The Piracy Problem

Secure Waters CEO Corey Ranslem discusses intelligence and countermeasures for pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden

Piracy continues to grab the national headlines, and with the taking of large vessels that are being held for ransoms of many millions of dollars, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden (between Somalia and Yemen) are a top concern for worldwide shipping companies.

To get insight into this problem, spoke with Corey Ranslem, CEO of Secure Waters, a Florida-based security and risk consultancy firm. Secure Waters, which was founded by former U.S. Coast Guard members, provides a variety of maritime security services, including specialization in the TWIC program, counterpiracy, MTSA and other compliance issues, port security design, electronic security systems use and design, international training, special operations teams and armed security,

Ranslem, a former U.S. Coast Guard team member who joined the company as CEO in 2006, has a background that fits right in with the company’s compliance, risk consultancy, technology and response based approach. He spent 8 years in the Coast Guard working on drug interdiction, trafficking cases, domestic and international port security, and even on the tactical side for law enforcement missions. From there he went to Smiths Detection, a firm which provides a variety of chemical, biological and other threat detection systems. At Smiths he was with the federal government team, working with a number of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. We caught up with him this week to hear what he had to say about today’s piracy situation:

So, is what we’re hearing about piracy actually indication of some sort of increase in piracy, or is it really media hype?

Not to sound like a politician, but the answer is “yes and yes.” You take a look at the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia and on up to the area off Yemen. That is a major shipping lane, and there are about 25,000 ships that pass through that area of the gulf in a year’s time. Year to date, there have been 100 reported attacks on ships passing though that area of the gulf. And in 2008, current with today, there have been 40 succcessful hijackings in that area. Statistically, it’s not that great, since we’re only talking about 40 ships out of 25,000, but what we have seen is the level of violence continuing to escalate.

If you looked back a year ago, the typical pirates had machetes and maybe an AK-47, and they’d try to board the ship and rob the people aboard. Then they started going further off shore, and jumping on the vessels and holding people and ships for ransom. Once they saw that was successful, some began to raise the ransoms into the millions of dollars. The ship companies never offer this information, but from what I understand, the payouts are well into the millions of dollars now. That kind of success [for the pirates] builds on itself.

Are we hearing about all of the events?

We’ve heard a lot about the Saudi tanker and the Ukrainian vessel that had tanks. But there was an Iranian ship that was hijacked [the MV Iran Deyanat]. It was hijacked earlier this year and really didn’t make the news. This Iranian ship is believed to have chemical weapons destined for Islamic militants in West Africa. It was taken into Somalia and they believe there were chemical or radiological weapons on board because majority of crew and the pirates who were on the ship have now died. These are still not internationally confirmed reports.

Recently, there have been two more attempted attacks on cruiseships. Purely from our end at Secure Waters, I think the attacks on cruiseships are going to continue. Looking at the escalation of their targeting, this was the next progression.

It sounds like the targeting of vessels is changing? Is that the case?

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