If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the last week, chances are you’ve already seen the mega-viral “Somali Pirates VS Ship’s Private Security Guards” showing private security raining bullets down on would-be Somali hijackers. The video has racked up millions of views since hitting YouTube on April 20, and with good reason:
Is this just a random gunfight or is there a backstory here? So glad you asked: Mike Schuler at maritime website gCaptain did some sleuthing and uncovered the background details.
According to a 2012 Bloomberg report, the footage was shot by a member of private security firm Trident Group during an attack on the MV Avocet, a bulk freighter operated by New York-based Eagle Bulk Shipping Inc, on March 25th, 2011. The three-minute helmet-cam footage, which Trident Group President Thomas Rothrauff said was the second attempted hijacking by Somali pirates in three days, was first screened during a shipping conference in December 2011.
After it subsequently leaked on the internet in April 2012, the footage “fueled debate over when is it acceptable to open fire,” Bloomberg reports:
Rothrauff said that while it is not visible on the video, return fire from AK-47s on the skiffs barely missed the head of one of his guards.
All four ship guards had fired warning shots, and that barrage of gunfire may have provoked a firefight that masked the sound of return shots from the skiffs on the video, he said. Trident has changed its procedures, and now permits only the team leader to fire warnings.
Rothrauff said it was likely that the occupants of the skiffs were killed or injured, though he had no way of knowing.
“We’re not in the business of counting injuries,” he said.
Trident is “absolutely” satisfied its operating procedures were legal, said Rothrauff. “Full compliance with rules for use of force were in place.”
Somali pirates targeted a record 237 ships for hijackings in 2011, the year the Avocet was attacked — and a year that earned maritime security firms nearly $530 in payments. Since that peak, attempted hijackings off the coast of Africa have declined steadily
But on Sunday, The Department of Defense warned commercial ships traversing shipping routes off the coast of East Africa to brace themselves for a fresh round of attacks by Somali pirates after five years of relatively peaceful seas, the New York Times reports.
“The bottom line is there have been a half-dozen or so [incidents],” Marine General Thomas Waldhauser said at a press conference alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Djibouti, according to Reuters. “We’re not ready to say there is a trend there yet but we’ll continue to watch.”
But despite an uptick in boarding by Somali pirates in recent months, Mattis said that he doesn’t see an expanded role for the U.S. Navy in countering future attacks. “The reasons piracy went down to zero here was because of security measures the shipping industry has taken,” he said. “I think the best practices by the Merchant Marines, by the Navy, and by civilian mariners will be efficient.”
With Mattis’ warning, it appears private security firms are in for another windfall — if they can survive attacks like the one above, that is.