This is an article in our first “Non Navies” Series.
Nearly six years ago, Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT, meaning Army of the Righteous) launched a sophisticated raid on the Indian port of Mumbai. Ten LeT operatives held the city captive from 26-29 November 2008, killing 164 people and injuring more than 300 others. Fascinating in its counterterrorism aspects, the Mumbai attack is particularly noteworthy for those of us in maritime professions because of how they got there: by sea. LeT highlighted in detail how an irregular organization can circumvent landward control measures by turning to the maritime environment.
Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) such as LeT succeed in irregular warfare by going where government authority is absent or insufficient. The Indo-Pak coast is no exception. The expansive region has supported the livelihood of fishermen and merchants for centuries, making it a permeable environment where minimal government presence was (and remains) tolerant of transient craft. Such an environment offers myriad advantages compared to overland routes where government checkpoints and patrols are far more rigorous. VEOs continue to pursue these overland routes for infiltration or smuggling, but LeT minimized the chance of their high-stakes attack being interdicted by Indian authorities when they chose to come by sea.
The raid itself wasn’t the first iteration of LeT’s maritime infiltration. For example, in late-2006/ early-2007 eight operatives rendezvoused at sea with Indian LeT members aboard an unidentified fishing vessel and returned with them to reconnoiter Mumbai. This gave them ample opportunity to assess the coastal pattern of life, including security presence and traffic density, as well as to gather imagery of everything from landing sites to target location from the perspective of the raiding party. Once ashore they split into two-man teams, just as the raiding party would do, observing the area by travelling from safehouse to safehouse. They were not discovered during the seaborne infiltration nor during the reconnaissance of Mumbai. However, two of the eight were arrested in March 2007 by the Jammu & Kashmir police (Jammu & Kashmir being a state in northern India). During interrogation the two suspects gave specific information about their infiltration of Mumbai as well as LeT’s desire to use the sea as a routine ingress. Neither this shot-across-the-bow nor corroborating intelligence provided by U.S. and Indian agencies proved sufficient to energize India’s maritime security agencies.
After more than a year of training on the Mangla Dam reservoir in Kashmir, the raiding party departed Karachi on 21 November 2008 aboard motor vessel HUSSEINI. They spotted the Indian fishing vessel KUBER two days later in Pakistani waters. Though their plan had been to hijack a Mumbai-based craft in Indian waters, KUBER’s Indian registry enticed them to seize it as an early opportunity. They were able to come alongside, possibly by feigning distress, and quickly commandeeredthe fishing boat. The raiding party embarked KUBER and transferred all of her crew except the master to HUSSEINI. The raiders started towards Mumbai after the equipment was moved aboard and HUSSEINI returned to Karachi. The four fishermen taken from KUBER were executed, their bodies left adrift on the sea.
The transit to Mumbai was filled with map reconnaissance, table-top rehearsals, equipment prep, as well as probable comms checks and intel updates from LeT’s ad hoc operations center in Pakistan. KUBER arrived off the coast of Mumbai unscathed and unaddressed by maritime authorities on the evening of 26 November. The master was bound and his throat slit. The raiding party assembled their inflatable Gemini boats (counts vary from one to three), transferred their equipment and began the 4 NM insert under cover of darkness. KUBER was left adrift with a GPS, satellite phone, and other materials that would prove instrumental in developing the backstory during the subsequent investigation.
It’s unknown where the inflatable craft parted company (assuming there was more than one), but multiple beach landing sites were used. In the truest sense of camouflage, the boat(s) were not colored black and green to blend into the night, but bright yellow to blend
into the menagerie of local craft- undoubtedly a result of the early reconnaissance. At one site the operatives cheerfully claimed to be college students. At the other site they responded gruffly to locals, telling them to mind their own business, possibly even displaying their weapons. They continued unhindered in both cases, abandoned their craft on the beach, and shortly thereafter waltzed into history as executioners in a horrific raid.
To recap: LeT reconnoitered by sea, trained on Pakistan’s inland waterways, departed a major sea port (Karachi), hijacked a fishing vessel illegally operating in Pakistani waters/EEZ, transited unmolested across 500 NM of Indo-Pak littorals, amphibiously inserted into the Mumbai metropolis unchallenged, and came ashore unnoticed save for a handful of local fishermen accustomed to illicit maritime activity.
LeT violated the Indo-Pak littorals with impunity and conducted a raid heralded as a wake up call for maritime terrorism. This raid indeed required a great deal of competence, but VEOs embracing riverine or littoral waters as a maneuver space should not have come as any surprise. Then and now, the Niger River Delta and the Gulf of Guinea were abused by criminal organizations on a daily basis; Philippine waters were plagued by Abu Sayyaf; Colombian Riverines routinely battled the FARC and AUF; and in the U.S.’s backyard were organizations trafficking drugs, money, and violence through the Caribbean, Western Pacific, and Rio Grande. Oceans and waterways are indeed the vital connective tissue of the world, but they are open for both legitimate and illegitimate business alike.
So how do nations prevent VEOs from gaining an advantage in the maritime domain? First, by viewing the fight against irregular enemies as more than a footnote to the Mahanian themes used to define influential maritime powers. Thirteen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught our landward compatriots a valuable lesson: maneuver warfare is on the back-burner and irregular adversaries are in. The world’s maritime agencies must adapt that lesson themselves or risk learning its reality firsthand in the aftermath of attacks like Mumbai, the USS COLE, or SUPERFERRY 14.
One way of adapting that lesson would be borrowing two key themes from counterinsurgency: presence and engagement. Simply put, government authority must be present to win. That’s easier said than done when talking about enormous littoral and riverine areas. The key must then be cooperation. Within a country, that means developing a culture of partnership amongst government agencies (e.g. Customs, Coast Guard, local law enforcement) to supplement each other’s presence and intelligence efforts. No one agency can be everywhere, but a network of agencies can cover waterspace far more effectively. That cooperation and partnership must also be extended across national borders since, as we have seen, VEOs are not bound by such borders. Here we can find a blend of Mahanian themes and irregular fights- countries who can project seapower beyond their local shores can train and enable
the local seapower partner nations, thereby strengthening both. But they must have the right tools (i.e., riverine and littoral units) with the mindset for the job, neither of which can be best employed until irregular warfare moves beyond its footnote status.
Next, local maritime communities must be engaged. The fishing and merchant culture which was mentioned earlier as giving rise to the permeable maritime environment may be the best asset for monitoring it. These tradesmen have numerous networks, both formal and informal, that if partnered with or sourced by human intelligence professionals may reveal nefarious activity (e.g., combat training on Mangla reservoir or strangers who are out of place in Mumbai). Additionally, reliable engagement builds trust, which in turn builds security by aligning the interests of local communities and lawful government for mutual benefit. If the government is the trusted partner of the community, then this is precisely anathema to the VEOs which wish to destablize the community or exploit the disconnect from government to conceal their operations.
VEOs and irregular warfare in the maritime domain are not up-and-coming prospects, they have been here for some time. High-visibility attacks such as the Mumbai raid bring them to the foreground every so often, but after the 24-hour news cycle returns to mundane matters these VEOs continue to skillfully exploit the world’s waterways. There is, frankly, nothing new about what has been said here. But for the time being, these suggestions bear reiterating so we can fuel the discussion and move the ball forward.
LT Cummings is a 2007 graduate of Jacksonville University and is currently a naval intelligence officer. He served previously as a surface warfare officer aboard a destroyer, embedded with a USMC infantry battalion, and as a Riverine Detachment OIC. The views expressed here are his own and in no way reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy.
Dean Cheng joins us to discuss China. Like a flourless brownie, this podcast is dense and delicious. We hit China’s goals and perspectives: From the Chinese “status quo”, to the South China Sea, to India, to the use of crises as policy tools. If you want to see behind the headlines, this is your podcast.
“What is India’s role in the Indo-Pacific?” “Does India have a national interest at stake in the South China Sea?” “How should India shape its maritime relationship with China?”
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to India to take part in an engaging three-day conference on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, joining two other CIMSEC members in Chennai and Kochi. While the above questions of India’s maritime strategic future were not the theme of the conference (that being Sea Change: Evolving Maritime Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific Region), they were frequent points of discussion, only natural given the event’s location and the preponderance of preeminent Indian minds. While I’ll focus here on these conversations, the conference’s top-notch organizers from the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Stimson Center are publishing a collection of the papers presented, on an array of topics, which should make for stimulating reading. I’m grateful to the organizers for inviting me, and the U.S. Consulate Chennai for sponsoring the event.1
I’m also grateful for the effort these organizations made to bring together scholars and practitioners from the United States, China, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India to consider the challenges and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific from a variety of perspectives. These representatives from the fields of maritime shipping, offshore energy, geopolitics, international law, private maritime security, and fisheries and climate sciences had the chance to share and contest ideas in a cross-disciplinary approach. And contest they did.
Observers and attendees of similar events will be familiar with the contentious dynamic that can develop between Chinese and Japanese or Chinese and American representatives, as highlighted at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore earlier in the month. In India, Dr. Liu Zongyi of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) carried China’s banner. Some of the feistiest exchanges involved his assertions that the United States had previously agreed to Chiang Kai-Shek’s claims to the South China Sea and that there were no maritime disputes in the South China Sea prior to U.S. involvement in the region in the 1960s-70s – the former rebuffed by a personal account of the post-War discussions with Chiang relayed by U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Director for Plans and Policy, W.J. Wesley. As for Liu’s latter argument, South China Sea claimants on all sides have produced a multitude of historical documents stretching back centuries, but if he was referring to the start of a more active phase of the disputes he may have the timing more accurate. Yet China’s seizure of the Paracels from South Vietnamese forces in 1974, killing 70, is probably not what he meant as an illustration of U.S. trouble-making.
In spite of these disagreements over China’s positions, the conference to its credit maintained a cordial atmosphere, with several presenters touting the benefits of establishing personal connections and dialogue over beers or cocktails – the benefits to which many CIMSEC chapters can attest. The organizers’ ringing of a concierge bell to mercilessly keep panelists to their allotted time also built a sense of shared sacrifice against a common enemy. Even by continuing to press his country’s positions Liu won some professional empathy for resoluteness in the face of near-universal criticism.
For it was near-universal. If anything surprised me at the conference it was that the Indian panelists and presenters also openly disparaged both Chinese claims and their actions in the South China Sea. The 9-dash line came in for particularly sharp treatment, with one analyst noting that by the same basis of drawing lines in the water Spain could claim all lands 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands – with a treaty to back it up. Yet a consensus on the merits of the issues doesn’t mean India will take action. Indian participants led a robust discussion and were of divided opinion as to whether India had a national interest in getting involved in these disputes on the eastern end of the Indo-Pacific.
To be fair, it was not only China that came in for criticism. During Q+A segments Indian audience members asked why the United States is focused on destabilizing China, whether it should be viewing the region through a Cold War lens, and whether the Rebalance to the Pacific is waning. None of these questions reflect the reality or the logic of U.S. goals in the region, but they do highlight some existing perceptions.
Dr. Liu’s view of India’s role was clearer, arguing “a swing state and hedge is the best choice,” and describing newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in The Global Times last month as having a chance to become “India’s Nixon,” and bring about closer ties with China. The outreach to India was oddly tinged with scare tactics, however, as Liu claimed “If China was crushed, India will become the target of the U.S.,” based on a remark former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made calling India an “emerging threat.” Even a Pakistani newspaper acknowledged this slip-up as a gaffe.
For their part, many of the Indian representatives saw opportunities to increase already growing maritime cooperation in the region while weighing the risks of increased Chinese activity in the Indo-Pacific. Inspector General Satya Sharma, of the Indian Navy, touted India’s sustained and close cooperation with several counter-piracy efforts from East Africa to Singapore and room for closer Coast Guard collaboration in the near abroad. ORF’s Manoj Joshi and Madras Christian College’s Dr. Lawrence Prabhakar explored ways India could build its own deterrent power in the context of increased risk from increased contact with China at sea. Prabhakar further stated that India would continue to focus primarily on bilateral relationships with regional powers, but noted several instances of developing trilateral engagements, including the upcoming Malabar exercise with the United States and Japan. At the same time, ORF’s Dr. P.K. Ghosh cautioned against expecting India to “play the role of headmaster” in setting the agendas of its neighbors at the west end of the Indo-Pacific.
Taken as a whole, the workshop was more productive than most with its focus on presenting not only challenges but also the potential means to mitigate them. By the time I presented my paper on U.S. Maritime Security Relationships and Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific I had coalesced some ideas around a concept raised by retired Vice Admiral Hideaki Kaneda earlier in the day on “webs of maritime collaboration,” specifically creating linkages between such structures as maritime domain awareness and info-sharing agreements for counter-piracy and EEZ enforcement. For despite the focus of this article on some of the more contentious issues in the conference2 there were in fact large areas of agreement and mutual concern – from the need to protect sea lanes to the projected impacts of climate change on coastal regions and ports to the benefits of collaborative humanitarian assistance / disaster response (HA/DR). As noted yesterday at The Diplomat, there’s a real need for workshops such as these, where participants talk with each other and not just at each other, to bring productive dialogue to the region.3
Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.
In the first part of this article we briefly explored the long history of private maritime security companies (PMSCs) in South and Southeast Asia, as well as the conditions most conducive to their sustainment and growth. In part two we look at regional factors that have or could lessen the threats to which PMSCs provide services in response - including government action, capacity building, and legal regimes – and will conclude with final thoughts on the outlook for PMSCs in the region.
Lessening the Prospects for PMSCs
Perhaps the largest mitigating factor for PMSCs’ prospects is the whether governments will themselves tackle the underlying issues, including economic development, instability, and corruption, and/or their outgrowths that PMSCs attempt to address, such as piracy and maritime crime. This factor consists of and can be measured by both the desire and ability of governments to take on these challenges.
As discussed in part one, levels of piracy and armed robbery (PAR) and kidnapping and ransom (K&R) against ships have been two of the main determinants of the market for PMSCs in the region and the frequency, severity, and locations of these attacks have varied over the recent decades. This dynamic owes in part to several measures undertaken by regional governments beyond those development efforts aimed at removing the economic basis for crimes. What follows is not intended as an exhaustive catalogue, but an attempt to highlight some of the most illustrative examples.
In coming to terms in the post-Tsunami peace agreement, Indonesia’s government and its Aceh foes removed a major source of instability that opportunistic actors from both sides of the conflict reportedly used for kidnapping and ransom operations at the mouth of the Malacca Strait. Whether attackers’ motives were to provide a revenue stream to further the insurgency, or as a manifestation of corruption, the removal of the combatants – along with the tsunami’s decimation of the local population and maritime assets used in attacks – helps explain the documented drop in numbers by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).1819
Alternately, governments can take direct action against criminals based in their territory as well as demonstrate their willingness to crack down on internal corruption feeding such crime. PMSC expert James Bridger remarks that the Chinese government launched a campaign in the 1990s against “criminal syndicates and ‘rogue’ police and coast guard units that had been engaging in hijackings and phantom ship fraud out of Hong Kong and southern China.” While there are dangers in relying on self-reporting, an area once known as a favorite destination of hijacked vessels re-named for resale,20 Hong Kong, is now known far more for piracy of a digital kind.21
Governments can also work together, and with non-governmental organizations such as the IMB, in the fight against maritime crime. These efforts can be particularly important in preventing criminals from exploiting the seams between territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs). In 2004 Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia initiated an agreement known as the Trilateral Coordinated Patrol, or MALSINDO, nominally providing smarter coverage by coordinating patrol areas. Illustrating the importance of closing the maritime seams, the agreement was criticized for failing to provide cross-border pursuit permissions due to sovereignty sensitivities.22 As Lino Miani notes in The Sulu Arms Market, “territorial disputes and historical mistrust…undergirds the hesitation to enter into multilateral agreements.”23
In 2005 the three nations of the MALSINDO agreement were joined by Thailand in an attempt to bolster the initiative’s effectiveness by dedicating air assets for maritime air patrol missions with hosted liaison officers in what is known as the Eyes in the Sky (EiS) plan.24 In addition to the capability boost, EiS also marked the first time the nations allowed each other to briefly cross a short ways into their territorial airspace while executing the coordinated mission.25 In 2006 the participating countries combined the two efforts in the new Malacca Straits Patrol Network.26
Another recent example of inter-governmental cooperation helping close maritime seams is the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). The initiative, which entered into force in 2006, establishes information-sharing and attack reporting procedures among 19 countries and an Information Sharing Centre (ISC).27
Yet Malaysia and Indonesia are notably absent from ReCAAP. In another move seen as indicative of the nations’ territorial sensitivities the pair passed on the U.S.-proposed Regional Maritime Security Initiative in 2004, which would have involved Americans in joint patrols including “special forces on high-speed boats.”28 A key difference between these efforts and the Malacca Straits Patrol Network is the involvement of nations external to Southeast Asia. While it doesn’t include Malaysia or Indonesia, ReCAAP involves nations such as Japan, China, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.
Singapore stands in contrast with the two former nations in its openness to long-term partnerships involving a foreign presence. In addition to hosting the ReCAAP’s ISC, it has invited the United States to rotate through a squadron of forward-deployed littoral combat ships, temporarily stationing them at Changi Naval Base, along with the maintenance facility the United States has long maintained in the port.29 An important indicator of the outlook for PMSCs in the coming years will therefore be the receptiveness of these straits nations to maintain or pursue regional approaches to combating maritime crime – as well as their tolerance for joint patrols or a foreign presence.30
Investing in Capacity
Whatever the merits of these regional initiatives in concept, they and individual nations’ efforts require assets to be effective. These assets in turn require investments in procurement, training, and maintenance.31 It’s what separates ReCAAP’s ISC from ASEAN’s Center for Combating Transnational Crime – first proposed in 1997 and stuck on the drawing board ever since.32 Even with the EiS add-on, MALSINDO has been criticized as a public-relations salve lacking the resources to provide comprehensive coverage and hindered by corruption.33
Tracking defense expenditures therefore serves as a similar measure of governments’ seriousness in tackling PAR. While the specifics vary, South and Southeast Asian nations have a large appetite and long-term plans for expanding their coast guards and naval forces – with submarines, patrol craft, and naval aircraft high-priority items.34 Yet the ability to field these maritime forces, and do so effectively, is constrained by limited, though rising, budgets.35 Many of these investments are aimed at protective capabilities in the event of inter-state conflict against the backdrop of China’s own spending increases, but several can also boost maritime enforcement efforts. Key nations including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, and the Philippines are pursuing corvette or frigate programs, as well as various fast attack and patrol boat procurement.
Indonesia bears closer scrutiny as it faces perhaps the largest PAR threat and is expected to double defense expenditures from 2013 to 2018, after increases of 34 percent in 2011, 16 percent in 2012, and 7 percent in 2013.36 In addition to frigates, the country is also building three classes of fast attack craft that can aid maritime enforcement efforts.37 Further, Indonesia’s military (TNI) announced in March that it would increase its presence around Natuna Island, a former mainstay of piracy to the east of the current hotspots near the Riau Archipelago. While this move is publicly aimed at preventing “infiltration” and “instability” in the South China Sea – primarily to safeguard nearby oil and gas fields – the additional air force and naval assets could act in a secondary capacity to deter PAR to the west when not otherwise engaged.38
Meanwhile at the western approaches to Malacca Strait, India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands could act as the first line of defense against a return to epidemic maritime crime in the strait. India’s Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) is charged with “maritime surveillance, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as suppressing gun running, narcotics smuggling, piracy, and poaching in India’s EEZ.” Since establishing the ANC in 2001, the India has continued to develop the command’s capacities, albeit at a slow pace, commissioning a new naval air station in 2012 and a new offshore patrol vessel in 2013.39
Yet in the short run, foreign partners or PMSCs may be the easiest capacity-bolstering ways for states to preserve the gains against maritime crime or reduce it further. Help from the former is forthcoming from several corners, potentially limiting the need to turn to PMSCs. India agreed to build four Offshore Patrol Vehicles (OPVs) for Myanmar’s navy, along with a “$100-million credit line to Vietnam to purchase” four patrol boats.40 The United States has recently sold former U.S. Coast Guard cutters to Bangladesh and the Philippines on favorable terms. Japan is likewise “donating” 10 patrol boats to the Philippines, reportedly by extending a $110-million line of credit,41 and Vietnam has asked to procure them as well.42 While there has been no public confirmation of a deal between Japan and Vietnam, including during last month’s bilateral agreement on enhanced maritime security ties, it’s possible that this will be announced during President Obama visit this week to Asia. On Friday the Yomiuri Shimbun cited sources stating that Japan and the U.S. will on Thursday announce moves to jointly help ASEAN countries “strengthen their maritime surveillance capabilities,” “counter piracy,” and “help member states better respond to natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes.”43
A final way for governments to boost their capacity directly mimics PMSCs’ at-sea protection services through what are known as vessel protection detachments (VPDs). These detachments are typically comprised of active duty service members of a nation’s military and hired out to individual shipping companies for protective duties in high risk transit areas or aboard World Food Program vessels.44 While VPDs have faced criticism on legal and efficacy grounds – for blurring the lines between sovereign services and mercenaries and for narrowing protection to individual ships – the list of countries offering VPDs has grown markedly in the past five years, albeit primarily for use along the East African coast.45
The effect of this competition on PMSCs is debatable. On one hand some shipping companies have “voiced a strong preference for VPDs” over PMSCs due to their perceived legal protections and ease of moving weapons.46 As will be discussed below, however, these legal protections have been challenged. Further, according to a 2013 study, only 35% of Dutch ships traversing high risk areas off Somalia applied for a VPD due to the “high costs, lack of flexibility of deployment, and long application schedule.”47 (Figures for Southeast Asia were not available but the business case rationale is likely analogous when available) While those Dutch companies who looked to PMSCs as an alternative did so illegally due the nation’s laws, it’s clear that VPDs will remain attractive to some who would otherwise higher PMSCs.
Legal and Policy Issues
Governments’ legal regimes and policies serve as additional factors directly impacting the prospects of PMSCs in the region on several fronts. When operating in territorial waters, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides little clarity on the legal status or protections for PMSCs performing embarked duties or vessel-protection escorts. The innocent passage regime protects the rights of states in territorial waters, including their transiting warships, but sees armed non-state escort vessels, or private armed on-board detachments as violating the “standard practices” of the international community. No definitive case law has put the matter to rest and the increasing acceptance of armed guards on ships combating Somali-based piracy could lead to a change of acceptance elsewhere, but for the time being the waters remain murky.48
In setting national policies, Indonesia and Malaysia both publicly prohibit the use of armed shipboard PMSC detachments, with Singapore the exception – provided stringent weapons control requirements are followed.49 Carolin Liss notes, however, that despite these pronouncements PMSCs are routinely able to obtain back-channel notifications and permissions, smoothed over with “fees.”50
The varying home laws of the shipping companies also impact the environment for PMSCs in South and Southeast Asia. As mentioned, some states such as the Netherlands currently prohibit PMSCs aboard their vessels. Nonetheless, the trend is clearly towards operating states allowing their use in a regulated process as the Netherlands is the sole E.U. nation without such legislation in place, and a Dutch law that would permit PMSC use in 2015 is in the process of approval.51
Whether PMSC or VPD, Italy’s experience in the Enrica Lexie case is illustrative of the legal dangers in the region facing embarked detachments. In February 2012, two Italian Marines – part of a VPD – shot and killed a pair of Indian fishermen they believed to be pirates. The case has tested the belief that sovereign actors provide greater legal protection for counter-piracy teams in international waters and is still working its way through India’s legal system with a trial date scheduled for July.52
Regional weapons control laws also complicate the logistics of both VPDs and PMSCs. Kevin Doherty, President of Nexus Consulting, a PMSC that operates in Southeast Asia, states that in contrast with ports servicing embarked teams in the western Indian Ocean, “many Asian ports don’t allow weapons to be ‘introduced,’ and must therefore be loaded well in advance.” One outcome is the creation of so-called floating armories in international waters, which come with their own set of complications and regional baggage.
India in particular has expressed concern for these armories. Then-Indian Navy Chief of Staff DK Joshi argued at the 2013 Galle Dialogue they could fall prey to pirates and that they and PMSCs’ lack of international regulation made them susceptible to supporting criminals, traffickers, and terrorists.53 Another on-going case illustrates the complexities and difficulties for PMSCs. After the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Seaman Guard Ohio entered Indian waters in October 2013 it was escorted to port by an Indian Coast Guard vessel.54 While the Indian government has labelled the vessel operated by U.S.-based PMSC AdvanFort, a floating armory, the company’s spokesman denies the categorization saying the ship serves as an escort vessel that was unable to dispose of its weapons prior to entering port due to the sudden nature of the detainment by the Indian Coast Guard.55
During the same Galle speech, Joshi commended neighboring Sri Lanka for providing what he viewed as a model regulatory regime of both PMSCs and the nation’s government-supported armories. PMSCs can receive licenses from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense to store equipment and weapons on naval bases or on floating armories run in partnership with the government – although these primarily service western Indian Ocean transits.56 Center for Naval Analyses’ Nilanthi Samarankaye says that this stringent effort to control armories through regulation is due in part to the “still fresh” memory of their use by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the Sri Lankan civil war, giving context to the regional fears that unregulated PMSCs and their support networks could have destabilizing side-effects.
Marine Resource Protection
A final area of possible mitigation for PMSCs’ prospects is in the realm of marine resource protection. As The Diplomat’s Zachary Keck notes, PMSCs “have sometimes been used by states to combat illegal fishing in their EEZs. Tensions over fishing rights in Southeast Asian waters have been high and are likely to persist so long as states continue to dispute their maritime borders in places like the South China Sea.”
Yet PMSCs are not alone in seeking to find solutions to these problems. Maritime activism expert Cdr. Chris Rawley, U.S. Navy, points out that “today, pirates, environmental activists, and more legitimate private security contractors compete for some of the same business, especially in the realm of marine wildlife protection.” For example, “Illegal shark finning remains a problem mostly driven by Asian markets that NGOs have expressed an interest in combating.”
It’s a fascinating trilateral confluence of interests which, instead of seeing states hiring PMSCs, could see NGOs outsourcing to PMSCs to achieve their aims, or alternately NGOs becoming more like PMSCs by “selling” their services to nations. In one possible scenario, in exchange for the enforcement of a nation’s territorial claims, an NGO might extract concessions on marine wildlife preservation. As documented by Rawley, some of have already moved towards PMSCs in tactics and capacity if not in business models or motivation.57 Says Keck, “Already, we have seen the Philippines use nominally civilian vessels to resupply their marines on the Second Thomas Shoal in the face of China’s blockade. Thus, there seems to be demand for more innovative solutions to the region’s growing maritime disputes.”
In providing training maritime law enforcement (MLE) to national agencies PMSCs might also run into difficulty. Heather Bacon-Shone, a U.S. Coast Guard officer with experience conducting MLE training in Southeast Asia says PMSCs would have trouble finding an adequate profit and could lack credibility if they don’t hire personnel specific to the mission. “MLE training is as much if not more about laws, legal process, case packages, and reasonable suspicion than it is about kicks, punches, and stuns,” said Bacon-Shone. “What we are really trying to teach them is about the rule of law, not about how to take each other down. It’s a real eye-opener for some that we accomplish so much compliance without having to beat people up.”
Assessing the Outlook
On the balance, the opportunities for PMSCs in South and Southeast Asia appear constrained. “The need for PMSCs is limited,” says Doherty. “The ‘high risk’ zones are only a day or two of transit, not like the 7-10 days in the [western] Indian Ocean or like a week at anchorage in West Africa.” Meanwhile geography might also help prevent a resurgence of piracy in the Strait of Malacca. As Bacon-Shone points out it’s “quite narrow and limited of a space, unlike the Gulf of Aden, which is much harder to patrol and control.” Additionally, “the prospects for PMCs in Southeast Asia may be dimming, remarks Keck, “as tensions over the South China Sea push Southeast Asian nations to develop stronger navies and coast guards, which should reduce demand from commercial entities for private security.”
Nonetheless, PMSCs will not disappear from the scene. Outside the universal need for port security, especially prevalent in the region, there are opportunities in high-value transit protection, training of VPDs and security forces, investigation services, and marine resource protection. And, as we discussed above, Keck says “it’s possible that some of the weaker maritime Southeast Asian nations could hire PMSCs to help patrol the waters they claim. This could be seen as a cheaper or at least quicker, temporary solution to their maritime woes, compared with building up their own naval and coast guard fleets.”
Furthermore, one should never discount the ability of organized crime syndicates to adjust and find new vulnerabilities to exploit. As von Hoesslin stresses, criminal organizations remain “dynamically fluid and capable of adjusting quickly to enforcement pressures.”58 Counter-terrorism too could return as a greater priority and create an opening for PMSCs. “There are a lot of really bad guys reportedly getting out of jail this year in Indonesia,” remarks Doherty, “and the line between piracy and terrorism is not going to be as clear.”
In the “Asian Century,” PMSCs will continue to play a role when threats outpace state capacity. The breadth of that role has yet to be defined.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and vice president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.
In a week-long operation in June 2010, 6 vessels were attacked and robbed over a 130-mile span while in a nearby strait armed security contractors kept watch for the pirate threat.1 The same waters have played host to a “sophisticated syndicate…deploying speedboats from motherships” with raiding parties able to “board, rob, and disembark a vessel with ﬁfteen minutes without the bridge knowing.”2 The location was not the Somali coastline or the Bab el-Mandeb, but rather 4,000 miles to the east, among the Anambas Islands and the Singapore Strait.
For the past decade or so, when people thought of private military contractors (PMCs)3 they typically thought of land-force outfits like the Academi formerly known as Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince. During this same period, the word “piracy” generally brought to mind skiffs plying the waters of the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Guinea. Others have written elsewhere on this site that some of the more interesting uses of PMCs during this timeframe have in fact been in combating (or attempting to combat) the now-diminished pirate scourge off East Africa in the form of private maritime security companies (PMSCs). Yet historically one of the greatest epicenters of piracy has been in the waters of South and Southeast Asia. If the region, already home to PMSCs operating in a variety of capacities and more than one-third of the world’s seaborne-oil trade, faces a resurgence of piracy, it may see a similar growth in PMSCs.4 This article will touch briefly on the historic precedents, preconditions encouraging the presence of PMSCs, and regional factors affecting their utility.
Precedents and Prevalence
South and Southeast Asia have long been home to private and quasi-private security arrangements. Cdr. Chris Rawley, U.S. Navy Reserve, notes that “historically, the line between privateering and piracy has been a thin one. From the 15th to the 19th century, pirates were often employed as a political tool by the Malay states to resist colonization by disrupting trade of the British and Dutch. Conversely, in the mid-1800s, the British East India Company’s private armies protected shipping in Malacca from pirates.”
The history of Singapore’s founding and growth under British rule is itself closely tied to this blurred public-private partnership. When the British arrived at Malaysian Singapore and sought local allies to protect their trade and investment, the recently displaced Temenggong, sea lord of the orang laut sea people, who themselves were noted for their marauding maritime prowess, presented himself as an acceptable solution. The Temenggongs thus served as part local officials, pressured to resettle their power base to neighboring Johor, and part maritime security contractors for hire, serving British counter-piracy operations in the early 1800s and port security for Singapore.5
In recent years, PMSCs have provided a range of services in South and Southeast Asia. According to The Diplomat’s Zachary Keck, “PMCs operating in Southeast Asia have primarily been focused on providing maritime security to clients, particularly in combating piracy. This has been especially true in narrow chokepoints like the Malacca Straits” and has included companies such as Background Asia and Counter Terrorism International (CTI).
In addition to providing these escort vessels and transit/cargo security aboard merchant vessels, PMSCs have worked extensively on port security (Gray Page, Pilgrim Elite, and the Glenn Defense Marine Asia group now know for the ‘Fat Leonard’ scandal), training and maritime hardening efforts (Trident Group), crisis response, and fisheries protection in countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) (Hart). 6 PMSC experts James Bridger and Claude Berube remark that in contrast with Africa, the companies in South and Southeast Asia place a greater focus on port vs transit security, due in part to the prevalence of at-berth and in-port crime, as well as training, vessel hardening, and security planning.
What conditions have given rise to this most recent cast of companies? In Carolin Liss’s 2011 book Oceans of Crime, she attributes the rise of PMSCs in South and Southeast Asia to several factors including states divesting former functions and the changed security landscape. This includes relatively more powerful transnational actors, both those interested in stability such as multinational corporations and multilateral institutions and those, such as terrorist organizations, interested in the opposite. Another element of the changed landscape facilitating PMCs’ rise is to Liss the disappearance of the Cold War struggle between the United States and Soviet Union, and the attendant opportunities for training of regional security forces.7 Further, post-Cold War terrorism heightened the focus of governments and the shipping industry on maritime security, as the threat joined piracy as a perceived regional risk to maritime assets, although it has so far failed to be nearly as impactful.8
In general PMSCs may find a market whenever the threats to maritime assets – be they from criminals, separatists, or environmental, corporate, or territorial disputes – appear to outweigh states’ capacities to safeguard those assets. The perception of corruption or distrust of the competency and fairness of states’ protective functions will similarly further the reception for external services.
How do these threat measures stack up in South and Southeast Asia? The first thing to note is the wide variance among the nations and waters of the region – as can be expected from such an diverse expanse generalities are hard to come by, so the following is a survey rather than a summation of the area.
With regards to the historical scourge of piracy, a recent report by the insurance firm Allianz made headlines for describing a 700 percent rise in actual and attempted attacks occurring in Indonesian waters in a 5-year span, from 15 in 2009 to 106 in 2013,9 although most of these were robberies at berth or at anchor.10 The International Maritime Bureau (IMB)’s April 2014 update notes that Indonesian “Pirates / robbers are normally armed with guns, knives and, or machetes…attacking vessels during the night.”11 Derived from IMB statistics, the Allianz report also notes that in 2013 South Asia’s 26 incidents and Southeast Asia’s 128 combined to far outstrip Africa’s total of 89 incidents, with only 7 of the latter considered acts of Somali piracy.12
While privation is often portrayed as a leading spur for illicit maritime activities, analyst Karsten von Hoesslin contends that groups operating in Southeast Asia exhibit “more sophistication and structural coordination, reflecting the existence of organizations that go well beyond opportunistic marauders seeking to merely compensate for economic hardship.”13 In 2012 von Hoesslin noted such syndicates active in the Philippines, conducting kidnapping and robbery (K&R) operations, with robbery and hijacking organizations plentiful in Indonesia’s Anambas Islands and Riau Islands Archipelago.14
On the other hand, IMB’s April 2014 update demonstrates the fluid nature of piracy, stating only three years later that “attacks have dropped significantly in the vicinity off Anambas / Natuna / Mangkai islands / Subi Besar / Merundung area” and “dropped substantially” in the Strait of Malacca since 2005, although no such improvement is noted for the Singapore Straits.15 The year 2005 is significant as the year that Gerakan Aceh Merdaka (GAM) separatists and previous perpetrators of maritime assaults at the entrance to the Malacca Strait signed a post-Tsunami peace accord with the Indonesian government.16
The assets most at risk in Southeast Asia are in general not the more than 60,000 tankers and container vessels that ply the waters but tugs and other small vessels with low freeboards. Nonetheless, Erek Sanchez, a maritime security contractor, notes that insurance companies now require nearly all merchant vessels to “have a security team aboard or have a proven static anti-boarding mechanism that satisfies the requirements set by the insurance company,” meaning there is plenty of business to be had.
Adding to PMSCs’ potential in the region is the lack of enthusiasm for joint patrols by multinational forces in and around Indonesian waters due to sensitivity of competing territorial claims. While understandable from a sovereignty perspective, vessels must as a result rely on the prospect of the strengthening of individual naval forces or seek additional protection.
Although the majority of attacks in the region – whether at sea, at anchor, or in port – are short-run robberies, when hijackings do occur they are often inside jobs. An interesting variant on hijackings occurs in the Sulu Sea between rival fishing companies who “attempt to deplete the maritime assets and platforms of their competitors.”17 This points to another factor that might increase the region’s potential for PMSCs – that of maritime resource competition.
According to Rawley, “Poorly managed fisheries and maritime crime in SE Asia are inextricably linked. In the 1990s, over-fishing partially caused the loss of livelihood of coastal communities that contributed to the surge in piracy near Malacca. Southeast Asian countries that cannot afford adequate coast guards might reach out to NGOs or PMCs for fisheries enforcement patrols in their territorial waters.”
Taken together, the sustained incidence of piracy and robbery, especially near Indonesian waters, along with resource competition between companies, states, and fishermen indicates that there will be a ready market for PMSCs in the region for some time to come. In Part 2 I will look at factors that might lessen the need for or hinder the operations of PMSCs in South and Southeast Asia, as well as provide a brief outlook on their future uses in the region.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and vice president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.
1. Risk Intelligence, “2010 Statistics Fact File.” Marisk.dk 2. Karsten von Hoesslin, “Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea in Southeast Asia: Organized and Fluid,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (2012): 35:7-8, 542-552: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2012.684652 3. I use this term interchangeably with private security contractors (PSCs). 4. U.S. Energy Information Administration estimate of 2011, updated April 4th, 2013: http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=10671 5. Carl A. Trocki, Prince of Pirates: The Temenggongs and the Development of Johor and Singapore, 1784-1885 (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2007), 24. 6. Carolin Liss, Oceans of Crime: Maritime Piracy and Transnational Security in Southeast Asia and Bangladesh (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011), 331. 7. Ibid, 323. 8. Ibid, 327. 9. “Safety and Shipping Review 2014,” Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, 27: http://www.agcs.allianz.com/assets/PDFs/Reports/Shipping-Review-2014.pdf 10. Attacks in territorial waters, whether against vessels underway, at anchor, or moored, by definition under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are not considered pirate attacks and when possible I will attempt to distinguish between sea robbery and piracy, although the terms are frequently conflated. 11. International Maritime Bureau: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/prone-areas-and-warnings 12. Allianz, 27 13. Von Hoesslin, 541-542. 14. Ibid, 544. 15. IMB. 16. Von Hoesslin, 545. 17. Ibid, 545.
The fortnight-long icy drama in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, is finally over and the two ice breakers, MV Akademik Shokalskiy of Russia, trapped since Christmas Eve, and Xue Long, the Chinese ship that came to rescue it, broke through the thick sea-ice and headed back to their routine summer deployment and scientific tasks.
It all began after Akademik Shokalskiy, carrying 74 people on board, made a distress call that it was unable to cut through the ice and was stranded. Xue Long, which was on its way to assist the construction of the new Chinese Antarctic station responded to the emergency, but could not break through the ice; it stopped six miles short of the distressed vessel. However, it successfully airlifted 52 passengers from the Russian ship but got trapped in the ice itself. In the early stages of these developments, two icebreakers France’s L’Astrolabe, and Australia’s Aurora Australis were also on deployment in the area but not expected to reach the scene quickly. However, it is Aurora Australis that ferried the rescued passengers to Hobart in Tasmania, Australia. During the course of the above events, the United States also dispatched its U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, but by then the two vessels had extricated from the sea-ice.
This rescue operation is a fine example of multinational effort, and the New York Times described it as a display of “unusual international harmony,” while the Global Times has glorified Xue Long‘s mission as an ‘epitome of China’s attitude towards its international obligations.’ It is useful to mention that Xue Long’s team includes scientists from Taiwan and Thailand.
The above event merits attention in India, which has a proactive polar scientific research programme including acquisition of a polar research vessel. India has set up three permanent scientific research stations in Antarctica: ‘Dakshin Gangotri’ (1983), ‘Maitri’ (1989) and ‘Bharati’ (2012); as well as ‘Himadri’ (2007) in the Arctic. Their activities are coordinated by the National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research (NCAOR) at Goa, India.
India’s polar expeditions are serviced by hiring or chartering ships for short durations from private parties in Germany, Russia, and Norway. India has announced plans to acquire a polar research vessel with specific requirements such as 45 days’ endurance, capable of cutting through 1.5-2 meter ice, accommodations for 60 scientists, a flight deck for helicopter operations, spaces for laboratories and instrumentation facilities for scientific research, and modern polar logistics support systems. Further, the vessel should be able to operate year-round in the Antarctic, Arctic, Southern, and Indian Oceans. The ship is expected to be in service by the end of 2016 and would cost about Rs 800 crore (U.S.$ 144 million).
Polar maritime activity is dependent not only on hi-quality ships, but also on competent human resourced. The ships’ crews have to be skilled and trained for navigation and engineering duties in sub-zero conditions. They also face a host of physical and psychological challenges arising from long periods of darkness, extreme cold, and fatigue, which could result in disorientation and can affect decision making. It is equally important to recognize that ‘a natural understanding based on experience of working in a cold environment cannot be assumed’ for Asian seafarers, unlike the seafarers from Scandinavia, Canada, or Russia, who are at less risk to cold injury than the Asians.
Likewise, the on-board helicopter and its crew must be competent handing air operations under treacherous polar conditions marked by blizzards, low-air temperatures, fog, low visibility, high-speed shifting winds, etc. Although chartered ships carry their own helicopters, between 1981 and 1995, the Indian Navy provided Chetak helicopters and the Indian Air Force deployed the Pratap helicopters for various duties including ferrying scientists, lifting stores, casualty evacuation and other shore tasks.
Another important facet of Antarctic deployment is voyage planning. The 2007 International Maritime Organisation (IMO) ‘Guidelines on Voyage Planning for Passenger ships operating in Remote Areas’ stipulate that any voyage planning through the Arctic or Antarctic must include a number of safety practices such as identification of safe areas and no-go areas, surveyed marine corridors, contingency plans for accidents, collisions, onboard fire, and search and rescue emergencies. Further, the voyage planning should also include information about icebergs and iceberg evasion procedures, weather, levels of darkness, safe speed, etc.
These material, human, and training requirements can potentially pose major challenges for India’s self sufficiency in its polar research programme and can be addressed through advanced planning and preparation including cooperative ventures with countries that have set up research stations and those which dispatch their research vessels to the polar regions.
This article was published in its original form at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and was re-posted by permission. Dr. Vijay Sakhuja is Director (Research), Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi. He is also Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore since 2006. A former Indian Navy officer, Sakhuja’s research areas include politico-strategic developments in the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific security, Arctic politics, and maritime and naval developments.
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