Typhon Launches Private Maritime Security Service against Piracy

January 29, 2013

  • January 31, 2013 at 9:35 am
    GD says:
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    The surest way to protect a merchant vessel from pirate attack is to have armed guards on board who can fire their weapons away from the vessel being protected, in the direction of the attacking pirates.

    Using escort vessels and fast patrol boats is, quite simply, not as effective. An attacking pirate skiff only has to manoeuver itself between the escort vessel and the vessel being protected to render the patrol boat’s weapons effectively useless: the escort vessel will not be able to fire in the direction of the pirates without the very real risk of hitting the client vessel they are supposed to be protecting. And there are pirates out there who are bold enough to make this manoeuvre, especially if they operate as a group of boats, using ‘swarm’ tactics, which they commonly do.

    Escort vessels are not actually a new or ‘innovative’ concept. They have been used in various forms by existing maritime security companies, and almost all of these companies have come to the realisation that it is not a very effective way of protecting vessels – and almost all of them have changed their tactics, placing a team of armed guards on board the client vessel instead.

    It is much easier to defend against pirate attack from on board a large merchant vessel, with a team of armed guards, than it is from small patrol boats. Indeed, by using small patrol boats you give so many of your advantages away to the pirates, and very much level the playing field in their favour: there is every chance that the pirates will be able to inflict as many casualties on the patrol boat as the patrol boat could inflict upon the pirates. In a small patrol boat you simply do not have the advantage of a large stable platform to work from, which the on-board security team do (which is one of the main reasons why defending from the vessel being protected is so much more effective).

    The use of intelligence and surveillance to anticipate the location of potential Pirate Action Groups is nothing new either. Many existing maritime security companies have very good intelligence and operations departments, who are able to forewarn their on-board security teams of potential pirate ‘hot spots’ in their path. The difference is that on-board security teams simply do not need to worry so much about potential hot spots. With an on-board team you do not need to divert around hot spots – it is such an effective form of defence that you can sail right through them without wasting fuel trying to avoid them.

    The idea that you can somehow identify pirates well in advance is another red herring. It is very difficult to determine whether a skiff contains pirates, or fishermen going about their daily business, until an attack is actually in progress. You need to positively identify weapons, ladders, etc., to ascertain whether an actual attack is coming your way, and very often this cannot effectively be done beyond 600m, as you have to sight these weapons (which are often hidden from view) using the limited range of binoculars, and so forth – and it just so happens that 600m is about the effective range of the weapons of a team of well-trained armed security guards, firing from a large stable platform such as a merchant vessel. I would hazard that it is far more difficult to positively identify weapons and pirate ‘paraphernalia’ from a small unstable patrol boat, or to lay down effective fire from one of these boats, at anything like the range you can do from a larger vessel. You would almost certainly need to approach the suspicious vessel first, and to do this whilst carrying arms has the very real potential to provoke an attack – upon yourself! (And anyway, driving around the ocean, approaching other vessels, whilst armed, strikes me as only one step away from an act of piracy in itself. It is certainly difficult to see how you could claim to be acting in self-defence if you did get into a fire fight under these circumstances – although I admit that I am no expert in the law in this area).

    And how would advance intelligence help you anyway, in ‘pinch points’ such as the Bab el Mandeb, a notorious pirate hot spot, where vessels heading towards the Suez Canal have to use a shipping lane that passes through a very narrow stretch of water, between two points of land, which is often ‘buzzing’ with small skiff activity of precisely the type that both pirates and fishermen use. I would suggest that it is virtually impossible to maintain a protective ‘envelope’ in places such as this: there are usually too many small vessels operating (as there has always been, since time immemorial), most of whom will be innocently going about their business, and have will have no concept whatsoever of the so-called ‘protection zone’ that exists in the minds of the Typhon operators.

    I am an ex-Royal Marine who has been working in the maritime security industry, defending merchant vessels from pirate attack and other threats, for some years now. I have worked both as an on-board armed security guard, and as an armed security guard operating from ‘fast patrol boats’, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that having a team of armed guards on-board the client vessel is far more effective than using ‘escort’ boats. A bold and determined pirate skiff could fairly easily defeat the tactics and defences of the ‘escort method’, whereas it is very, very difficult to get close to a merchant ship that has an armed security team on board. An on-board security team can choose to stop an attack virtually at will, at any time they choose to engage with their weapons, once the attackers are within range; and, if circumstances allow it, they can even fire warning shots right up to the point that the attacking pirates are alongside the vessel being protected, only needing to use lethal force right at the last necessary moment (although, nine times out of ten, merely displaying your weapons to potential attackers is enough to deter them – pirates do not want to board a vessel that has people with guns on it!).

    All professional companies seek to deter pirate attack, rather than engage in a fire fight, and most of them have very strict rules of engagement and procedures concerning the controlled escalation of force. So Typhon certainly do not have the monopoly on the ‘use of force [only as] a last resort’ – it is standard operating procedure, within the industry, to ‘always to seek to diffuse and de-escalate any violence’. None of us want to get into a fire fight, if we can possibly avoid it – pirates included.

    And think about this: by escorting a vessel, using patrol boats, you are essentially signalling to everybody else that the vessel being escorted does not have an armed security team on board (the biggest problem facing pirates at the moment is working out which vessels carry an on board security team, and which do not). Unless you are going to continue escorting that vessel to it’s final destination (all the way across the Indian Ocean?), you have potentially set that vessel up as a soft target for savvy pirates. They will only need to tail you until you break off the escort, and then it will be open season for them – you have gifted them a target, and there is very little that you can do about it once you break off the escort.


  • March 16, 2013 at 7:04 am
    Andy M says:
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    This is a flawed model and this company has not even recruited anyone off the circuit yet.

    You CANNOT take out a skiff from a RHIB, you will also be going against current RUF; aimed shots from small craft – no way Jose!

    Line of sight from a typical VLCC (distance to horizon) can be well in excess of 10 NM. From a RHIB, you are down to about 1000 metres, tops.

    What happens if a client vessel suffers loss of propulsion for example? The current embarked armed team model has 100% success rate and is the primary reason that piracy has dropped in these waters

  • November 2, 2013 at 3:38 pm
    PVI says:
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    There is no way on this earth that a skiff could get between the escort vessel and the client vessel unless the whole escort vessel crew were asleep!! i used to crew and skipper an escort vessel. Andy M are you trying to say that line of sight from an escort vessel is 1000m tops??? yes i agree that its a better vantage point from the bridge of a container vessel of VLCC but we also had 2 liaison officers on board the client vessel who were unarmed and they would have access to vessel radar and the vantage point and pass any information down to us on the escort vessel. Some clients especially crews ships don’t like having weapons onboard their vessels. Escort vessels get around this and there are a deterrent in them selves, never once were our client vessel approached when they were escorted by a gun boat. So i disagree with both your comments. Remember you cant argue tactics!!!! I am out of the industry now, every tom, dick and harry was trying to get in on it and the daily rate was getting less and less.

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