Last week, as the countries of West Africa were about to meet in Cameroon to discuss the urgent and growing problem of maritime piracy in their increasingly troubled region, Ms. Donna Hopkins, the coordinator for counter piracy and maritime security in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and head of the U.N Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, participated in Episode No. 5 of the Maritime TV series on piracy mitigation strategies. Joining her in the discussion, held in the shadows of the U.S. Capitol, were the world-renowned maritime lawyer John A.C. Cartner, and Captain William H. Watson, president of the AdvanFort Company, one of the world’s leading private maritime security companies.
Click here to see the Maritime TV video
In their nearly hour-long discussion, Coordinator Hopkins talked about recent developments in disrupting Somali pirates’ business model, and how some of those lessons might be brought to bear in West Africa. She underlined that the three most important characteristics of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) are “the quality of standards and training; clear guidance on the rules for the use of force, and accountability to the clients, to their employers.” She also signaled the growing threat of transnational organized crime in fomenting piracy and other illegal maritime activity, as well as how the U.S. government is watching “with a fairly high degree of interest,” those vessels increasingly used by some PMSCs as “floating armories.” This, she pointed out, was due to questions about the inherent safety of floating armories, their vulnerability to corruption, or their diversion by malignant actors, including terrorists.
Here are the most important parts of that conversation, moderated by Piracy Daily Editor-in-Chief Martin Edwin Andersen:
Andersen: Let me start with a question for Coordinator Hopkins. Last year you outlined the changing threats posed by Somalia pirates. What if anything has happened to that transformation in the last six months or the past year that you think that is different from where we were then?
Coordinator Hopkins: Thank you. I think the biggest thing is that we disrupted the pirates’ business model. Pirates have to cope with a different calculus now and I think for four primary reasons.
One is the willingness of private ship owners and commercial maritime companies to arm their ships and to adopt best management practices that prevent pirate boardings in the first place. I give the commercial industry a great deal of credit for that enlightened self-interest. I know it is expensive and difficult but it has proven completely effective and that no ship that carries armed security has been hijacked, ever, to date.
The second is the extremely good and close cporporation between the naval forces from many nations who are working together productively off the Horn of Africa to disrupt and repress the pirate actions. They have really been really brilliant.
Third, I would say the increased willingness of countries to prosecute pirates in their national courts. Right now there are 1148 pirates either suspected or convicted in custody in 21 countries. We have put a significant dent in the prospective pirate population in that respect. So no longer can prospective pirates count on impunity from prosecution.
Fourth, and I think it is very important, Somali communities along the coastal areas of Somalia themselves have grown disgusted by the toxic and corrosive effect of pirates in their communities and they are starting to run the pirates out of town. Taken all together I think this strategy that we, the international community, and I use that term very inclusively, have adopted has really changed the landscape of the Horn of Africa.
Andersen: Let me ask you a follow-up question, and that’s the role played by the coalition of the navies from around the world. What do you think this gives (as an example) in terms of other threats in other parts of the world, the way this coalition has come together and is so effective?
Coordinator Hopkins: It is not actually a coalition and I would like to clarify that because “coalition” implies command and control. Instead you have three organized missions and a wide variety of national independent deployers who have simply chosen to collaborate. No one is in charge. No one has command. They deconflict and operate constructively, and that’s a new model of operation. When you think of the European Union’s Operation Atalanta, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, the Combined Maritime Forces’ CTF 151, and then navies from China, India, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, many countries are voluntarily collaborating to secure the maritime space. That’s a remarkable phenomenon.
“I think the West African situation is much more dangerous in the acute sense than the Somalia situation was in the chronic sense.” – Dr. Cartner
Andersen: Dr. Cartner, could you please describe the qualitative and quantitative differences that you perceive in the current situation vis-a-vis six months or a year ago?
Dr. Cartner: Thank you. I certainly concur that the Somali situation has become much more stabilized. And I think to a large extent the four factors which you (Coordinator Hopkins) have mentioned are those factors that have made that happen. What concerns me, however, is in West Africa. I think there is a qualitative and quantitative difference between the West African model of piracy and the one in Somalia. I find that in West Africa in particular the objective is purely money. This is not a business model. This is theft on the largest scale. Lives mean nothing. Lives mean very little. I think the West African situation is probably much more dangerous in the acute sense than the Somalia situation was in the chronic sense.
Coordinator Hopkins: Do you mind? I agree with you completely and I would like to add two more distinctive differences. One is that in Western Africa there are co-located sovereign governments who can come together to help address the issues they face with regards to maritime piracy. In the East, it is, or was, a single failed state with very long coastline with neighbors not necessarily able, even were they willing, to politically contribute to the solution. And I agree with you, sir, that the types of crime are very different. On the East, it was an organized kidnap-for-ransom model. In the West, we are starting to call long-endurance robbery schemes, illegal oil bunkering. The West is a trade destination; the East is a transit zone. So they are very different.
Dr. Cartner: … Paul Todd several years ago wrote a book on maritime fraud … wherein he described maritime fraud in its epitome as piracy, because it is the ultimate piracy in the maritime business. The West coast of West Africa, in particular Nigeria, has long been a hot bed of fraudulent schemes and piracy in one way or the other. Indeed, there were been thefts of entire ships just by paper in Nigeria. So I think that the Nigerian model in piracy is an exponent of that but is becoming violent now, [and] is a violent outgrowth of that essentially fraudulent way of viewing maritime world in Nigeria.
Coordinator Hopkins: And I am in a violent agreement with that philosophy. It is depressing when panelists all agree, but I agree with you. I would also say that it is the important not to misuse the term piracy. By definition piracy occurs “on the high seas,” whereas much of maritime crime we see in the Gulf of Guinea occurs in the territorial waters of those countries.
Dr. Cartner: I would beg to differ, gently, with that. This may be an appropriate operational definition of piracy for the current situation. However, in law, piracy is piracy is piracy. It requires four or five separate elements. So I would suggest that as a broad general scope of the explanation of piracy, we can use that broad definition for the purposes of these discussions, not necessarily for the purposes of what you are doing.
Coordinator Hopkins: I wouldn’t disagree with that, except that when it comes to the approaches countries can take to deal with piracy as is defined under UNCLOS Article 121. UNCLOS is different from the types of responses that the international community can bring to bear when trying to assist sovereign governments where a crime occurs in their territorial water.
Dr. Cartner: Within those limits, I fully concur.
“The Contact Group plays a role in facilitating these discussions. But I would say that the industry itself is the driver and mover with great support from the IMO, and the ISO, and other international standards and training organizations. This is an industry-generated response to a specific problem, and from the State Department and the political levels of the governments involved in the Contact Group we want to facilitate that going forward in a transparent way …” – Coordinator Hopkins
Andersen: Captain Watson, as the leader of an important PMSC, I would like to get your opinion in terms of the private maritime security what changes are you seeing concerning the vetting by flag states and by (the Security Association for Maritime Industry) SAMI, as well as the progress being made with ISO certifications, which seem to be key?
Captain Watson: … First of all, I have to say I feel like I am a bit like in Wimbledon between these two, going back and forth. (Laughter.) But you know… the tenure of the private maritime security operation in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and etc. has changed a lot over the past four years. When the Advanfort was first launched something over four years ago, there were only three or four companies in the business. Now there is something over 200, most of which have joined, through one international trade association called SAMI, as you mentioned, which initially sought to bring some order out of the chaos that was essentially the Wild West in the Indian Ocean and in that area.
Since then, flag states, coastal states and others have, as well as the oil majors and many owners, have brought extensive vetting programs to the bar to evaluate the value and the relative quality of the various maritime security companies … Some of the smaller ones are now dropping by the wayside. Because of the fact that there hasn’t been a successful piracy attack in over a year—there was never one when there was a team on board—we’re actually seeing some vessels transit, running the risk of trying to do it without security. And that is very risky out there, because there are still pirates. Our guards report on virtually on every transit the approach of suspicious craft. But they (pirates) have learned their lesson I believe by engagements of various armed teams on board. As soon as they see there is an armed team on board they turn around and look for easier prey. Fortunately they have not found that in the past year.
The vetting process has become much more stringent. SAMI has got an increasing number of companies, including AdvanFort, that have met their Stage 1 certification. Many of the PMSCs have sought accreditation through the ISO, the International Standards Organization, both through ISO 9001 and now through ISO 28007, which is specifically geared for maritime security companies. There are issues with that latter qualification, in that the vetting process has not been fully set down yet, so it is a challenge for the companies to actually undergo that system. Some of the larger flag states, like Panama, have got an extensive vetting process which AdvanFort underwent last year and was approved for. There are only really a few companies that have done that. But Panama is the largest single flag state, so it is a place you had to be. Other flag states are doing the same thing.
We had a meeting recently with Bob Gauvin (the executive director of piracy policy) from the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is taking a more active role, in conjunction with the State Department, as far as their overview of PMSCs that operate onboard U.S. flag vessels as well as those who operate on other vessels in the area. So it is an increasingly positive thing. We see the various vetting as kind of our report card in addition to the evaluations that we get from the shipmasters and company security officers. So we are leading the way. We want to see the vetting; we want to participate in it. And we want to be vetted by as many organizations as we can. At present, AdvanFort—in addition to SAMI—has been vetted and approved by the National Maritime Law Enforcement Academy. We were vetted, prior to (receiving) membership, by the Maritime Security Council. And we have been vetted by several flag states including Panama, as well as several oil majors.
Andersen: Let me follow up with a question on that, because it seems to me that the insurance companies are of critical importance on how they are assaying these changes. How do you think that they are viewing the current situation in and around the Indian Ocean and also now in and around Nigeria?
Captain Watson: The various P&I Clubs—Protection and Indemnity Clubs—which insure commercial ships can take a very active role in choosing which maritime security companies will be allowed on board various vessels and which ones won’t. And of course they are some of the ones who have to bear the burden when a piracy attack is successful.
Andersen: Coordinator Hopkins, I would like to follow up with you on that. The Contact Group that you head at the U.N. and the IMO have been working together to define legal and policy aspect of private armed security on commercial ships even as increasing numbers of companies are taking them on for their own protection. How are you assessing that whole formula? Do you think that you are coming to some important new levels (of cooperation) that you are able to share with us today?
Coordinator Hopkins: The short answer is ‘yes.’ The Contact Group plays a role in facilitating these discussions. But I would say that the industry itself is the driver and mover with great support from the IMO, and the ISO, and other international standards and training organizations. This is an industry-generated response to a specific problem, and from the State Department and the political levels of the governments involved in the Contact Group we want to facilitate that going forward in a transparent way, to make sure that it doesn’t across policy red lines, doesn’t violate national laws, or international treaties and guidelines. So the Contact Group really plays the role of facilitator and forum for discussion in that regard. But I give the industry itself a great deal of credit for moving this ball forward.
Andersen: One of the things I do as part of my job is I monitor what is being said by maritime professionals on places such as Linkedin. One school of thought says that private shipping companies can declare victory and go on their own. What I am hearing from you is that PMSCs remain vital to this whole process.
Coordinator Hopkins: Absolutely vital. The problems have not dissolved. The fundamental conditions in Somalia that generated the rise of piracy in 2008 have not fundamentally changed. The international community, and again in the most inclusive meaning of that term, has changed the dynamics at sea but has not fundamentally yet changed the dynamics ashore. And until that happens, until Somalia itself has a sustainable institutional capability to suppress piracy from operating ashore, there is going to be need for enlightened self-protection of ships and coordinated suppression of piracy at sea.
“There are some companies that have higher standards than others. I cannot speak to the standards of each company. But the vetting process we spoke of earlier is taking that into consideration and is taking a really hard look at the vetting, training and the disciplines that the guards are held to.” – AdvanFort President Watson
Andersen: Dr. Cartner, what are your concerns in terms of U.S. policy on armed guards used in the defense against piracy?
Dr. Cartner: I don’t really have a great many concerns. I think the U.S. policy is about the best policy that we can have quite frankly, because we are no longer in the piracy suppression business as we started the country in the 19th century. The Bay of Tunis is not our problem. The difficulty that the U.S has, if I may say so as a commercial outsider, is that one, we don’t have the money to go out and suppress pirates; two, that’s not our business right now, three, we have laws that the government must uphold and maintain, and four, acting as a coordinating and a central point and essentially—with great respect for this term—being a cheerleader for what’s been going on, is a very important role that the U.S. can take. Now the IMO, I must say, … has not taken the forefront to the extent that I think it may ought to have done. The U.S., however, has taken a leading role and I think it is very important for the suppression of the piracy.
Coordinator Hopkins: If I might; I agree with what you said. To be generous to the IMO, they tried really hard to take a leading role in the fight against piracy, but they are not equipped or manned to take it on at the political and judicial level. It is a technical agency of the United Nations. That is, people are largely maritime transport experts and their expertise is not foreign or security policy, nor are they able to convene the kind of broad-based approach to suppressing piracy that was necessary to develop, for instance, in naval coalitions and … to take a multi-pronged political approach that an ad hoc political Contact Group can do. The IMO has tried within its remit and capabilities to do what needs to be done and I give them a lot of credit for being a useful partner. It has taken all of us, including the IMO and the governments concerned, a while to organize ourselves and understand our comparative advantages in this respect. So as a team, and IMO is a very key player, but they cannot do what the Contact Group and frankly what other U.N. agencies can bring to this fight.
Dr. Cartner: I think it is a very good point. I also think we must keep in mind the place we are in maritime history. Traditionally, a flag state would give its license to a vessel, the vessel would trade under that flag, and the implicit contract would be that the flag state would support the vessel in various ways. That model is broken and has been broken since about the 1950s, when the flags of convenience began to rise. One should not expect, for example, the Panamanian navy to come across the horizon and defend one’s ships … The fact is that we are witnessing a change in the entire system of organization of flag state, owners, and that which the flag state does compared to what the owner must do for themselves. I think is it a very interesting time in the history to watch that; I don’t know where it is going to end up, but I do suspect that there is going to be ultimately a tautening of the flag standards, so that some of the states of convenience states are going to have to start being more responsive and responsible to what is going on.
Coordinator Hopkins: I agree completely and I wait for that day.
Dr. Cartner: If I may say something: In the maritime business we have been doing it for 5000 years, I am not holding my breath.
Coordinator Hopkins: Nor am I.
Andersen: You had said something that got me thinking in terms of the quality of the guards operating in and around East Africa… their backgrounds, training, vetting etc. … As a community, do you think that the PMSCs are actually operating there and winning more than just a passing grade or is there another dynamic a foot that is really separating different companies?
Captain Watson: By and large, yes. There are some companies that have higher standards than others. I cannot speak to the standards of each company. But the vetting process we spoke of earlier is taking that into consideration and is taking a really hard look at the vetting, training and the disciplines that guards are held to. Speaking for AdvanFort, I can say that all of our guards have military experience, at least five years of exemplary military experience. All of them have been closely vetted. They had civil and criminal background checks as well as a look into their military history. They have gone through extensive training. They also, by the way, go through psychological screening, as well as drug screening, and medical screening to ensure that they are at their top fitness game when they are out there, because this is a very arduous theater of operations. … All of our guards carry their seaman’s cards and seaman’s books. They all go through STCW95 training. They all go through what we call “customs and courtesies” training for operating aboard commercial ships, because one of the things we have to do in some cases with these guards who are former marines or Royal marines, former navy, or other military services, we have to train them. … (T)he role of the military is primarily to kill people and break things. Our guards are trained to be there strictly as a defensive measure. We train them to operate as a part of a ship’s company, to respect the crew, to respect and interact closely with the captain, the first officer and the ship’s security officer, and basically to carry out a … cadre of responsibilities that (include) doing an evaluation of the BMP4, or best management practices 4th level, hardening of the vessel when they come aboard; advising the captain and the company security officer if any improvements need to made, then the training and drills that are undertaken with and for the crew, and for their interaction as part of the watch standing team and the defensive team through the life of the transit. It is a very complicated operation and one that we take very, very seriously.
Andersen: In some ways it sounds as if it is more like law enforcement than military training that is needed.
Captain Watson: Well, no, because we don’t arrest pirates. That is not our agency. It is truly security it is a defensive security posture. And, in fact, our guards are trained, if they ever need to fire their weapons, they are trained not to fire at the pirates but fire at their outboard motors. Because our goal, if there is an interaction with the pirates, is to leave them floating dead in the water and let the navy come and pick them up. And let the people who are actually trained in arrest and prosecution procedures take the game from there.
A few months back, when I was lecturing at Little Creek down at the Navy Amphibious School, I was interacting with a number of U.S. naval officers. And there was a disconnect between military thinking and commercial shipping thinking as far the mission, as far as what can be done, and as far as how it can be done. But, luckily over the past year, the PMSCs have been successful at their mission; again there hasn’t been any successful hijacking ever when there was an armed PMSC team on board. And at present there have been very, very few hard attacks. Most of them have been what we call approaches or near misses. …
“Responsible companies should, and I believe do, adhere to high standards of training, clear rules on the use of force, and accountability to their clients; as long as that is the professional model, as AdvanFort seems to embody. This is a relatively new industry that is going to require a lot of self-policing and self-standards. But it has been our observation that they are rising to the challenge.” – Coordinator Hopkins
Andersen: Ms. Hopkins, do you have any particular view on the lessons learned in this regard and from the private maritime security companies, what that vetting and the other processes actually do and how important that is.
Coordinator Hopkins: It is extremely important. I would say that the three most important aspects of PMSCs, or privately contracted armed security personnel on ships, are the quality of standards and training; clear guidance on rules for the use of force, and accountability to the clients, to their employers. The responsible companies should, and I believe do, adhere to high standards of training, clear rules on the use of force, and accountability to their clients; as long as that is the professional model, as AdvanFort seems to embody. This is a relatively new industry that is going to require a lot of self-policing and self-standards. But it has been our observation that they are rising to the challenge.
Captain Watson: If I may just to address something Donna said. There is a new, growing internationally-accepted set of rules on the use of force, the Series 100 rules, which have been put forward by SAMI and which we have adopted. We are very fastidious and, again, we are a defensive force, not an offensive force. We are not on a pirate safari. We are there to protect the ship, its crew and its cargo and not to engage with pirates as a matter of sport. Again, as Donna said, vetting is critical. We embrace that. We are even looking forward to that becoming even tighter.
Andersen: Dr. Cartner. do you think what is happening right now is economic consolidation in the armed guard provider market, or do you think that best practices really make the difference in that regard?
Dr. Cartner: I think they are two different things. I think in any market, and this is certainly an open market worldwide, as the market matures, as the demands for the market increase in precision, the lesser players fall out. They don’t have the capital to maintain themselves at the standards that are required by their customers, by their buyers, by their demanders. I think the capitalized companies will be compelled to maintain best practices and also be compelled to maintain the kinds of practices which you have been talking about Will, which I think are extraordinarily important. My fear, when the so-called armed guards debate started several years ago, was the same fear of everyone else: going to West Africa, picking up handful of people who had been one of the indigenous armies, and putting them on the ship to shoot people—buckaroos and cowboys. I am pleased to say, and I watched this develop slowly, carefully and very well, and there are leading companies now in the business who have tried very, very hard to maintain the standards, and to maintain the requirements of law in dealing with this very difficult situation.
Andersen: In those areas most of affected by piracy, which states do you think have been models in the acting national legislation, regulations and/or policies to enable and oversee the use of PMSCs?
Coordinator Hopkins: I think that’s hard to say because it is really an emerging market and a new area. Different companies and countries handle this issue slightly differently. And that is the value of the working groups and the Contact Group, that can allow for open discourse in a multilateral setting that includes company representatives and industry representatives, so there can be an open exchange about what kinds of legislation, regulation, and oversight is appropriate, enforceable, and useful. So I would not single out any particular country as doing a better job than others. Again, governments like ours, the U.S. government, are watching the industry develop. It is not that we wouldn’t step in and say: “Hold it just a minute,” if we thought we were going in the wrong direction. They have not. And I think the other countries who have major shipping industries who are invested in this market development have a similar kind of watch, wait and see, hands off, until there is some requirement for government intervention.
“There has been a very interesting and lively discussion among governments vis-à-vis the use of privately-contracted armed security personnel over vessel protection detachments, which are paramilitary or military forces assigned to guard commercial ships. The pros and cons of each of them … an interesting conversation that has yet to completely play out, but I would say that I think the privately-contracted armed security paradigm is gaining predominance primarily because these are very expensive for countries to employ.” – Coordinator Hopkins
Andersen: Since it is an emerging market, it seems to me that questions that even amongst the closest allies of the U.S., for example Italy and India, have had problems understanding each other’s point of view and to make sure that all sides are protected, that all legitimate sides are protected. Do you have a particular view on what’s happening in India today?
Coordinator Hopkins: No, and I don’t think I want to comment on an ongoing case that’s being dealt with in the courts and the senior levels of two foreign governments. I don’t think that would be appropriate. I will say there has been a very interesting and lively discussion among governments vis-à-vis the use of privately-contracted armed security personnel over vessel protection detachments, which are paramilitary or military forces assigned to guard commercial ships. The pros and cons of each of them—because they have very different ways of operating, different mandates and potentially different authorities and jurisdiction at play. That’s an interesting conversation that has yet to completely play out, but I would say that I think the privately-contracted armed security paradigm is gaining predominance primarily because these are very expensive for countries to employ.
Dr. Cartner: I concur with that. I think that one of the points—you made three points earlier regarding these particular matters—the fourth point is affordability; the costs, efficiency and affordability. Because as this market matures, there will reach a point where the best players are going to be fiercely competitive, attempting to provide the services at the standards necessary and but still be competitive economically. And I think that there is nothing tighter than a ship owner’s wallet. I can assure you that the market will be driven down to a level wherein a ship owner will get—I will use the term as an economic term—adequate service or service meeting all requirements, but it must be affordable. That is notwithstanding the fact that piracy in and of itself is a very small amount of money compared to the world economy. It is still a nettle in our sides; it is a thorn in our sides, and we must suppress this.
Andersen: You know, as a journalist, one looks at (maritime) piracy and says that so much of what is discussed in the media has to do with what happens on the high seas. Yet there is a larger question as to the people behind piracy—whether or not it is effectively transnational organized crime and what international rules and laws are doing to help protect against the spreading of this kind of problem? Do you have any particular thoughts on that?
Coordinator Hopkins: Oh yes. I would argue that piracy off the coast of Somalia until 2008 was a low-level mom and pop, clan- and family-based enterprise that didn’t bring a lot of money and didn’t unduly upset the commercial powers that be. That calculus changed in late 2008, when a vessel called the MV Faina, which was carrying heavy weapons for a destination in Northern Africa that I won’t name, and the MV Sirius Star, which was the Saudi Arabian oil tanker was seized and subsequently ransomed for 12 million dollars. That got the attention of criminals who could organize, who had the capability of organizing at a much higher level than the mom and pap clans in the coastal villages of Somalia. I would argue from then in early 2009, it really became a transnational enterprise became increasingly organized. It is still a clan-based criminal enterprise. It is really a set of criminal enterprises with clan bases. Kidnapping for ransom industrial scale industry. And because Somalia has a limited ability to absorb that amount of cash, there has to be laundering and transferring to different countries. The international community has taken serious note of that fact since 2009 and has organized in ways that are becoming increasingly effective to identify the facilitators, organizers and financiers, and to attack them using the same kind of tools we used in the United States in 1950s against the Mafia—RICO, racketeering, anti-corruption, anti-money laundering kinds of rules and that is increasingly starting to make itself felt. I won’t be more specific than that but I would say clearly it is transnational and, to some degree, organized crime.
Dr. Cartner: I can speak about that as a private citizen and as a commercial person. Transnational crime is clear and evident worldwide. Transnational criminals typically have the mode of operation such that, if the money gets sufficiently attractive, they are utterly amoral about where the money comes from—they will get into the market. We have in the past the traditional iron triangle of guns, drugs and human trafficking. Now we can throw in some piracy there. That’s fun to do and it can be quite lucrative. This is an ancient model, by the way. The crowns started this model, in modern times, in the latter part of the 15th century. The Crown made huge sums of money on slave trading, because it took 30 percent of the profits after capitalizing slave traders. This is not an untrue or untried model. It does exist and I can tell you with the amounts of money thrown off, particularly in the drug trades, that money has to go somewhere, and if better return can be made in things like piracy, it will go there.
Captain Watson: If I may, I want to point out that—and Donna is correct on this—without going into too much detail, there are shopping malls, and condominiums, and luxury homes popping up all over East Africa, that were funded by these kidnapping ransom dollars. Additionally, while we are handing kudos, I want to hand out specific kudos to the FBI, Interpol, DEA, and number of other law enforcement agencies worldwide that have brought traditional models of combating things like drug smuggling and money laundering to bear to try to track down the kingpins of the smuggling rings and have done so in some cases—and some have been brought to the bar.
“A precursor (to legal reform) must be the suppression of corruption. … because if the bureaucracy in a state such as Somalia cannot pay its government employees sufficiently well so they don’t have to find money elsewhere, they don’t have much of a government.” – Dr. Cartner
Andersen: Brass-tack law enforcement seems really key to a lot of this now, but also when you are dealing either with a failed state, like Somalia, or places in West Africa, where the countries seem incapable of moving by themselves to the place they needed to be, what do you think of the role of U.S. government agencies like USAID is in this—to help promote more effective counter piracy?
Coordinator Hopkins: They are certainly part of the equation and always have been. Development aid, economic assistance, recovery from civil war and strife—that’s very important and that is a good unto itself and hopefully will have salutary effects on those people who might otherwise not be attracted to piracy if they had economic alternatives. They are an important part of that. But I think, more to the point, capacity building programs, such as those run by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime to improve police training, improve forensic capability, improve law enforcement, improve judicial capacity, build and improve the capacity of prisons, is really key to this. We are talking about building the capacity to enforce laws. A precursor to that has to be the ability to actually pass laws, which is not as simple as it sounds.
Dr. Cartner: A precursor to that must be the suppression of corruption.
Coordinator Hopkins: Absolutely.
Dr. Cartner: Because if the bureaucracy in a state such as Somalia cannot pay its government employees sufficiently well so they don’t have to find money elsewhere, they don’t have much of a government. That’s one of the problems in West Africa right now. …
Andersen: Dr. Cartner, what are the differences you see in the Somali model and the West African model in terms of piracy’s tactical approaches.
Dr. Cartner: First of all, I think the West Africans can be extraordinarily vicious, wantonly so. I think the objective of the Somali model was to make money in, hard to say this in a way, in a less violent way; a gentler and a kinder way to make money. … Kidnapping, for example and ransom. …
The West African model can be sustained up to the point that governments involved get tired of it and use stronger force to suppress those forces. In the Somali model, it was a low-key thing, a few million here and a few million there, pretty soon it added up to real money. Then it became vicious in 2009—I agree with that, but I think slightly before that—with some of the kidnappings and torturings. But the fact is that they are both qualitatively and quantitatively different. The traditions in Somalia and those in Nigeria are different. I think you have to take those into account when comparing the two of them.
Andersen: Ms. Hopkins, the experiences with what are called “floating armories” have created no little controversy in the counter-piracy community. Overall, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of using such systems? And what more do you think needs to be done to ensure best practices are adopted as legal requirements?
Coordinator Hopkins: The advent of floating armories is a logical outcome of the fact that private maritime security companies need ways to transfer weapons and arm people on and off the ships that they are guarding in transit through countries. And the complexity and lack of homogeneity and standardization among port states with regard to regulations on transportation and the carriage of arms have given rise to floating armories. Most of these floating armories operate in international waters, which makes it rather difficult for the flag states concerned to exercise effective oversight. From the government perspective, we have some concerns about this. We haven’t jumped into this fray yet because we are watching it develop. But we have concerns about the inherent safety of these vessels, their vulnerability to corruption or diversion by malignant actors. …
Andersen: Including pirates?
Coordinator Hopkins: Including pirates, but especially terrorists or others with malign intent. We are also, of course, concerned from an arms proliferation and export control, trade and arms regulation perspective. Flag states have responsibility in this regard. Not all are willing or able to exercise effective oversight in that regard. So we are watching the development with a fairly high degree of interest but not yet acute concern.
Andersen: Dr. Cartner …
Dr. Cartner: I think you are exactly right. The problem comes back with these floating armories to flag-state control, which is the dominant law in the armories in international waters. The problem, however, goes directly back to what I mentioned earlier which are flags of convenience—the inability of a flag state to act responsibly for what is going on on its vessels. One can flag currently 168 flag schemes. Not all active but one can flag just about anywhere one wants and sometimes for a very small amount of money. That, to my mind, is the core problem with the floating armories, because there will be no control if the low bidder gets the flag. There can be no control. As to the abuse of the armories, yes, they are going to be abused. I have no doubt of it. I see it coming. I can smell it coming. It is over the horizon. It will be here. It will be something low key at first. Then there will be substantial abuse, then everyone will pay attention to it. One of the problems that we found when I wrote my 2009 book on small arms and armed guards was the heterogeneity of laws across the various states. Most states had very weak laws or regulations for transit of arms, importation of arms. As for armed guards, frequently the concept was not even existing in law. That has changed to some extent. We are doing a revision of that book now and we’re finding some interesting changes. But, by and large, the strong states are policing these things very well; the weak states are not.
Captain Watson: If I may speak to that for a moment, only because AdvanFort does operate a fleet of vessels in the area of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean as well. But they are different. The difference is that the true floating armories are third-party vessels that are operated by the one company and store weapons for a number of companies. And they basically serve as a commercial warehouse, if you will, for a variety of types of arms and ammunition. Our vessels are specifically held by us, by AdvanFort. They are crewed by an AdvanFort crew. The only teams onboard are AdvanFort teams and the only weapons are owned by AdvanFort, and all of the weapons and all of the ammunition are properly licensed at the country of purchase, has the appropriate export permits there and appropriate end user certificates in all of the port there where they are then embarked to ships or onshore for back-up armories. It is an important distinction: That our vessels are our vessels for our use only. And so it is really no different than having an armed team onboard on someone else’s vessel. Ours is for our use.
Dr. Cartner: The market would demand such a thing to occur and has demanded it, and here it is, because of the reduction in cost and essentially a hub-and-spoke kind of operation.
Captain Watson: Exactly. The real benefit we find is that these are forward positioning platforms for our guards; we are able to position our vessels at the sea lane in international waters. When a client’s vessel is coming by, rather than having to divert to meet an agent vessel or to go into a port to embark their team, we simply embark or disembark at the sea line without the vessel ever stopping.
“What Contact Group has achieved is unique, collaborative, low-cost, low-overhead, easily-dismantled, construct for dealing with a shared challenge. It is a very good model … and I would say the academic community and the NGOs are taking note as being a new ‘governance model’ which … (because) it is low overhead, no command and control, makes it politically accessible and palatable to unprecedented array of actors.” – Coordinator Hopkins
Andersen: You have been a big advocate of accountability and, to paraphrase President Truman, it seems like the buck stops at Advanfort, in a positive sense.
Captain Watson: We would like to think so. … I come from the maritime industry, not per se from the military, so I wore my maritime hat when I was coming into this, working on behalf of needs and accountabilities of flag states and owners and operators, charterers. masters, and their crews. That’s one of the reasons we established Advanfort where we have, trying to meet that need as equitably as possible.
Andersen: Ms. Hopkins, I have a question for you. If you would have to point to just one or two contributions you have been able to make as the head of Contact Group, what do you are key for the world community to move ahead on and to tailor to meet the future threats, what would those be? …
Coordinator Hopkins: I have to tell you if there was ever a team effort in the greatest sense of the words that would be the Contact Group. What Contact Group has achieved is unique, collaborative, low-cost, low-overhead, easily-dismantled, construct for dealing with a shared challenge. It is a very good model … and I would say the academic community and NGOs are taking note as being a new “governance model” which thrills me to no end because I was there at the inception and I helped guided it, but I cannot take credit for its success. The fact that it is low overhead, no command and control makes it politically accessible and palatable to unprecedented array of actors. And we have had enormous success because of the willingness of different participants from governments, from industry, from NGOs, from humanitarian organizations, from formal organizations, to work together collaboratively toward a common goal.
Dr. Cartner: I would say the group is necessary because everybody hates pirates. If you have a neutral group in which everybody who hates pirates can show up, that is pretty good.
Coordinator Hopkins: Yes, it is.
Dr. Cartner: … And I congratulate you for that.
Captain Watson: If I may say: Prior to joining Advanfort, when I was wearing a different hat, I was a representative to the Contact Group for several years prior to coming aboard Advanfort. I have to say that Ms. Hopkins and the rest of the delegation from the U.S.—not the least of which are the U.S. Maritime Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, various Federal law enforcement agencies, and others—have taken a real leadership role in helping guide and forge the various rules, agreements, and conventions that have come out of it. Everything from the New York Declaration, which was one of the first meaningful documents that has come out of that, to the Washington agreement, to various other agreements that have come out. Delegates to the United Nations who often carry their flags on their shoulders, check their egos at the door when they go to into the Contact room. Because everyone knows that the enemy there is transnational crime and piracy, and they all come in prepared to deal with it.
Coordinator Hopkins: And I would like to make a closing comment. The United States probably does deserve some of this credit, but by all means not all of it. There are number of very proactive, very generous, unselfish, hardworking governments, countries, and organizations who have collectively contributed to our success.
“We need to really pay attention to West Africa. Ideally, I would like to see over there the various nations of West Africa join together like the nations surrounding the Malacca Straits did some years ago. It was done by the cooperation of nations like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, that piracy in the Malaccan Straits was eventually largely dismantled. West Africa is the next thing on the horizon. It is on everybody’s lips and in everybody’s concerns and we all are trying to fix that” – Captain Watson
Andersen: Thank you. Before going to our final arguments, I would like to find out from you, Ms. Hopkins, as a woman, 50 years ago in the State Department, women in important positions were virtually nonexistent, and yet today that has totally changed. In the maritime field, what do you think are a woman’s particular contribution to make in this dialogue? Have you found something, because you have been path breaking in that regard? Is there something you think is particularly useful to the dialogue? I am asking to assume your own success here. What do you think it is a woman can offer that perhaps has been missing in this dialogue?
Coordinator Hopkins: I don’t think you really want me to open that hornet’s nest. (Laugh.) To be blunt, I do think women bring a particular perspective to relationship building, team building, and common problem solving. At the most basic level, it is a hormonal-endocrinological response to survival. I’ve worked for and with wonderful men and wonderful women and some very difficult men and difficult women and I am not sure that gender is really the determinant of success in any profession, including the naval profession. It is really individual, drive, skills and success. I am very proud that the United States [is] becoming more of a diverse and representational kind of society. We have a long way to go. Every country does. I think we are heading in the right direction.
Dr. Cartner: I want to say that the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point in 1978 graduated the first federal service academy class that had females. We had great trepidation about that at the time. As things developed, we became very, very enthusiastic about a gender-neutral industry. I think that has become the case of many, many of the advanced states of the world, because women bring wonderful different perspective to what we do and they do it very well.
Andersen: Do you have any final comments as we wrap up?
Dr. Cartner: One, to Mr. Watson: I think Advanfort is the leader in what is going on here on the commercial side and I think that the maintenance of that leadership position is very important to bring other, similar, groups along. I think it is very important that it be aware of that leadership role. And, again, I say the U.S. government has done an exemplary job with the Coordinating Group in allowing a neutral forum to exist for everyone’s use, for everyone’s debating ability, and for the coordination of what’s going on worldwide in attempting to suppress not only piracy, but also the scourge of transnational crime.
Captain Watson: Well, two points and they both circle on the same thing. One is there has not been a successful piracy attack in over a year now, just over a year. But I don’t want people to think piracy has gone away, that pirates have packed up their guns and their skiffs, and moved inland. They are still out there. They are still looking for targets of convenience to take. So I think that’s important that ship owners, operators, and charterers need to consider the threat of piracy when planning a voyage on, or near, or in the High-Risk Area. And I believe it is important for the various nations who have lent their navies to this cause to remember that it is important to leave them there; that this is not over yet and the navies are playing an incredibly valuable role; that they have to be there and they need to be there. So let’s keep our eye on the ball and make sure that we don’t let Somali piracy come back the way it has in the past.
But the other thing is we need to really pay attention to West Africa. Ideally, I would like to see over there the various nations of West Africa join together like the nations surrounding the Malacca Straits did some years ago. It was by the cooperation of nations like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, that piracy in the Malaccan Straits was eventually largely dismantled. West Africa is the next thing on the horizon. It is on everybody’s lips and in everybody’s concerns and we all are trying to fix that.
Andersen: Ms. Hopkins?
Coordinator Hopkins: I would just like to assure Mr. Watson that we, the U.S. government and the international community, are watching West Africa with very great interest, and we are very proactive in getting the economic communities of the West African states, the East African states and the Central states to work together in a coordinated way. Because when you are talking about interrupting the particular model of piracy we see in the Gulf of Guinea, regional and littoral state ownership is absolutely critical because of the rule of law and the primacy of the jurisdiction of the territorial nations. I thank you both very much for your comments. AdvanFort really is leading the way. Keep the bar high; that is really important. And I am very pleased to be validated by a respected academic who knows from where he speaks.
Andersen: Thank you very much for joining us today. I know that Coordinator Hopkins’ very busy schedule means that her being here with us today is both enlightening and a real treat to all of us on the panel and those who are watching. Thank you to Dr. Cartner and Captain Watson for their own efforts to eliminate some of the most pressing challenges we face today on the high seas. Looking forward to seeing you again in this continuing series from Maritime TV.