Tag Archives: private military contractors

Publication Release: A Special Report on PMSCs

CIMSEC is proud to present the first publication in its series of collected analysis – our Compendium to last year’s Private Military Contractor (PMC), focusing on the role of PMCs, also known as Private Military Security Companies, in the maritime domain.

Scott Cheney-Peters
Claude Berube
Tim Steigelman

Matt Hipple
Chris Papas
Scott Cheney-Peters

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Military contractors are assisting militaries and civilian government agencies throughout the world and across the mission spectrum, including planning, training, logistics, and security. Their use in support of a range of security-related activities is growing. Employing private military contractors (PMCs) for any security purpose, has both distinct advantages and disadvantages. PMCs are seen as having inherent advantages over militaries with regard to cost, flexibility, and responsiveness.

Relying on PMCs, though, does have its share of risks—including safety and liability issues, performance, force management, compliance with international and domestic laws, and lost resources because a capability is outsourced rather than retained. With this increase in contractor use in general, and the rise of privatized firms that are specifically organized to provide security services, the question is now how to determine the right force mix to most effectively and efficiently complete a task or mission. In some cases, contractors may be the best choice; however, they are not the perfect fit for every mission or the right solution for all skill or manpower shortages.

Despite their recent pillorying, PMC’s have existed since before the condotierri and will continue to exist after America’s campaigns. In this publication and the original week of special analysis from April 2014 we discussed their utility and future, especially in the maritime domain.

Whither the Private Maritime Security Companies of South and Southeast Asia? (Parts 1 and 2)
Author: Scott Cheney-Peters

PMCS: The End or the Beginning?
Author: Claude Berube

America Should End Mercenary Contracts
Author: Tim Steigelman

A Response to “America Should End Merceneary Contracts”
Author: Claude Berube

About this Series:

As a multinational community of strategists, researchers, and practitioners, the Center for International Maritime Security strives for a clear, relevant, and quick response to the issues facing international security.

To that end, CIMSEC is publishing collections of its focused articles in PDF format. This allows for quick distribution of diverse opinions on the topics that of relevance to maritime security today. For those who prefer browsing, the articles remain on the website under their respective categories. By organizing and distributing our authors’ analysis in multiple ways, CIMSEC is steaming ahead with the maritime policy-maker in mind.

Credit is due to all CIMSEC members – both contributors and those who share their insights through our informal collaborative channels and make such projects possible. In particular, this series is the work of Chris Papas, Director of Publications, under the guidance of head editor for the project, Matt Hipple, Director of Online Content and the head editor for this project.

Call for Articles, Non-Navies Week: 29 JUL-2 AUG

CIMSEC is having a Non-Navies Week from 29 July to 2 August as a first step in a longer series on specific non-navies. Delve into this list of non-navy navies with us.

Mainstream policy discussions of navies and maritime law enforcement often consider the denizens of the high seas to be a pliant polity – passive actors being defended, disrupted, or directed by the might of global or local security networks. However, national fleets and their individual warships are not the only ones with the agency to effect global politics and security.

Some topics we have covered at length – pirates and the Private Military Contractors that have risen up in opposition – but we have only scratched the surface.

Commercial enterpirses pursue the possibility of massive drone-ships, bringing new possibilities and vulnerabilities as our virtual network and our trade network grow closer together. Remember those pirates?

Fishing fleets have their own interests and controls – their operations and movement impacting global politics from the Gibraltar to the South China Sea. Sometimes inadvertant, sometimes purposeful, their movements can motivate states or global institutions – from territorial disuptes, to security, to environmental concerns.

Activists attempted to plant Chinese flags on the Senkaku Islands, which are controlled by Japan, as an assertion of the Chinese regime's sovereignty over the uninhabited islands. (Jingcai Mingren/Weibo.com)
Activists planting Chinese flags on Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands. (Jingcai Mingren/Weibo.com)

Ever-better organized and equipped activists are taking to the high-seas, battling whalers or even states. From the Sea Shepards to the “amphibious landings” of Japanese and Chinese activists in the Senkakus, civilians are taking the politics to sea. Somalian piracy actually started as activism, fisherman-come-vigilantes.

Terrorists are an unfortunate reality on the high seas, from the category of at-sea terrorist attacks to the use of amphibious operations as vectors for attack from Israel to Mumbai. Some groups, such as the Tamil Tiger’s “Sea Tigers”, even went so far as be considered a possible real-world naval force.

Colombian authorities discovered this fully functional narco-submarine in 2011. The vessel could carry 8 tons of cocaine and has a range of 8,000 miles. The submarine is similar to the Colombian Navy's own tactical sub, except this one has an interior bathroom and larger beds, sailors said. (Juan Manuel Barrero Bueno/Miami Herald/MCT)
Colombian authorities discovered this fully functional narco-submarine in 2011. The vessel could carry 8 tons of cocaine and has a range of 8,000 miles. The submarine is similar to the Colombian Navy’s own tactical sub, except this one has an interior bathroom and larger beds, sailors said. (Juan Manuel Barrero Bueno/Miami Herald/MCT)

Around the raucus political conflicts flows the silent  schemes of smugglers, black marketeers, and human traffickers. From drug runners to sanction busters, admirals are not the only ones trying to mask their position. Criminal enterprises conduct their own air-sea battle, even operating submarines to smuggle goods.

Shipping density data adapted from National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, A Global Map of Human Impacts to Marine Ecosystems.

The almost clinicically precise maps of the sea lines of communication would lead one to think that the oceans are a tame and organized place. Hardly. The sea is as alive with merchants, combatants, and all number of active players creating their own order and chaos.


Troubled Waters? The Use of the Nigerian Navy and Police in Private Maritime Security Roles

Example of a “permit” issued to a PMSC for embarking Nigerian Maritime Police by the Lagos Police Commissioner (Maritime) without authority of the Lagos state Inspector General of the Police. (Source withheld)
Example of a “permit” issued to a PMSC for embarking Nigerian Maritime Police by the Lagos Police Commissioner (Maritime) without authority of the Lagos state Inspector General of the Police. (Source withheld)

On the night of 23 October 2013, a group of embarked Nigerian policemen on board the tanker HISTRIA CORAL opened fire on a small boat that was approaching a tanker close by on Lagos roads, believing the vessel was under attack by robbers. The small boat, it turned out, was a launch filled with Nigerian Navy personnel, who were about to inspect the ROSE MARY. The episode ended with a stand-off between the Nigerian Navy and the policemen, who eventually locked themselves into the HISTRIA CORAL’s citadel for several days before they were arrested along with the agent who brokered their services.

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This vignette is symptomatic for the state of maritime security in Nigerian waters. Fundamentally, the problem is that, while legislation and capability exist, the patchy enforcement of the applicable laws encourages ship operators, agents, mid-ranking military personnel and private security providers to search for “alternatives” which tend to emphasise practicality over legality. In this they are ably assisted by local “facilitators”.

Responsibilities in Nigerian Maritime Security

The division of responsibilities between the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Police (NMP, a branch of the Nigerian Police Force, NPF) is relatively clear: the NMP has jurisdiction “on the Territorial Inland Waters, (measured from the inward limits of the coastal waterways from the fairway buoy), Ports, and Harbours.” It may extend beyond those limits in hot pursuit or when assisting other agencies.

The Nigerian Navy’s responsibility extends beyond that to include the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), within the bounds of the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which Nigeria has ratified in 1986. The Navy can also act inshore and to landward based on inter-agency agreements, such as when being a part of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta.

However, the lead agency for maritime security, as regards the provisions of the ISPS Code, is actually the Nigerian Maritime Safety Agency (NIMASA). Technically charged with providing port security (in collaboration with Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA) and flag administration, this agency has expanded in recent years to assume a quasi-coast guard role. Some of this is being delivered, controversially, through a private supplier – Global West Vessel Service Ltd, an entity controlled by the former Delta-state militant leader and now billionaire Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo). NIMASA has also proposed a draft bill on piracy and other unlawful acts at sea in 2012, although that still has to be accepted by Nigeria’s legislators.

Outsourcing Maritime security or Public Private Partnerships?

NNS Sword
The privately contracted patrol boat NNS SWORD returning from duty on the Lagos Secure Anchorage Area in in April 2014. (Photo: Dirk Steffen)

NIMASA is not alone though when it comes to contracting private companies in order to render what would appear to be asset protection services, but also for maritime surveillance and law enforcement activities. The Nigerian Navy has a tradition of utilising private suppliers to maintain and manage its vessels such as Intels Logistics, who manage the Bonny River convoy or the likes of Ocean Marine Security (OMS) or Protection Plus, who have been supplying escorts vessel services to the Oil & Gas industry for years. Typically, the procedure involves the private companies supplying vessels to the Navy’s specifications. The vessels receive Nigerian Navy pennant numbers and are manned with Nigerian Navy personnel. This has the benefit of providing an effective asset and management outside the Navy’s largely dysfunctional logistical and administrative infrastructure. At the same time, the Navy gains paid-for operational experience. The operational management, although in the hands of the Navy, also places the onus of maintaining situational awareness and response capability on the private partners. As I have described elsewhere, the Nigerian Navy’s organiation in spite of all efforts continues to fail in its ability to generate and disseminate maritime domain awareness information that would enable it to systematically prevent and respond maritime security incidents.

Arguably, the utilisation of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) is best suited to overcome the Nigerian Navy’s organisational shortcomings in the current situation. Nevertheless, like many such decentralised, commercially-tinged activities involving the Nigerian armed forces it bears the risk for abuse, mismanagement and corruption. Above all, it means that the Nigerian Navy relinquishes control and this was exactly what got the Navy in trouble in late 2012 when a merchant vessel, which had hired a Nigerian Navy team, ended up in Togo with the Nigerian soldiers still on board, resulting in some uncomfortable questions being asked of the Navy. As it turned out the Navy’s Western Naval Command had not endorsed the practice of allowing private companies to hire Nigerian Navy teams. To reinforce the point, future co-operation with private partners was based on a standard Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), in which the Nigerian Navy specified that it would provide personnel only for suitably equipped patrol boats. The creation of the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) outside Lagos in April 2013 in collaboration with OMS was a manifestation of this approach and built on the PPP model that had served the Nigerian Navy well elsewhere.

Use and Abuse of the System

Nigerian Marine Police in Lagos Channel compressed
Nigerian Marine Police checkpoint in Tarkwa Bay next to the Lagos Channel in April 2014. (Photo: Dirk Steffen)

At least 42 security companies registered in Nigeria have signed the MoU with the Navy, although only a fraction have provided the patrol boats as stipulated in the document while the majority of companies thought that they were allowed to use embarked Navy teams. When the Navy pulled the rug from underneath what had apparently become a source of considerable income for local agents, fixers, mid-ranking naval officers and budding Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs), it left the shipping industry with only one recourse: to hire Nigerian Police who conveniently offered themselves for this task, although this too was never officially sanctioned by the Inspector General of the Police (IGP) or formalised through anything resembling a MoU. Instead, local police commissioners issued “permits” to agents, PMSCs and ship operators if they wished to embark NMP, ostensibly on behalf of the IGP.

Again, this practice went on for some time for lack of enforcement until the incident involving the HISTRIA CORAL. Under pressure from the political leadership to clean up their act as well as getting a handle on the illegal bunkering and related piracy situation the Navy reacted. This process of reasserting the Navy’s pre-eminence in maritime security (along with NIMASA) was underlined by the politically-induced re-shuffle of the Nigerian armed forces leadership in February 2014 with a clear presidential mandate to enhance the efficiency of the three services.

On 21 March 2014 the Navy arrested an NMP team aboard the tanker CRETE along with two expat advisors from the security firm Port2Port who had accompanied the ship from Lagos to Warri. Although they were held on the whimsical charge of being engaged in illegal bunkering the incident highlighted the increased awareness of the Navy of the use of rogue NMP teams and the determination to intervene when they had knowledge of the practice. The inability of an embarked NMP team to detect an attack in a timely manner and to prevent casualties on the SP BRUSSELS on 29 April 2014 off the Niger Delta also highlighted the low effectiveness of such “rent-a-cop” teams. However, a large number of shipping agents and PMSCs were now firmly wedded to the concept of using NMP and the chronically underfunded NPF also saw a good opportunity in generating some extra income also for their senior personnel who are held in lower regard (and receive a lower pay) than their Nigerian Navy counterparts.

The Nigerian Navy’s Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Jibrin, is responsible for the Navy’ enforcement plan against the use of rogue security force teams aboard merchant ships. (Photo: Alexander Drechsel/Adrian Kriesch)
The Nigerian Navy’s Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Jibrin, is responsible for the Navy’ enforcement plan against the use of rogue security force teams aboard merchant ships. (Photo: Alexander Drechsel/Adrian Kriesch)

In early June the Nigerian Navy’s Western Naval Command (as well as the two sister commands Central and East) decided to enforce the ban on the use of NMP inside Nigerian territorial waters as directed earlier by the Chief of Naval Staff. Confusingly, the general assertion of authority by the Navy which includes the EEZ (which is part of the Navy’s jurisdiction) was interpreted to imply that the Navy would also enforce this ban on NMP outside territorial waters, which would be in contravention to UNCLOS, leading organisations like the IMO and BIMCO to question the legality of that measure. So far, the Navy has limited itself to inspecting vessels in territorial waters. On 13 June 2014 the Nigerian Navy interrogated a tanker on Lagos roads who first admitted to having embarked security personnel and later denied it. A closer investigation on the 14th revealed the presence of NMP personnel on board and one expat adviser from the same PMSC as on the CRETE. The NMP team was detained and replaced with a Nigerian Navy team so as not to leave the vessel vulnerable to attack.

It is not without irony that within days of the arrests on Lagos roads agents and certain PMSCs signalled their clients in the shipping industry that they had obtained permission to use Nigerian Navy teams – allegedly signed off by a senior naval officer. It is quite plausible that this officer is not yet aware of the “reversal” of the Navy’s enforcement plan that has been enacted in his name and will experience the same surprise as the IGP of Lagos state.


The provision of maritime security services in the Gulf of Guinea is handled more closely by the West African states than has been done by those on the east coast. At the same time effective implementation is slow and frustrating for the shipping industry and the international community.

However, sabotaging the process by playing off law enforcement agencies, or their officers, against each other is unlikely to be helpful in a situation where one of the key problems are fragile states and institutions in the first place. While engaging in collusive corruption (i.e. facilitation payments) the shipping industry is technically not in breach of most anti-corruption legislation, however obtaining an unlawful or “improper” performance from a government agency – even through a third party – might well be subject to more recent anti-bribery legislation such as the UK Bribery Act of 2010 which takes the broader OECD approach to corruption. Furthermore such behaviour perpetuates a system whose unpredictability is a major source of complaint when doing business in Nigeria.

The current modus operandi employed in renting Nigerian government security forces “on the sly” often in contravention of existing but unenforced law and condoned by mid-ranking (and some senior) officers may seem like a good idea now, but in this case it betrays ignorance or casual disregard of the power politics in Nigeria. Choosing to bypass or subvert the Nigerian Navy means antagonising a comparatively influential security service (as opposed to the Nigerian Police) in the Nigerian political system, which is something that is likely to create a backlash in the mid-term as the Nigerian Navy’s organisation continues to strengthen and become more robust as it has, if from a very low level, over the past 7 to 8 years.

Dirk Steffen is the Director Maritime Security for Denmark-based Risk Intelligence. He has been covering the Gulf of Guinea as a consultant and analyst since 2004. He recently deployed to the area with the German Navy in the course of OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014.

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A Response to “America Should End Mercenary Contracts”

CIMSEC “Private Military Contractor Week” has generated several pieces including the two part commentary “America Should End Mercenary Contracts”. Any discussion about PMCs can generate visceral reactions, especially given their activities in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. Nevertheless, the possibility of their growing presence in the 21st century maritime environment suggests a healthy debate and a more accurate reflection of the issues is required. Consequently, “America Should End Mercenary Contracts” has several issues which ought to be deliberated and clarified in this forum.


What’s in a Name


The article, in the second paragraph, may be confusing the private military contractors of the Executive Outcomes to the PMCs in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case of the former, PMCs were reportedly used for offensive operations while in the latter case PMCs were ostensibly used or intended for more defensive purposes such as the protection of convoys. As a result, it is the latter which is more similar to the firms employed in maritime security and, thus, the subject of CIMSEC’s PMC Week. Land-based and maritime-based PMCs have inherently different missions. Maritime security companies were not hunting down pirates off Somalia, for example. They provide on-board defense security. To date, as several senior Obama administrations have admitted, no ship with an armed guard contingent has been taken by pirates.

Although the author suggests that these modern mercenaries are privateers, that is likewise an inaccurate term for two reasons. First, privateers were issued letters of marque by states. Most maritime security companies today have a direct fiduciary and contractual relationship with shipping companies and not, by and large, states. Second, privateers were issued those letters of marque to actively attack enemy commerce during wartime. As stated earlier, maritime security companies have a more defensive role and do not seek out illicit organizations.


All My Sons


The author’s criticism of the private sector is understandable. Historically, many did not behave ethically; as a result, government regulations ensure basic foods were untainted, children were not used in the labor force, and reasonable work weeks were the standard. The article states that “to maximize its profits, Mercenaries ‘R Us declines to armor its contractors,” etc. This is a legitimate issue, but it is also legitimate to discuss the role of the federal government in which contracting officers seek out the lowest-bid among various contractors. Or consider that the U.S. went into Afghanistan with “the army you have—not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” as then-Secretary Rumsfeld noted when the military sent in vehicle that failed to be up-armored. By contrast, some contractors had the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances on the ground rather than wait the traditional Pentagon acquisition route.

Another criticism by the author of PMCs is that “as long as the stock price stays high and the dividends keep coming, the shareholders are unlikely to have very much concern for the human toll of warfare.” What the author may not be aware of is that most PMCs – certainly maritime security companies – do not have public shareholders; rather they are privately held. But if this argument was valid, should the United States likewise restrict the use of publicly-held military contractors such as General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman because they build the tools and platforms for conducting war? Arguably, if they are accountable, then so might U.S.- or internationally-regulated PMCs. If the author is only discussing the direct actions by individuals providing security, then he might want to walk into any federal building in Washington DC. During a recent visit to the National Archives as I awaited the building to open for researchers, I noted the half-dozen armed guards who were not police. They informed me that their contract gave them jurisdiction to the sidedwalk. Contractors. Armed. In a federal facility.


Holding Companies Accountable


The author is absolutely correct that organizations must be held accountable. He states that his hypothetical “Mercenaries ‘R Us” has “no congressional committees to answer to” and their “contract warfare seems to skirt at least the spirit of mandatory Congressional oversight of the nation’s military.” But that’s not entirely accurate. Since 2007, the House Armed Services Committee had held twenty-two hearings  in which the role of private security contractors was discussed. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform also held a very highly publicized hearing on the role of the former Blackwater in Iraq with Erik Prince providing the sole testimony. Since 2007, the Senate Armed Services Committee has held forty-six hearings in which issues about PMCs were raised.

In addition, the author may not be aware that Congress has already acted on the issue of accountability when it passed the National Defense Authorization Act in October 2007 which modified the Uniform Code of Military Justice which made the UCMJ applicable to PMCs.

This is not unprecedented. During the age of sail, for example, privateers were held as accountable as officers and sailors in the U.S. Navy. For example, the author might benefit from the “Records of General Courts-Martial and Courts of Inquiry of the Navy Department 1799-1867” in which he would find a number of privateers among U.S. navy ships and personnel. For example, the crew of the privateer brig Scourge in Case 196 were tried for pillaging a neutral vessel and assaulting a superior officer. They were tried by a board of navy officers under board president Captain Isaac Chauncey. Those not acquitted received the same punishment as Navy sailors – the lash and forfeiture of their share of prize money. In that era, U.S. Navy officer and sailors also shared in the profits of captured enemy vessels. Nor was this the only case; others were likewise tried for violating the 1800 “Act for the Better Government of the Navy. So PMCs – or rather PMSCs specifically – are and could be held accountable.


Wounded Civilian Warriors


The author states in paragraph 3 that “if the injured PMCs were instead American service members, they would be given medical treatment and rehabilitation through military medicine. The VA, for all its flaws, would attempt to help the wounded recover and restart their life after their injuries. If the fallen were uniformed military, their survivors would be taken care of with survivor benefits. All of these benefits were enacted by Congress to support the men and women who go abroad to do the nation’s work in harm’s way.” Because most maritime security companies are hired directly by shipping companies, this particular statement might not apply. However in the future if the US found itself in a position to hire more armed guards on the few US-flagged ships remaining, then there is precedent for Congress to expand services for them. This includes “An act regulating pensions to persons on board private armed ships” who become wounded or disabled (February 13, 1813), “an act to amend and explain the act regulating pensions to persons on board private armed vessels” (August 2, 1813) and “an act giving pensions to the orphans and widows of persons slain in the public or private armed vessels of the United States (March 3, 1814.) By 1824, the Privateer Pension Fund listed ninety-seven “invalids disabled in action in the line of duty.” The fund was governed by a secretary, John Boyle, who later served as acting Secretary of the Navy.




The issues surrounding PMCs and, specifically, private maritime security companies, are far more complex and demand more attention in the coming decades. The fact is the U.S. and other traditional powers are downsizing their militaries while global and regional security threats are at best constant and at worst growing. While turning toward the private sector for supplementary security in as regulated environment as US military forces may seem distasteful to some, the reality is that without sufficiently right-sized military options, countries and companies will have to turn to their own sources of private security particularly at sea. If the U.S. and partners stick their head in the sand with this issue or dismiss it out of hand, private security will not go away; in all likelihood the vacuum of control and regulation will either expand without appropriate international mechanisms or simply fall upon rising peer-competitors and that may be a far more troubling outcome.


Claude Berube teaches at the United States Naval Academy and is an officer in the Navy Reserve. His third book was “Maritime Private Security: Market Responses to Piracy, Terrorism, and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century. He is the immediate past chair of the editorial board of Naval Institute Proceedings and is writing his doctoral dissertation on Andrew Jackson’s Navy. The views expressed are his own and not those of the Naval Academy or the US government.