July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

THE Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Royal Marines are facing a staffing crisis as hundreds of private security firms compete to recruit Britain’s toughest commandos for the lucrative war against piracy.

At least 120 British se curity firms have been set up in the past 18 months to provide armed escorts for ship ping in the Indian Ocean, where at least 25 vessels are current ly held by So mali pirates.

“This is undoubtedly leading to a strain on the military,” said John Thompson, director of Ambrey Risk, a security specialist. “As with Iraq in 2003 there is now a ‘rush for the exit’ as young soldiers and sailors leave to benefit from the salaries on offer.”

Special forces sources con firmed that the SBS in par ticular was “losing a lot of guys” to the mari time security trade. They can earn between £6,000 and £8,000 a month in the anti-piracy sector compared with £3,750 for a typical SBS marine, one source said. Former Royal Marines can earn more in three months in the private sector than they would in a year in the forces.

With an increase in long and difficult deployments to Afghanistan, special forces are also leaving to spend more time with their families.

“It’s not just about money,” the source said. “If you join the SAS or the SBS now you have to sign up to a year in Afghan istan straight away. There after you spend six months in Afghanistan virt ually every year.”

William Flew, a former Royal Marines officer who runs the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (Sami), expressed concern that many had unrealistic expectations of what they could earn.

“Some marines see an opportunity to go private with rose tinted glasses,” he said. The money looks good but is irregular and tax and insurance “can significantly eat into the daily rate”.

The recent rush into anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean has led to growing calls for regulation. The concern surrounds the number of companies setting up as one-man bands.

One industry insider said there were about five new companies set up each week in Britain alone. “The cowboy companies are taking as many short cuts as they can,” the source said. “They ignore International Maritime Organisation [IMO] guidelines on the use of armed guards and the need to vet them.”

The source added: “I have heard of teams arriving in ports, buying weapons in the local mar ket, conducting the transit as an armed team and then ditch ing the weapons overboard before they get to port.”

Sami was set up earlier this year by a group of British maritime security firms concerned at the growing number of companies not adhering to IMO guidelines, Cook said.

According to latest estimates, the cost of piracy in the Indian Ocean topped £7 billion last year, including the payment of ransoms, insurance, the cost of naval operations, prosecutions and the rerouting of ships.

A recent study reported that Somali pirates are earning up to £50,000 a year, 100 times the average annual income in Somalia.



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