Adapting to changing piracy patterns

Mon, 11 March 2013

Three hundred ships were attacked by pirates in 2012 according to the International Maritime Board (IMB).

This is a significant drop from the year before, but it underlines the ever present threat to vessels on the world’s oceans.

The most hazardous sea lanes are off the coast of Somalia, one of the areas where G4S runs security operations to safeguard merchant ships as they pass through these dangerous waters.

According to the IMB, 585 people were taken hostage and six crew members were killed in pirate attacks last year. G4S has played a role in helping to reduce the number of attacks.

Since March 2011, G4S security teams of 200 experts have undertaken over 500 missions at sea, all of which have been successful.

The teams, mostly made up of former highly trained military personnel from the UK and France, are part of a G4S Maritime Security division formed specifically to tackle the increasing threat to people, vessels and cargoes.

The G4S Maritime Security Officers (MSOs) have been hand picked and carefully selected from hundreds of applicants since the division was introduced.

The team operates across the globe, in very different environments, in some of the most notoriously high risk areas for piracy such as the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and off the West coast of Africa.

Training and selection

The rigorous training and assessment the men go through cannot be overestimated. Each MSO will undertake specially tailored training programmes, held in specialist G4S centres both the UK and Africa, where they will be tested on a range of modules focused on a broad range of issues ranging from technical equipment training to negotiation drills. These programmes can last up to two months, depending on the existing experience of the individual.

Guy Le Roy, managing director of G4S International Maritime Security Services, explains: “Whilst it is not a mandatory requirement, those with a military background are usually best suited to such work. The training and assessment that the men go through is very intense, therefore, those who have experienced similar activity will always stand a better chance of succeeding.”

The objective

MSOs are primarily briefed to detect and deter pirate attacks, using an appropriate level of response. Some on board security teams are armed, but firearms are rarely used. MSOs are also there to give support to the crew and ensure that they are prepared and for any hostile situation. The skillset required is broad.


Not only is securing an established and experienced team vital, but the ability to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape is another important tool required to be an MSO. Pirates are continuously finding new and different ways of operating, with a new territories and routes being targeted all the time.

In recent years, a vast proportion of pirate attacks at sea have moved from east to west Africa. 

In fact, the International Maritime Organization received 45 reports of piracy incidents involving seven west and central African nations in 2010 — and 64 reports of attacks involving nine countries last year.

This year, the IMO has already recorded ten piracy incidents off the coasts of Benin, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria in the first two months alone.


To tackle this ever changing landscape, G4S Maritime Solutions is expanding its operations on the west coast of Africa and are in negotiations with a number of potential customers who are looking to protect their maritime activity in the region.

Le Roy concludes: “The pirates will always try new methods, it’s up to us to pre-empt these to stay ahead of the game.”

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