Anti-Piracy Plans Detailed
The diplomatic documents released recently by the WikiLeaks organization include a confidential cable from the US Embassy in Djibouti. The message was addressed to several intelligence and administrative units in the US government.
Although the subject line of the cable is “Djibouti Approves Blackwater for Commercial Counter-Piracy Operations” it is clear the embattled Blackwater Corporation considered an operational plan that was unprecedented in commercial operations.
The private company’s plan included the use of an ex-NOAA ship named the “McArthur” to escort up to three commercial ships at a time through high risk areas. Armament aboard the 138 foot ship was to include .50 caliber machine guns.
The crew of 33 US citizens included a total of 18 security personnel. An unarmed aerial surveillance device was also mentioned by the embassy communication.
The International Maritime Organization advises against arming commercial ships with lethal weapons. Armed military escort ships from several nations patrol the east coast of Africa and have responded with lethal force in some cases.
Blackwater’s strategic operations plan stated that it did not intend to take any pirates into custody, but would use lethal force if necessary.
A Djibouti government official who filled several security roles gave permission for the paramilitary operations to be based in the Port of Djibouti. Provisions for the security of the ships weapons while in port were to be provided by Djibouti Navy.
Embassy officials expressed concerns about the legality of the plan in the February 12, 2009 document. The diplomatic post also requested advice on their involvement with the planned high profile launch of the service in March of 2009.
After four years of investigations and criminal prosecutions by the US Government the company, which is now known as XE Services, has not been held accountable for violent crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Will a Sale Put an End to Anti Piracy Efforts?
The sale of the organization was expected to be announced in mid-December 2010. A group of Los Angeles based investors and a New York private equity firm reached an agreement for purchase of XE Services from the former president of the company, Erik Prince. The terms of the sale are confidential but it is known that a portion of the proceeds of the sale are based on future performance.
Mr. Prince is unlikely to have any influential role in the company although he retains some ties and continues to receive income based on XE’s earnings.
According to the US State Department, no further contracts would be awarded to the firm while Mr. Prince was involved with operations. Civil lawsuits and federal weapons charges have been filed against executives of the company including Prince. Court records show that Erik Prince has now relocated his family to Abu Dhabi.
One of the primary investors in XE is Jason DeYonker, of Forté Capital Advisors. DeYonker advised Erik Prince while he was developing Blackwater’s business plan and managed the finances of the Prince family for several years. The sale price is expected to be around 200 million dollars.
The new owners plan to shift the focus of the company from private security operations to training for military and police forces. Fines imposed by the US Government for export violations will continued to be paid under terms of a settlement. Payment of the 42 million dollars in fines will allow the company to receive future government contracts.
Anti-piracy operations reported in embassy cables released by Wikileaks are unlikely to move forward considering the company’s reluctance to engage in private security operations in the future. It may be possible for the company to profit from anti-piracy operations by training national forces of affected countries in defensive techniques. The controversy of armed private firms patrolling areas of pirate activity would be eliminated by enlisting and training forces tied to nearby nations.
An increase in pirate attacks since Blackwater abandoned plans for their private security patrol in 2009 shows that a solution to this problem hasn’t been found. Pirates continue to attack large and small vessels in order to take hostages and gain ransom payments. Considering the resources being expended, it is simple to conclude that a firm which can provide a solution will be paid handsomely.
Currently there are few options for the resolution of hostage situations other than the United Nations recommendation of effective negotiations.