Blackwater gunboats will protect ships

The American security company Blackwater is planning to cash in on the rising threat of piracy on the high seas by launching a flotilla of gunboats for hire by the shipping companies.

The firm, which gained international notoriety when its staff killed civilians in Iraq, has already equipped one vessel, called The McArthur, which will carry up to 40 armed guards and have a landing pad for an attack helicopter.

The McArthur, a former survey ship, arrives in the Gulf of Aden, the scene of the recent high-profile hijackings and shootouts with Somali pirates, at the end of the year. It is to be joined by three or four similar vessels over next year to form the company's private navy.

Blackwater, which has strong ties with the Republican administration in Washington, was the subject of investigations by the US Congress and the Iraqi government after its guards shot dead 17 people in Baghdad's Nisoor Square last year, a massacre which led directly to changes in law regarding security contractors in Iraq.

Several security companies are rushing to the region despite the presence of British, American, Russian and Indian naval warships, among others, sent to protect ships. For fees ranging from £8,000 to £12,000 for transits of three and five days, companies are offering teams of unarmed guards, "non-lethal deck security personnel".

With more than 60 ships attacked in the Gulf and ship-owners paying an estimated £75m in ransom for the return of crew and cargo, the security companies foresee a lucrative business.

One US company, Hollowpoint Protective Services, says it is offering a comprehensive service of hostage negotiations backed by armed rescue operations if the talks fail. Eos, a British concern, says it favours a "non-lethal" approach with the use of sophisticated laser, microwave and acoustical devices. But Blackwater plans to have the largest and most heavily armed presence among the security contractors. The company believes that the presence of escorting gunboats will have a deterrent effect, with criminal gangs being forced to switch to more vulnerable targets.

A Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell, said there have already been about 15 inquiries about its anti-piracy service. The company refused to reveal how much it will charge. Its executive vice-president, Bill Matthews, said the US Navy and the Royal Navy do not have the resources in the region to provide total security, opening up a role for companies such as his. He added: "While there are temporary needs that perhaps outpace the limited resources of the Department of Defence [Washington] and the Ministry of Defence [London], the private sector is available to fill those gaps.

"We have been contacted by ship-owners who say they need our help in making sure goods get to their destination. The McArthur can help us accomplish that. We have not sought to enter the space until recently. It was not part of our business plan. But as the world changes, so does our business plan."

Nick Davis, a former British Army pilot who runs a company in Poole called Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions, said: "It frightens me that Blackwater is going down there. Their background is not in deterrence. Their background is in weapons. To me, the best people to be armed are the military. Pirates might approach McArthur without knowing it's a Blackwater boat and try to hijack it."

Chris Austen, chief executive of Maritime & Underwater Security Consultants, in London, said ship-owners should be cautious about armed guards. "There are some flags that prohibit the carriage of arms or the use of violence. There are some insurers that will not accept it, and your insurance will be void."

Guns for hire: The violent option

The massacre on Baghdad's "Bloody Sunday" became a lethal symbol of the aggression with which Blackwater's private army carried out its mission in Iraq. I saw the deadly result of panicked security guards opening fire at a crowded Nisoor Square in the city centre. Round after round mowed down terrified men, women and children. At the end of the shooting spree, 17 people were dead and 20 injured. The killings sparked one of the most bitter and public disputes between the Iraqi government and its American patrons, and brought into focus the often violent conduct of the Western security companies – and that of Blackwater in particular. Operating in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, they were immune from scrutiny or prosecution. This was the seventh shooting of civilians involving Blackwater. The company's reputation in Iraq was particularly controversial. After Nisoor Square, the Iraqi government threatened to expel Blackwater. But it was forced to let the company operate again under pressure from Washington.

Kim Sengupta

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect