Tag Archives: Somalia

PMCs: The End or the Beginning?

This feature is special to our Private Military Contractor (PMC)’s Week – a look at PMCs’ utility and future, especially in the maritime domain.

The National Intelligence Council’s report Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds released in December 2012 revealed trends, game-changers, and potential worlds that have relevance to maritime security.  Two of the four mega-trends identified were individual empowerment and diffusion of power.  Two game-changers will be a governance gap (or previously suggested maritime security shadow zones) and the potential for increased conflict.  It suggests one potential future of a “Non-state World” in which non-state actors take the lead in confronting global challenges.  If this is the future, where the power of traditional states erodes or collapses and individuals and illicit organizations are super-empowered, private maritime security companies could be far more employed than they have been in the past decade.

The quick rise of PMSCs in the past decade was due primarily to the threat of non-state actors—in this case Somali pirates operating off the Horn of Africa.  Before the shipping industry responded to changes in its Best Management Practices and states began devoting more air and surface naval platforms to the region, individuals identified an opportunity in maritime security and formed companies.   Whether they are mercenaries or entrepreneurs can be left to a discussion in the classroom or comments, but the reality is that the immediate threat to shipping was real and growing by 2006.

The companies themselves were analogous to dining in a large city.  In the first category are the four and five star restaurants with superior ingredients and preparation, excellent service, but very costly.  The second category includes standard restaurants.  The third might be diners— affordable food, quick turn-around on service, and a dependable location.  The last category is the street vendors.  Because they have no infrastructure other than a mobile cart and they may not carry the best ingredients, their costs are extremely low.  But there is a market for each of these categories.

The same has been true of PMSCs.  Some are highly rated among the industry for the quality of their security personnel (such as former SAS and Navy SEALs), high-performance gear, and company infrastructure.  These are the higher priced five-star restaurants.  But as the industry emerged, it seemed anyone would join in if they had a cell-phone and an email address.  Even experienced, qualified operators made attempts to form their own companies.  Peter Cook, founder and director of the Security Association of the Maritime Industry (SAMI) suggested that this is one reason why the number of PMSCs has dropped in recent years as the number of piracy incidents off Somalia have declined.  “New businesses fail at a high rate,” he said in a recent interview.  “You have operators who might not have the business background necessary to administer all the paperwork that’s involved in setting up and operating a maritime security company.”

According to Cook, the number of PMSCs peaked in 2011 when eleven new PMSCs were applying every month for membership in SAMI.  While there were an estimated thirty-five to fifty companies in 2010, SAMI now has about 160 members.  The industry became highly competitive and very litigious.  With some twenty to twenty-five percent of overcapacity in the shipping industry, shippers are trying to find ways to reduce costs and prices.  When threats by Somali pirates resulted in far higher insurance rates, shipping companies reluctantly turned to protection from armed guards.  At their height in 2008 to 2009, some PMSCs could charge $5,000 per day for a four-man team; today that price is down to about $3,500.  Since, to date, not ship with an armed team has been taken by pirates, that investment more than offset the potential of paying hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in ransom.

Although some in the industry argue that incidents of piracy remain unreported or underreported in order for companies to avoid higher insurance rates, the fact is that Somali piracy has dropped precipitously.  As a result, Cook notes, there has been a major consolidation of PMSCs.  That is not to say they will disappear or their work will not expand.  To the contrary, they will likely be more necessary in the coming decades for several reasons.

First, long-time state navies with global projection (such as European nations or even the United States) are likely to diminish in size and projection capability due to increased domestic funding demands.  Second, increasing competition for scarce resources and changing demographics will lead to greater instability among underdeveloped nations, particularly those along coastlines.  Third, greater need for energy will result in more off-shore oil and gas platforms (currently twenty-five percent of all oil and gas platforms are off-shore such as those in the Gulf of Guinea.)  Fourth, as one presenter at a recent Naval War College symposium suggested, a greater need for food sources will result in aqua-farming areas.  Simply put, less maritime security capabilities by states and increased needs for security will lead to a greater reliance on PMSCs.

What does this mean for the United State?  Most importantly, the nation will have to work with the industry in ensuring it is regulated and accountable.  With Somali piracy, the country – like many European countries – was opposed to the use of PMSCs or at least did not recognize them.  Public officials and senior military now recognize the partial role they have played off the Horn of Africa.  The industry has already begun to self-regulate internationally.  Operators quickly share information with each other on the reputation of firms and which ones should be avoided.  In addition, organizations like SAMI provide standards such as certifications as a vetting conduit between PMSCs and the shipping industry.

In the coming decades, maritime security will be far more complex.  Absent sufficient state navies and coast guard forces, PMSCs may well be the only alternative to ensuring platforms and regions have some semblance of security.

Claude Berube teaches naval history at the United Stated Naval Academy and is the author or co-author of several books including “Maritime Private Security” and his debut novel “The Aden Effect.”  In December 2013, CIMSEC published his article and interview regarding “Civilian Warriors”.  He is the immediate past chair of the editorial board of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.

Follow @cgberube

No Deadliest Catch 10th Season: Returns as Somali Spin-Off

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here


DeadliestSILVER SPRING, MD—After a series of logistical challenges filming Deadliest Catch in the South China Sea, the Discovery Channel announced a new spin-off series set off the Somali coast to replace the show for 2014 in what would have been the show’s 10th season.

Sources say that Bill Goodwyn, Discovery’s President of Domestic Distribution and Enterprises labeled the most recent season of Deadliest Catch a “goddamn shipwreck” after the series filmed the 9th season in the South China Sea. Despite Discovery’s vision, Deadliest Catch faced a series of hurdles including clashes with Japanese nationalists near the Senkaku Islands, and most recently, the loss of an aerial camera drone in China’s Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ.

Discovery hopes to rejuvenate the successful ten-year-old franchise with a new spin-off series set in Somalia. Tentatively titled “Deadliest Catch: Somali Waters,” renowned producer Todd Stanley is attached to serve as the showrunner for this new series, slated to air in early 2014. Richard Phillips and Abduwali Muse are also named as associate producers.

After announcing the series on Twitter, Stanley explained “Look, there’s been a lot of maritime activity off the coast of Somalia for years and frankly the clan dynamics stimulate an enormous amount of competition between Somali fishermen—wait till you see the Habar Gidirs take on the Mijurtinis. While the piracy business hasn’t been the cash cow for these guys it once was, with our backing you’ll see some of these guys go out for two or three weeks and come back with a load of Yellowfin Tuna, a dry-bulk carrier, or even a handful of Indian hostages.” Officials at the Discovery quickly pointed out that the show abides by all Somali laws and maritime regulations.

Members of the Digil Coast Guard on patrol
Members of the Digil Coast Guard on patrol

Bilal Eggeh, an elder affiliated with the Saleban clan, expressed his excitement for the show: “This will not only be a great opportunity for the Saleban to glorify their ancestors against the Duduble filth, but will also provide better programming than Al Shabab behadings and Duck Dynasty.” An Al Shabab spokesperson rejected these comments on Twitter and explained that his organization serves as the main maritime law enforcement organization in Kismayo, a coastal town, and that Nielson ratings show the beheadings do well in the coveted 18-34 demographic.

Stanley intends to replicate the filming and production methodology utilized in the Deadliest Catch. Three separate camera crews will follow nominal “fishing” motherships piloted by the Eidagalla, Ajuran, and Ogadeni clans. Additional crews will follow the USS Farragut, on patrol in the Recommended Transit Corridor; the Puntland Maritime Police Force, conducting shore-based operations; and the local coast guard operated by the Digil clan. An additional crew will cover mundane business affairs in the cities of Eyl and Kismayo. Thom Beers will also narrate segments of the series—a staple of the Deadliest Catch franchise.

Despite Discovery’s optimism, the show already faces opposition. The move to the South China Sea triggered a wave of controversy from loyal fans, with one fan claiming that “It sounds un-American.” Captain Brad Cooper of the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) said “At first I thought this was b******t – we finally had this Somali piracy thing mostly licked and now they’re helping get some of these guys back up and running? But anytime I can tell my kids I got to fight pirates they actually know what I’m talking about, unlike forward naval presence ops.’” Khaled Hiyani, a member of Hizbul Islam, issued a statement condemning the show and labeling the producers as infidels. Roelf van Heerden, a South African security consultant with Sterling Corporate Services, briefly said, “These guys are idiots.”

Yet, Discovery remains determined in the spin-off to experiment with the successful formula that other reality shows have used.

Deadliest Catch: Somali Waters is scheduled to premiere on April 15 at 9:00 EST on Discovery.

Puntland’s New President: A Maritime Security Outlook

After losing Puntland’s presidential election by a single parliamentary vote, incumbent president Abdirahman Mohamed Farole extended his congratulations to his opponent Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, a former prime minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). UN and EU envoys praised the autonomous state’s January 8 election, decided by the votes of 66 parliamentarians appointed by clan elders, as a model for Somalia-wide democratization. The maritime security community should also take note, as Ali Gaas, a U.S-trained economist, will preside over the original heartland of Somali piracy. One of the many issues facing the president-elect is what to do with the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF)—a marine militia described by its supporters as Somalia’s most effective counter-piracy force and by its opponents as the Farole administration’s Praetorian Guard.

Puntland president Abdirahman Mohamed Farole (left) and president-elect Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas (right).
Puntland president Abdirahman Mohamed Farole (left) and president-elect Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas (right).

A Controversial Legacy

Farole came to power in 2009, a year in which Somali pirates attacked over 215 ships and operated with impunity from Puntland’s shores. The president’s answer was the PMPF, an elite coastal force that would deny the pirates their onshore sanctuary. The marines, trained by a South African private military company and financed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), quickly grew to a force of 500 troops supported by a fleet of small ships, aircraft and armored vehicles. Security operations commenced in March 2012 and succeeded in disrupting pirate bases across the remote Bari and Bargaal regions. In late December 2012, the PMPF rescued 22 sailors held hostage aboard the MV Iceberg for almost three years. With Puntland-based piracy largely eliminated, the marines turned their attention towards encroaching al-Shabaab militants, using their expat-piloted helicopters to provide air support during several skirmishes in early 2013.

While operationally successful, the PMPF was politically contentious. A January 2012 report from the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group lambasted the marines “as an elite force outside any legal framework, engaged principally in internal security operations, and answerable only to the Puntland presidency.” Later that year, the president’s son Mohamed Farole became director of the PMPF, a cause of inter-governmental tension given his lack of military experience according to inside sources. On October 29 2012, the marines blockaded the residence of Ali Gaas in order to prevent him from campaigning among local politicians and clan elders.

A Difficult Decision

Ali Gaas pledged to improve Puntland’s security during his victory speech, but has yet to comment on his policy regarding the PMPF. Piracy may be suppressed, but many gangs are now diversifying into other illicit ventures such as arms smuggling and protection services for illegal fishing fleets. An al-Shabaab bombing against a PMPF convoy on December 5, 2013 further underscores the high level of insecurity that persists in the region. In the face of these challenges, what might the new president’s plans be for the contentious marine force?

Though the marines would later be used to impede his campaigning, it is important to note that Ali Gaas was a vocal supporter of the PMPF during his tenure as TFG prime minister from June 2011 to October 2012. When the UN Monitoring Group accused the PMPF’s South African trainers, Sterling Corporate Services, of breaking the 1992 arms embargo on Somalia, Ali Gaas responded with an official letter on November 16, 2011, advocating that the UN “approve the waiver for training and enforcement capabilities for Puntland State of Somalia to actively fight piracy and strengthen regional and maritime security.” A month later, the prime minister’s office re-clarified that “the TFG fully supports the efforts of Puntland authorities.”

Despite the labeling of the Puntland marines as Farole’s “private army,” it is unlikely that Ali Gaas will dismantle the PMPF when he assumes office. It is expected, however, that the outgoing president’s son and other Farole loyalist will not retain their leadership positions (whether they help themselves to the PMPF’s valuable collection of equipment and vehicles on their way out is another question). Securing a steady source of funding to maintain the PMPF’s marines, bases, vehicles, and expat mentors will be a pressing concern for Ali Gaas. The bulk of current financing comes from UAE, but it remains to be seen if this arrangement will continue under a new president.

The PMPF base camp in Bosaso, Puntland is the most extensive in the region (Photo: Robert Young Pelton)
The PMPF base camp in Bosaso, Puntland is the largest such facility in the region (Photo: Robert Young Pelton)

A Federal Marine Force?

There are indications that the former TFG prime minister envisioned the PMPF as a model of coastal security that could extend across Somalia. In April 2012, Ali Gaas’ office authorized Sterling Corporate Services to select and recruit soldiers from the Somali National Army to join the PMPF training camp in Bosaso, Puntland. The move was blocked by African Union (AMISOM) peacekeepers, however, which prevented the soldiers from embarking at Mogadishu airport. After the departure of Sterling in mid-2012, a US-registered security company, Bancroft, proposed a reversal of this plan, in which men and materials would be dispersed from the Bosaso base to a number of small coastguard cells across the Somali coast. This idea was rejected by the Farole administration, however, which was reportedly loath to cede control of its elite marine police force to the federal government.

Relations between Puntland and Mogadishu continued to sour over the next year. In late July 2013, the new Somali Federal Government announced that it had signed a deal with Dutch private maritime security provider Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group to establish a coastguard to combat piracy and secure Somalia’s exclusive economic zone. The deal received a hostile response from Puntland officials, who saw the contract as an “unacceptable, inapplicable and unsuitable” violation of Puntland’s territorial sovereignty.  In early August, the Farole administration suspended relations with the federal government.

With a former TFG prime minister now coming to power in Puntland, observers anticipate a more conciliatory relationship between the state and federal governments.  While a Somalia-wide coast guard or navy remains a distant prospect, the opportunity is now ripe for confidence building measures among local security forces. The PMPF maintains the most advanced training facility in the country and could once again offer to train marines from across Somalia if an acceptable deal can be worked out with the federal government and AMISOM. Supporting such an endeavor would be attractive option for the EU’s maritime security capacity-building mission (EUCAP NESTOR), which has thus far been unable to carry out its mandate in Somalia due to the country’s insecurity and fragile political arrangement.

While Ali Gaas may be tempted to keep the PMPF under the direct control of the presidency, a more advisable option would be for the Puntland parliament to pass legislation that defines the force’s power, status, and responsibility. Doing so could serve to legitimize the PMPF in the eyes of the international community, opening new lines of desperately needed funding. “There is internationally consensus that the PMPF should be ‘legalized’ and integrated into the regular security structures of Somalia,” an EUCAP NESTOR officer remarked, further noting that “The international community is studying how that best can be done and how the government of Somalia could be supported in that respect.”

Puntland’s model of democracy is unorthodox by western standards and so too are its maritime police forces. Both, however, have demonstrated resiliency in the face of great challenges and may come to serve as templates for the rest of the country. As foreign warships and armed guards begin to depart the Horn of Africa, local marines will be the only thing standing between the pirates and their prey.

James M. Bridger is Maritime Security Consultant and piracy specialist with Delex Systems Inc. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. James can be reached for comment or question at jbridger@delex.com   

Sea Control 17 – Rob Young Pelton plus Federal News Radio

seacontrolemblemJames Bridger interviews adventurer extraordinaire, Rob Young Pelton, about his upcoming crowd-funded journey to find Jospeh Kony and further updates on the situation in Africa. Jim and Rob discuss civil wars, and piracy amongst others.

The episode finishes with an interview done on Federal News Radio, 1500AM, for their series “In Depth with Francis Rose.” Sean McCalley interviews our NEXTWAR Director, Matt Hipple, about his thoughts on what to watch in the coming year. They discuss Africa, China, drones, and informal military innovation/networks.

Please enjoy Sea Control 17: Rob Young Pelton plus Federal News Radio (Dowload).

And remember… we are available on Itunes and Stitcher Stream Radio! Tell a friend, leave a comment, and rate 5 stars!