Captured vessels used by the pirates as motherships have afforded the Somali pirates a great deal more range

Captured vessels used by the pirates as motherships have afforded the Somali pirates a great deal more range (Source: US Navy)

Earlier, I posted a translation of a Sankei Shimbun report on the Japanese government’s investigation into possibly stationing armed guards on Japanese ships as a means of protection against pirates operating out of Somalia. It seems that the October issue of SAPIO, a weekly politics magazine, looked at this very issue and how Japanese ships are turning to private military companies for protection. A rough translation follows:

Sri Lankan Ex-Soldiers Employed to Protect Japanese Ships From Somali Pirates

PMCs (Private Military Companies), who provide former special forces members as armed security in conflict zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, assuming some of the roles of military forces, may seem to some like tales from a distant land. However, right now, the safety of Japanese shipping has been entrusted to these security personnel. News cameraman Toru Yokota reports on the “Ocean Frontline”.

* * *

It started with the words of Yoshitaka Someya from the legal office of a Tokyo-based shipping company:

“Somali pirates have advanced as far as the Indian Ocean and caused a huge hike in insurance premiums. If it is left like this, our business is doomed.”

To protect Japanese merchant shipping from these Somali pirates, attacking civilian vessels from their small boats, and taking hostages for ransom, the 2009 Piracy Countermeasures Law was enacted, and the Self-Defense Forces were dispatched. It is thus well-known that piracy poses a threat, but it may be surprising to discover that this piracy extends across the whole of the Indian Ocean.

Someya: “While the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and other nations’ militaries have been dispatched to the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, they are limited by the reality of having to cover a vast area of ocean. The Somali pirates skilfully avoid the patrolled areas, and have recently become able to operate across the whole of the Indian Ocean using a seized freighter as a mothership from which to launch small raiding craft.”

Because of this, insurance premiums for freighters have jumped up since January this year across not only the dangerous regions around the Gulf of Aden, but also in zones across the whole of the Indian Ocean labelled dangerous by insurance company assessments.

“Even so, shipping companies across the world have largely prohibited sailors from being armed, a situation that is of course understood by the pirates. So, if civilian vessels are attacked by pirates, they can only speed up to escape or fight back using fire-hoses. However, these means alone cannot possibly guarantee their safety.”

As a result of this situation, Someya’s company have decided upon a course of action that hasn’t yet been attempted by Japanese companies. The car carrier ship “Shen Tsu”, registered out of Hong Kong and loading in Japan, is experimenting with carrying armed security personnel comprised mainly of former Sri Lanka Navy personnel as it travels towards the Persian Gulf via Sri Lanka. But why Sri Lankan armed security?

Someya explains:

“In the past, we used British PMCs, but while we have to ensure our security, we are are a private enterprise. We cannot ignore costs. While I can’t tell you the name of the Sri Lankan security firm, its armed security personnel fought in the civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam just two years ago. They are experienced ex-servicemen, we have more than enough confidence in them. They cost less than half what British companies charge.”

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch