the U.S. Army on United States strategic thinking. A “Long Army Century” is now drawing to a close due to new strategic geography and shrinking defense budgets.

Elihu Root

The “long Army century” arguably began in 1904 with the selection of New York corporate lawyer Elihu Root as the Secretary of the Army by President William McKinley in 1899. While the U.S. Army had been victorious in Cuba in the Spanish American War, its organization, operations, and logistics during that conflict revealed deep flaws that might circumscribe future success. Root undertook an aggressive program that created the modern Army General Staff, the Army War College, and the Joint Army Navy board for inter-service cooperation.
The Chief of Staff system, modeled on methods then used by American business, was a great success. Root’s reforms created the “modern” Army that was able to mobilize large numbers of volunteers for the First World War. This system eagerly embraced new technologies such as the tank and the airplane, and was successful in deploying millions of Americans to fight in France in a relatively short time. The Army also had great influence over large numbers of civilians for the first time since the Civil War, as high ranking Army leaders served in key roles on the War Industries Board that coordinated U.S. war production.

The end of the First World War brought a reduction in overall Army influence, but future influential leaders including George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton and many others were direct products of Root’s post-1903 reforms. These leaders fought the Second World War, and others again occupied significant roles in civilian government like General Leslie Groves who managed the Manhattan Project. The end of World War 2 should have brought about another reduction in Army strength and influence, but the emerging Cold War and the strong personalities of Marshall, Eisenhower, and other products of the Root Army War College had other ideas.

Eisenhower Patton
Eisenhower Patton Bradley

The Army targeted the Navy as unfairly hoarding resources in a “parochial” manner in order to gain its share of scarce financial resources at the beginning of the Cold War. One of the best ways to do this was to advocate for a unified “joint” military force with relatively co-equal branches under a supreme “generalissimo” of the U.S. armed forces. This is not surprising given the wartime experience of the post World War 2 U.S. Army leadership. Officers such as Marshall, Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley served primarily in the wartime European theater of operations where land and air warfare were the predominant modes of fighting. The “Battle of the Atlantic” against the German U-boat arm never fell under Eisenhower’s direct supervision. He and other Army officers respected the ability of naval forces to mount the Normandy invasion, but had little or no direct experience with naval combat. Postwar naval leaders such as Chester Nimitz, Forrest Sherman, and Arleigh Burke by contrast had experienced a relatively decentralized war in the Pacific. Nimitz and Army general Douglas MacArthur shared command authority and responsibility in a collaborative manner unlike the Army Chief of Staff system with one overall commander. As a result of this difference in leadership style and the fierce competition with the Navy and later the Air Force for funding, the Army enthusiastically adopted concepts of “joint” organization and control of the armed forces throughout the Cold War. Dwight Eisenhower as President tried to implement joint concepts of organization for the Department of Defense as a result of his war experience, but was thwarted in his efforts by key pro-Navy Congressional leaders.

Goldwater Jones
Senator Goldwater and CJCS General David Jones

The long and unsuccessful Vietnam War and end of the military draft in 1973 should have brought about a reduction in Army strength and influence, but the Army was again able to avoid large cuts by shifting to an all-volunteer force and refocusing on the European threat posed by the Soviet Union. Army leadership continued to advocate “joint” leadership of the U.S. Armed Forces in pursuit of desired force structure. The passage of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986 further cemented “joint” aspects of U.S. military strategy, policy and operations. The Gulf War of 1991 seemed to confirm that “joint” organization was crucial to U.S. military success. Building on triumph in that conflict, the Army was able to secure a significant force structure in the negotiations that produced the post-Cold War “base force” in 1994. The looming specter of a revanchist Russia, desire to enable a “New World Order”, as well as the continuing specter of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces convinced many decision-makers that there was continued value in a large expeditionary ground force. The Army found further relevance after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent ground invasions and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army’s success on the battlefield in the last 100 years, especially in more recent “joint” operations has been largely enabled by favorable geography. Combat in and around the Eurasian landmass in both World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and recent wars in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia all featured airfields within short range of hostile targets and an emphasis on the effects of land-based operations. The geography of future conflict however would seem to be shifting to largely maritime and air struggles in the Indo-Pacific basin. This region’s large maritime spaces offer few immediate venues for employment of land power as did the plains of Europe, the deserts of the Middle East and the highlands of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. The Air Force and Navy, rather than the Army, have the central role in Pacific strategy. The shrinking U.S. defense budget in response to national debt, trade deficits and massive new social welfare spending also works against the maintenance of continued Army force structure and influence. Without a defined mission in an essentially air and maritime battlespace, the Army has resorted to a kind of “me too” strategy advocating its ability to support the other services Pacific efforts through coastal defense, which ironically was one of the U.S. Army’s first missions in the new republic.


The Pacific Ocean, and the lands touched by its waves have always been of U.S. strategic interest. For the first time however since 1941 there is no comparable “land-based” strategic theater in competition with the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. Army will likely have other expeditionary missions and conflicts in its future, and may again return to a level strategic influence like that it has possessed in the last 100 years. For the moment however, historians might be well served to give the present “Long Army Century” an endpoint in the early second decade of the 21st century.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, sailorbob.com and at informationdissemination.org under the pen name of “Lazarus”.