GMI PhD student talks about private maritime security at conference in Gdansk

With his presentation about challenges for private and naval operations in African waters, Dirk Siebels was the GMI’s representative at MAST Europe in Gdansk from 4 to 6 June. His talk was an insight into his PhD research and attracted a number of questions from senior naval officers and defence industry representatives in the audience.

Maritime Systems and Technology (MAST) is one of the most important conferences for the maritime security sector. The tenth edition of MAST was held in Poland’s largest port city Gdansk. More than 700 attendees from 40 nations attended the conference. Presentations included a number of highly specialised topics, ranging from autonomous underwater vehicles to countermeasures against pirate attacks.

In his presentation, Dirk compared developments in maritime security in East and West Africa. Highlighted by the rise of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, he explained efforts undertaken by the United States and the European Union and pointed out future challanges for navies and private security providers.

Regarding the use of private maritime security companies (PMSCs), the main focus was on differences between operations in East and West Africa. Another important aspect for an audience that included senior officers from various European navies was the cooperation between private companies and naval forces in the Indian Ocean.

The next part of Dirk’s presentation were efforts at regulation of PMSCs as well as measuring their performance. Currently, there are very different rules and regulations in different flag states yet there is no data regarding the actual performance of armed guards on merchant ships. For his research, Dirk is cooperating with the Security Association of the Maritime Industry (SAMI) and the Marshall Islands shipping registry. As the third-biggest flag state, the Marshall Islands are taking a keen interest in measuring the quality of security teams onboard their vessels and have developed a questionnaire for ship operators and masters.

At the end of his talk, Dirk gave a brief outlook to the future of private maritime operations. After the industry has grown into a billion-dollar industry within just a few years, it seems unlikely that it will go away as soon as the piracy problems on both sides of the African continent are under control. Oil and gas production is moving more and more offshore, even East African countries such as Mozambique or Tanzania are on the verge of becoming major exporters. It may open up another potential market for private security providers. There are, however, a lot of legal and other challenges involved so it will remain an interesting topic for the foreseeable future.

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