These guys hate Johnny Depp
On August 6, 2011, a Bulk Carrier came under attack by pirates in the Red Sea. Far from the usual one, two, or three skiffs attacking the vessel, there were twelve skiffs, each crewed by between 5-8 pirates. As they closed, the crew noticed guns and ladders, and the onboard security team launched warning flares. This was no deterrent as the skiffs continued to close to within 300 meters, before the Neptune team began to fire under orders from the Ship’s Captain. This was not enough, as the Pirates engaged the security team, encircling the vessel. Two skiffs continued the chase, and after a taught thirty-minute gunfight, the pirates aborted their attack.

Our opposition – Pirates – use a highly effective “Business Model”’ to conduct their operations. Dirt cheap and widely available weaponry such as the ubiquitous AK-47 and RPG-7 allow them to outfit a team, called a Pirate Action Group, of 12 men for little over $30,000 USD. A capable ad-hoc intelligence infrastructure allows them to select their targets from information gleaned in their country of origin or from the internet. The highly intelligent and brutally ruthless PAGs have simply stacked the deck by demonstrating an increased willingness to utilize high-tech capabilities such as GPS tracking to further increase their effectiveness.

Only compounding this problem is the fact that pirate tactics have changed in recent years. Long gone are the days of single skiffs launching from the Somali coastline to pirate vessels 50 nautical miles away; this new breed of pirates have begun to use motherships to extend their range out to and over 1,000 nautical miles. While some motherships are simply older fishing trawlers, others have a more sinister origin: to ensure that their ransom has been paid, the pirates use smaller pirated vessels to conduct their operations.

As the example presented earlier shows, the pirates are willing to stand and fight, and they have the capability to launch a massive attack using a large number of vessels. Today’s pirate is adaptable, bolder, more capable, and as the tragic S/V Quest incident shows, far more willing to kill the hostages.

During an internal project analysing the growing problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean and Anti-Piracy operations earlier this year, we found that many companies feint protection — relying instead on a hasty retreat to the ship’s citadel to await military forces. 

Many less reputable firms are fitted with low-quality former soviet firearms such as the AK-47—the same weapon used by Pirate Action Groups—rented from government arsenals or civilian sporting rifles that lack the construction for high-pace tactical operations and are not fit for a high-threat environment. While some do use M4 assault rifles, the notorious ballistics of the 5.56x45mm round cannot guarantee the ability to incapacitating a threat. More to the point, few embark with more than one or two weapons and barely enough ammunition to sustain one extended engagement. Combine this with little to no armor protection, no night vision or thermal devices, and situational awareness limited to what can be seen through binoculars.

We even uncovered cases where companies hire cheap labor from third world countries who have little to no maritime security experience, have a very elementary grasp of the English language, are poorly trained, unprofessional, and come without the most basic of qualifications for serving aboard a ship. In addition to these, there are still many “Cowboy” firms that issue their personnel subpar and sometimes illegal weapons, little to no armor protection, no night vision or thermal devices, and in effective communications equipment. In short, we found that while true that no ship has been pirated with armed security aboard, this is more so do to luck, as the protection afforded by these firms was little more than smoke and mirrors.

It's from this that we realized -- we promised that "We Can Do Better". In March of 2010, I decided that BDS would join the sector with the promise of doing just that.

We have since adopted an innovative, dynamic, and proactive approach to anti-piracy operations. I will ensure that all teams deploy with the best possible capabilities — from intelligence monitoring and advanced tactical weapons to specialized training and tactics reinforced through our training partnerships. As Pirates adapt their tactics, we will adapt with them as well, and remain fully capable of engaging and defeating threats.

We will do better.

Ryan Pearce
Managing Director

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