Although no one has an absolutely precise figure to hand, we believe that there are at least 40,000 licensed weapons floating about or stored, ready for use, in the Indian Ocean. They sit on floating armories, adjacent land or are in theatre under use. These weapons are not tracked on a real-time basis. Companies are only put to proof when asked. In other words, regulation requires the sector to know what weapons they have and where they got them from.
Under UK law, weapons cannot be leased, or licensed, or ‘lent.’ Heavy sanctions wait for those companies that do. But the congruence of economic necessity and piecemeal regulation (many maritime security companies have nothing to do with the UK) means that weapons are passed between companies and used on a mate’s basis. For some, if weapons are not shared, the efficiencies that the smaller companies need to survive through sharing will be lost. It is beg, borrow or go bust.
Weapons swapping, sharing, hiring and licensing – it all leads to the same thing. It is not politically sustainable for enough arms to service a third world army to be bobbing about the sea with little idea as to who has what. The UN has taken notice, the U.S. State Department has taken notice, the EU has worked it out and the British Foreign Office has been briefed.
Unless the gift of allowing private citizens to bear arms is to be taken away (or managed) by nation states once again, sensible actors within the maritime security space need to consider how best to service their shareholders and maximize profit in a highly responsible manner – merge, consolidate, sell. Choose economies of scale, clever logistics, astute modelling and commercial cooperation. There really is no alternative.
Weapons cannot and should not be traded at armories or elsewhere. It is the beginning of the end. Equally, shipowners and charterers need to utilize their power and refuse to partake in this race to the bottom. It is, after all, the preservation of the safety of their men that is the end-game. And those that advise the maritime sector – its trade associations and the professional services who have done so well over the last five years, have to stand up for corporate social responsibility.
We live in dangerous times. Somalia remains a failed state. Terrorism is prevalent in theatre. Meaningful regulation is piecemeal. Profit is being decimated. Corners are being cut. Weapons may start to go missing. There is a choice, a viable commercial solution for maritime security companies facing home truths. They must take it before it is too late. –