In a week-long operation in June 2010, 6 vessels were attacked and robbed over a 130-mile span while in a nearby strait armed security contractors kept watch for the pirate threat.1 The same waters have played host to a “sophisticated syndicate…deploying speedboats from motherships” with raiding parties able to “board, rob, and disembark a vessel with ﬁfteen minutes without the bridge knowing.”2 The location was not the Somali coastline or the Bab el-Mandeb, but rather 4,000 miles to the east, among the Anambas Islands and the Singapore Strait.
For the past decade or so, when people thought of private military contractors (PMCs)3 they typically thought of land-force outfits like the Academi formerly known as Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince. During this same period, the word “piracy” generally brought to mind skiffs plying the waters of the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Guinea. Others have written elsewhere on this site that some of the more interesting uses of PMCs during this timeframe have in fact been in combating (or attempting to combat) the now-diminished pirate scourge off East Africa in the form of private maritime security companies (PMSCs). Yet historically one of the greatest epicenters of piracy has been in the waters of South and Southeast Asia. If the region, already home to PMSCs operating in a variety of capacities and more than one-third of the world’s seaborne-oil trade, faces a resurgence of piracy, it may see a similar growth in PMSCs.4 This article will touch briefly on the historic precedents, preconditions encouraging the presence of PMSCs, and regional factors affecting their utility.
Precedents and Prevalence
South and Southeast Asia have long been home to private and quasi-private security arrangements. Cdr. Chris Rawley, U.S. Navy Reserve, notes that “historically, the line between privateering and piracy has been a thin one. From the 15th to the 19th century, pirates were often employed as a political tool by the Malay states to resist colonization by disrupting trade of the British and Dutch. Conversely, in the mid-1800s, the British East India Company’s private armies protected shipping in Malacca from pirates.”
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