Firms bid for contracts to fight pirates in Somalia
Carol Huang, The National, April 20, 2011
Eager to capitalise on the rising threat of Somali piracy, private security firms are lining up to win contracts to train maritime forces in Somalia.
And while the international community backs the idea of building up Somali forces to fight piracy, it is raising eyebrows about the prospect of unregulated training and arming programmes that could later backfire.
Nevertheless, more than 100 security firms have made pitches for contracts, said Saeed Mohamed Rage, the government minister overseeing counter-piracy for the Somali region of Puntland, where most pirates come from. Some 20 firms had made offers in two days at an anti-piracy conference that ended in Dubai yesterday, he said. “Mostly they are European companies, Germans, Americans – a lot.”
Conference participants, including senior UN and government officials and industry executives from 50 countries, acknowledged the need for such a force.
In a statement, they endorsed “the provision of co-ordinated training as well as material and financial resources to improve land-based security capacity”.
Likewise Jack Lang, until recently the UN special adviser on piracy, identified local security as one of three pillars for his recommended solution, which was largely incorporated into a UN Security Council resolution passed last week.
“Police and on-land coast guards must be reinstalled in the pirate zones,” he told the conference yesterday. “The international community must support this initiative … notably through training.”
But the prospect of privately-trained forces in Somalia – already a warring, fractionalised and heavily-armed country – has also raised concerns.
Although the international community cannot ban private security firms from the country, under a UN arms embargo, the UN would need to approve any weapons they supplied. The many firms eyeing the counter-piracy market needed to be open about their activities, said Col RJ Steed, a senior military adviser with the UN Political Office for Somalia. “Private security companies must comply with the sanctions-monitoring regime and they can only be used in a clear, transparent and open way so that their activities do not destabilise the region,” he said. “We need to be very careful.”
The UN is training 500 Somali police officers in a US$10 million (Dh36.7m) programme, but not in counter-piracy.
Donna Hopkins, a counter-piracy co-ordinator for the US State Department, said that private security firms should wait until Somalia passed a law regulating such forces. They should also ensure their forces would be sustainable, she said.
“Buying a bunch of boats and sticking guns in the hands of sailors that are half-trained is a backwards way to do it,” she said. “First you develop the laws, then you build up the structures, then you develop the revenue streams, then you buy the equipment, then you train the people.”
Halliday Finch, a Nairobi-based firm that is seeking funds to build a 1,500-strong maritime police force on behalf of the government in Mogadishu, said it followed such steps.
The company had already trained 500 non-maritime police, said the chief executive Sam Mattock, and had kept the UN and other organisations abreast of its activities. The firm has drafted a law for the government to submit to parliament that would regulate maritime police. “We’ve said, let’s do this properly, let’s make it transparent,” he said. “No secrets.”