Weapons to flood black market as PMSCs go bust

A leading private maritime security company (PMSC) has warned that thousands of weapons could flood the black market as PMSCs go bust.

Estonia’s ESC Global Security (ESCGS), while welcoming the decision by the Contact Group for Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to reduce the size of the Indian Ocean High Risk Area, is concerned the review could lead to a flood of weapons on to the black market.

ESCGS chief operating officer Madis Madalik said: “The geographical reduction to the Indian Ocean HRA from December 1 is good news for shipping but my main concern is what will happen to the arsenal of very sophisticated weapons that bankrupt PMSCs have stored in floating armouries.”

It has been common practice for private maritime security companies to rent from or store weapons aboard floating armouries operating in international waters, but with more security firms expected to close in the coming months their weapons could remain unaccounted for.

“The past four years has seen the number of licensed PMSCs more than halve, as companies reel from a reduced requirement for security aboard vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden, and more are expected to go under,” said Madalik.

The International Maritime Bureau reported in July that in the first six months of 2015 no vessels had been attacked in the Gulf of Aden or Red Sea.

“If the floating armouries go out of business or if their clients are unable to pay to get their weapons back for decommissioning or proper disposal, then what will these armourers do with them: throw them overboard, sell them? This is a major concern,” Madalik said.

“The lack of regulation here has the potential to irrevocably damage the reputation and credibility of the entire PMSC industry.”

The maritime storage of weapons is currently unregulated and while it is difficult to know exactly the number of floating armouries in operation or the security risks they pose, a number of the vessels used in this opaque sector of the industry will be flagged with registers that are blacklisted or, indeed, unlisted.

“There is certainly no register of vessels or barges operating as armouries and no inventories of the weapons they store,” said Madalik, who estimated that about 15,000 weapons and 4m rounds of ammunition could be stored in Indian Ocean armouries alone. The weapons stored are typically small arms and semi-automatic, long-range rifles.

“This is a serious issue and one that is being addressed at an international level,” said Peter Cook, ceo of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI).

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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