‘Private Navy’ Is Close To Kick-Off

An insurance broker’s plan to create a “private navy” to combat Somali piracy is close to being launched.

Ship-owners could be asked to back the project as early as late January or February with private military-escort vessels sailing alongside merchant ships by mid-2011.

A reputable flag state prepared to register the 18 patrol boats has been lined up, shipowner support is being canvassed and preparations made to secure funding for the vessels and crew.

Sean Woollerson of the Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) insurance-broking group says there are still issues to overcome but the key task of securing government and military support to give the project “legitimacy” is almost there.

The venture, now branded as the Convoy Escort Programme (CEP), estimates it needs only £15m ($23.5m) to buy secondhand vessels suitable for use as patrol boats and the rest of the infrastructure.

Greek salvage entrepreneur George Tsavliris is already seeking support from fellow shipowners and Bimco has indicated a willingness to help facilitate the project.

Woollerson estimates that if the CEP attracts 27% of the merchant traffic transiting the Gulf of Aden — up to 32 vessels on any one day — the service will cost shipowners no more than their present outlay on physical security and additional war-risks insurance premiums.

The concept is that shipowners will buy the armed-escort service packaged with seven days of war-risks cover from Ascot Underwriting’s Lloyd’s syndicate 1414, backed by Chartis, the insurer created from the rebranding of American International Group. They will therefore not need to pay the normal additional premium required to transit pirate-infested waters.

“We have a unique framework. The concept is that shipowners will not be paying any more than at the moment and maybe a lot less. But they will be afforded proper protection and the presence of the escorts will be a great morale booster for the seafarers,” said Woollerson.

The patrol boats will have a flat decked area suitable for launching rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) but will not have fixed machine-gun positions or other armaments so a wide range of working craft are suitable.

But the 150-strong security team that the CEP plans to deploy will be heavily armed to deter or take on pirates attempting to hijack a merchant ship.

“We are moving in the right direction and securing the legitimacy we see as essential. We will be an independent company with shipping-industry representation and harnessing the critical mass of the industry,” added Woollerson.

“We have taken on board everyone’s concerns. Once we have ticked all the boxes, we will go to the shipping industry to say this is what we have designed and to seek support.

Woollerson says there are potentially funds available from the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) as well as national governments and such public funding would be his preference.

But private-industry funding or a mix of public and private is also possible.

Although the CEP has been promoted by hull broker Woollerson, a JLT partner, the concept is that it will be available to other brokers and shipowners.

Woollerson would also like to see it involved in trying to remove the causes of Somali piracy through land-based initiatives.

“I see the CEP as a self-destructing company. Maybe in many years’ time we will no longer be needed and could donate the tonnage to a Somali coastguard,” he said.

source: www.closeprotectionworld.co.uk



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