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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Private Anti-Piracy Navies
Private Anti-Piracy Navies: How Warships for Hire Are Changing Maritime Security
By John J. Pitney, Jr. and John-Clark Levin
Lexington Books, 2014, ISBN 978-0-7391-7332-9 $90.00 / £57.95
e-Book ISBN 978-0-7391-7333-6 $89.99 / £59.95


The idea of private navies that fight pirates isn’t a new one. It can be traced back to the British East India Company (EIC), whose armed merchantmen fought against pirates in the Indian Ocean. Some of the issues the EIC faced are still problematic today, and the re-emergence of private navies is an outgrowth of today’s maritime piracy, especially off Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea. The role of these privately operated forces is defensive, to escort and protect merchant shipping and the men and women who sail aboard those vessels. They emerged because maritime shipping required a more cost-effective means of combating piracy than the joint operations conducted by national navies that currently patrol these dangerous waters. Yet legal and operational obstacles still need to be overcome before private navies will be a viable means to curb piracy. This is what the authors explore in this book. As they write in their introduction:

For the first time in modern history, civilian contractors now operate armed escorts with the dedicated purpose of combat – by definition, private warships. These vessels accompany vulnerable merchant ships in pirate-threatened waters, with orders to use lethal force against attackers, but do so independently of any military command structure. And although no single company operates a navy-sized force, private escorts collectively account for about as many vessels in an anti-piracy role as the world’s combined navies. (1)
The authors have a dual purpose for writing this book. They want readers to understand “the historical origins, current state, and future prospects of this fast-changing sector of the private security industry”, as well as to show what those who enact laws and create policy will need to address in the future. (2) Hopefully, this volume “will serve as a starting point for discussion about the challenges, opportunities, and implications of naval privatization. If the stakeholders . . . can have a shared foundation on these issues, they will be more effective in finding solutions – and more effective at facing the maritime security threats . . . to come.” (229)

To that end Pitney and Levin divide the book’s content into ten chapters.
1. Introduction

2. Historical Lessons
  • The East India Company’s Private Navy
  • Merchant Raiders during the World Wars
  • Lessons to Be Learned
3. The Somali Piracy Epidemic
  • Collapse and Civil War
  • Slide into Piracy
  • The Epidemic Begins
  • The Problem Worsens
  • The Tide Turns
4. Current and Proposed Forces
  • Blackwater
  • Gulf of Aden Group Transits
  • Current Private Naval Companies
  • Convoy Escort Programme
  • Typhon
  • Key Incidents
5. Economic Considerations
  • Savings and Costs of Using Private Security
  • The Costs of Piracy
  • Prospects for Public Funding
6. Legal and Regulatory Issues
  • Legitimacy
  • Licensing and Regulation
  • Immunities and Obligations
  • Territorial Laws
  • Jurisdiction
  • Civil Liability
7. Operational and Tactical Challenges
  • The Pirate Threat
  • Best Management Practices and Hardening
  • Embarked Guards
  • Regular Navies
  • The Role of Private Navies
  • Logistical Issues
  • Rules for the Use of Force
8. Costs, Benefits, and Results

9. Prospects and Implications
  • Maritime Security off the Horn of Africa
  • Security on Land in Somalia
  • Maritime Security off West Africa
  • Maritime Security in Other Piracy-Affected Waters
  • Legal Developments
  • Proposed Private Naval Forces
  • Anti-Terrorism Operations
  • Coastguard Functions in the Developing World
  • Resource Extraction
  • Potential Functions in the Developed World
  • Causes for Concern
  • he Far Future
10. Conclusion
Each chapter begins with a brief introduction to set the stage for the contents to come, while notes are included at the end. These citations provide readers with resources where additional information can be found. A comprehensive bibliography and index are also included.

Private Anti-Piracy Navies does an excellent job showcasing and explaining the complexity of the issues facing these private entities, yet the authors accomplish this in an interesting and highly readable narrative that grabs the reader’s attention. How familiar one might be with piracy and the use of private navies to combat it are mute, for the authors clearly encapsulate the history, realities, and problems without lecturing or talking down to readers. Although the price is a bit steep, this book provides an illuminating, thought-provoking examination on the background and issues and is well worth the read.


Review Copyrighted ©2014 Cindy Vallar

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