“You reverse all of that progress if you take away the police force,” McKnight said in a follow-up telephone interview. “Merchants will start diverting away from the IRTC, and they’ll start to cut corners, especially ships going around the horn of Africa going south.”
But at this point, no one knows for sure that governments will let that happen. Lieutenant Commander Jones states there are no plans for navies to pull out in at least the next two years. And if they do leave, it won’t be without a comprehensive plan, she says.
Ships that are traveling through these danger zones are already asked to follow a set of security best practices that include tips like traveling faster than 18 knots (no ships traveling 18 knots or faster have been successfully boarded), adding barbed wire and fencing to make it harder to climb onto the ship, and having a citadel, or safe area, in case pirates do manage to come on board.
In addition, says Watson, ships that haven’t already added security teams should consider doing so. No ships with private security teams have been successfully hijacked, he notes.
“The sea will be controlled by whoever has the most firepower. It was the Somali pirates at one point. Next it will be the private security providers,” Dragonette adds, if navies withdraw.
The navies provide more than firepower, however. Their value in the region is broader than that because they fulfill other roles as well. For example, they carry out rescues and interdict weapons and drug smuggling. McKnight cites a mission where the USS San Antonio was retasked to chase a boat carrying arms from Iran up the Red Sea.
But the main focus in the region remains the counterpiracy mission. At the time this article was written, Somali pirates still held 133 hostages aboard seven different hijacked vessels.