Private Arsenal Ships in the Fight Against Piracy

If you’re a private security company patrolling for pirates in the waters off East Africa where do you store all your firepower when the nearby countries won’t let you store heavy weapons within their boundaries? Why you create a floating arsenal of course!

Creating arsenal ships is exactly what private security firms are up to in the waters off Somalia, the AP is reporting. The only problem is that there are zero safety standards for such vessels, something even the private security firms say is a problem. With up to twevle of these floating arsenals sitting off the African coast, the varying safety standards means that poorly guarded or improperly stored weapons on a boat could find their way into the wrong hands or  worse; one of the boats may be a ripe target for the pirates they’re in place to guard against.

Per the AP:

Storing guns on boats offshore really took off as a business last year. Britain — where many of the operators are from — is investigating the legality of the practice, which has received little publicity outside of shipping industry circles.

Floating armories have become a viable business in the wake of increased security practices by the maritime industry, which has struggled for years to combat attacks by Somali pirates. But those in the industry say the standards vary widely.

Governments and industry leaders “need to urgently address standards for floating armories and get flag state approval,” said Nick Davis of the Maritime Guard Group “Everything has got to be secured correctly, recorded, bonded, the correct locks, and so on. It’s not just a case of find a room, put some weapons in it and everybody chill out.”

Some floating armories did not have proper storage for weapons, enough watchmen, or enough space for guards to sleep indoors, forcing them to sleep on deck, he said.

In the absence of applicable laws, he said, “companies are just being economical with the truth.”

Davis said his company operates two tugs as floating armories and carefully maintains log books for his company’s hundreds of weapons and records for each shot fired. He did not allow other companies to rent out space on his tugs because of regulatory problems, he said, but hopes to do so soon and has sent out advertisements.

“Ships have to use armed guards, yet none of the governments want to provide an ethical and accountable way of using firearms,” he said.


51 Comments on "Private Arsenal Ships in the Fight Against Piracy"

  1. Open water Deep-sea vigilantism? Nice! I think I know what the next action movie will be.

  2. Hickelbilly | March 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm |

    Legality. Bet the country that benefits from the booty has a law against it.

  3. isn't this more of a job for Aquaman? he doesn't get enough press as it is.

  4. Good way to do it. Just hate how Russian and European companies got all the anti pirate work off Africa and the US got hardly nothing.

  5. I can see at least 4 security risks just eyeballing the story…still, if the ships are attacked by pirates, then all applicable force shold be used against the pirates…in short, turn 'em into a pink mist…and videotape the event for the Somalis, "pour l'encouragement des autres", so to speak..

  6. Legality of what?
    If the country the vessel is flagged from allows the vessel to have weapons on board, as long as vessel is in international waters they are not violating any ones rules

  7. stephen russell | March 22, 2012 at 8:46 pm |

    Wow, whole New Marine Industry: Arsenal ships.
    Reuse offshore rigs, seized cargo ships, yachts etc for Fwd Ammo Dumps.
    Rotate security Team to guard & move boat.
    Adopt cruise line model?
    Hire cruise lione for Food Services under contract.
    Reuse any sizable ship & modify for armory use any ocean.

  8. Garry Owen | March 23, 2012 at 9:05 am |

    Someone develop a floating gallows.

  9. SO we're worried about people trying to STOP PIRATES rather than stopping pirates. The world is a crazy place.

  10. Chris gARLAB | March 23, 2012 at 10:06 am |

    The reason for activity like this is due to the failure by all nations involved in countering piracy in taking a universal decision on weapons control.
    If there is no legislation and a problem exists then a plan must be made to counter it in whatever manner possible until such time as anti-piracy legislation related to firearms is promulgated.
    Yes there will be hiccups.
    Just watch the media and an incident will occur in the near future.
    Then watch the crisis management !

  11. Chris Garalnd | March 23, 2012 at 10:09 am |

    The reason for activity like this is due to the failure by all nations involved in countering piracy in taking a universal decision on weapons control.
    If there is no legislation and a problem exists then a plan must be made to counter it in whatever manner possible until such time as anti-piracy legislation related to firearms is promulgated.
    Yes there will be hiccups.
    Just watch the media and an incident will occur in the near future.
    Then watch the crisis management.

  12. In '03 during the build up for OIF my old Unit, Small Craft Co, sent 15-Marine Dets to attach to F.A.S.T. CO DET 5th Fleet in Bahrain to do the same thing.

    We launched Security missions out of Souda Bay & Al Fujairah, UAE taking ships past HOA & thru Hormuz. Each Marine was armed w/a M-16A4 & M9, all Tm Ldrs had 203s. Each Det had 1 .50M2 & 2x 240Gs.

    12miles off the coast of their Port call we were required to disarm & lock down all weapons before transferring via Tug to our next ship usually cutting squares nearby in Int'l Waters until we were available.

    It was 1 of my best deployments, all we had was a our Weapons, a Sat Phone, & Civilian Clothes (however we wore Cammies once on Guard).

  13. David R Ball | March 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm |

    Why is a news story? It's not like a private company has a DDG or BB or CG do they? No there are storing weapons and BTW the maritime industry has rules regarding this issue.It's only a concern when and where the ammo is stored, a fire at sea is bad enough having to fight one when your ammo decides it's not your friend is worse.What is needed are the same kind of barrack ships that the U.S. Navy use in port. Just pull it in port during bad storms.

  14. "L'adace, l'adace, toujours ladace"

  15. Kick Ass

  16. Hickelbilly | March 26, 2012 at 9:55 pm |

    Here Am I, Kilroy was here.

  17. How strange the world is shaking out but it is again the classic of the haves versus the have nots. Since there never will be a balance that everyone will be equally cared for we and our future generations will continue this struggle until someone hits the button just like the Sky Pilot does everytime in Slaughter House Five and starts the cycle over again.

  18. The answer is mini guns forward and aft, port and starboard on every ship with a 8 man team running 12 on 12 off. This would completely solve the piracy problem. Might even help resolve the population issues in somolia. Why does every country have to make such a big issue out of a problem that can be resolved so easily!

  19. Yes mini guns and a few at4’s wouldn’t hurt but then neither would a few 120mm’s

  20. See when the government can't do its job the private sector steps up. its a way it has always been, to bad nowadays the government tries to make em the bad guys and stop progress just because they are mad they couldn't get the job done.

  21. How do you spell P-R-I-V-A-T-E-E-R-?

  22. Jeff Roche | March 27, 2012 at 8:37 pm |

    How can I get a job on one of these ships? Email me at ***************@***.***. Im a former Aviation Ordnanceman and worked Station Weapons at Naval Station Keflavik Iceland

  23. Robert Fritts | March 27, 2012 at 10:02 pm |

    Any web locations with company contacts and employment applications? In the words of many former operators "being a civilian sucks"!

  24. i dont see the problem here. pirates want to fight unarmed people well ^%$# them as the saying goes kill'em all let god or allah sort them out.

  25. Yeah, how can I get joined up with these guys? I'm Ex Navy myself, I was in HC-4, a helicopter combat support squadron, I'm also an OIF and OEF veteran. If anyone knows how to get a job with these guys shoot me an email at

  26. George Nameche | March 28, 2012 at 7:01 am |

    I am a former US Navy vet and If I had the money and the US Navy mothball fleet had some ol PT boats they would sell I would purchase mayby six refurbish them take off the old torpedo tubes and arm them more mofern. They are fast and they would serve the purpose of protect against pirates. This just a fantasy thought I know.

    George Korean conflict

  27. Bob Sullivan | March 28, 2012 at 8:56 am |

    George Namache,

    Where would you find such a thing? Very few left in existence.

    I am very much in favor of putting a small detachment of 20 or so Marines on board every US Flagged vessel as a protection detail.

    I personally do not like the idea of private Army's or what ever you want to call them. This is a can of snakes waiting to be spilled. It is one of the purposes of our Military forces.

    There is a huge downside to relying on Private Contractors defending the seas, in the name of a independent and soverign country. This is a very bad idea.

  28. Isn't it time to bring back the Q ships like WW2? You know what I mean, they are disquised to look like merchant ships but they are fully armed with drop down panels etc. They could even be legal if the congress grants them "letters of marque and reprisal" as in the constitution.

  29. Makes me think of the ships the Brit's and Germany had in WWI and WWII. Innocent looking cargo vessel until the side boards were dripped then the targeted ship found what big teeth they had. Do the same thing here and leave nothing of the pirates except a big hole in the water!

  30. Drones!

  31. Again while we all fantasize about how to take care of the piracy problem, just have a large security company purchased a medium-size used cargo ship and armed to the teeth. Sail all the way up to the edge of a countrys boundary, charging a fee to the shipping company. Under contract of course. Have you ever seen what a 240 B can do to a wooden boat. It is awe inspiring, pieces of wood, hunks of flesh and bone flying everywhere. And guess what, the liberal media won't even know it happened and thereby remedying the problem. Just saying…………………………

  32. Were I in charge of one of these floating arsenal ships, I'd not let ANYONE approach whom I didn't know; just blow 'em out of the water! This also means these ships must be big enough to staff them with enough people for watches to always be on guard, even from the 'fishing boats'(with or without guns) who may stray close! Long-range snipers would earn a premium!

  33. Historical perspective: are privateers with letters of marque going to make a come back? If the arsenal ship crew rescues a captured ship how do the original owners recompense the arsenal ship operators. Who has the senior claim? Do salvage laws apply? These and a great many other questions have interesting legal precedents. if a Government and NGO operate together, oh never mind…..

  34. If some pirates are, in fact, destroyed while attempting to take over a ship, don't do anything except put the incident on U Tube for other pirates to see. Send the video from some small country that could not be traced, and leave it alone. Slowly but surely these attacks will stop when the supply of pirates is eliminated.

  35. Miuwdawg65 | March 29, 2012 at 1:30 am |

    If they would have listened IBU-14 and the
    Cowboys would have had all that mess secured. If you bleed the sharks will feed!

  36. I just cannot fathom any reason for using deadly force against the poor pirates.. They are just doing the jobs that law abiding world citizens won't do. I really believe with compassion and understanding these derilects of life could be rehabilitated and become productive members of society.

    Why must we always resort to violence to change the situation.

    Tongue firmly in cheek!!!

  37. EHeassler, USN-Ret. | March 29, 2012 at 9:23 am |

    Isn't the irony of it all just delicious. The same countries that can't get their act together to stop the pirates are now going to martial all of their law-making capabilities to promptly regulate the life out of the floating armories funded by private enterprise as a response to government's failure to act. Its farcical and would be funny if it just weren't for the small issue of real pirates threatening real lives and extorting real dollars from real shipping companies. We all pay for the resulting higher shipping fees and increased insurance rates.

  38. I have suggested to people before that Q-ships should be used to attract and ambush pirates. Q-ships were used by the japanese navy in WWII, they were disguised to appear to be merchants, but they had shallow drafts and were loaded with weapons. When a submarine attacked with a torpedo, the torpedo would likely pass below the hull resulting in a miss and the Q-ship would then kick it in gear and attack the submarine. Q-ships in the pirate case would be "slow" "unarmed" commercial vessel that would be irresistable to a pirate, a bait ship. When the pirates attack a full compliment of troops would then destroy the pirates. Any survivors should be tried and executed by the laws of the sea. Then drop of the bodies on the coast as an example to discourage further attacks. As long as the risk is low and the profit is high they will continue to attack.

  39. Just had my comment 'deleted by the administrator' ! All i suggested was that we make a Q ship into one of the arsenal ships needed, anyway, and man it with volunteers. They could be chosen by raffle/lottery, or possibly even could PAY to be a volunteer! These volunteers could be the eager ones to 'rid us of sea-pests'!!

  40. This has to be supervised by strongest naval force in the area. These companies must answer to some authority to prevent them being a problem to society.

  41. BMC(SW)USN-Ret | March 30, 2012 at 9:08 am |

    As the current administration continues to downsize our Navy, this might be a new opportunity for all the sailors who will be out of work soon. These security companies could benefit from the great windfall of highly trained people who can provide the type of seamanship and security skills that will perform at the level needed to stop any pirate in their tracks. Imagine how effective these security forces will be if they have several former Navy SEAL's working for them. The floating armeries could be amnned by a variety of Navy ratings such as BM, GMG, QM, EN, MM, etc. All of these ratings are highly trained technicians in their respective jobs and any security company hiring them would have to spend minimal dollars in training them for the positions they would be filling. If I wasn't so damned old I'd apply for a job manning one of these armeries myself.

  42. Chris Garalnd | March 30, 2012 at 9:13 am |

    The issue here is private arsenal ships. It's not about length of shifts and ship defence or security team size.
    There is a reason that this has come about. The main reason being the firearm regualtions of different states and their port authorities combined with the financial implications of these various and different restrictions. To attempt to make the system more streamlined private maritime security companies have come up with an alternative plan. The Arsenal Ship is the answer. However there are consequences to this activity. The first being that anti-gun community go into a frothy on gun control and let me tell you they can shout loudly around the world. The fact that these ships are out there needs to be addressed by a seriously high authority. They have two options. Leave the ships to carry on with their mission or get international uniformity on firearm port access laws.

  43. Re: Using a ship from the 'moth-ball' fleet……….A current U.S. Navy ship is maintained by a large array of support facilities, shore establishments, back-up parts storage, not to mention a skilled group of maintenance personnel on board.

    Now, translate a deteriorated old, obsolete ship, missing much of it's original WWII or prior maintenance machinery, the rest rusted/corroded, let alone any modern equipment, attempting to operate as a ship of the line in the world of today? Make no mistake, today's weapons are much more accurate and deadly than WWII's were, as well.

    There are many, trigger-happy types eager to take pot-shots at anything which moves. You could set up a lottery for the hordes which would volunteer. You probably even could SELL slots to many. This STILL wouldn't get the trained bunch needed to keep these old rust-buckets afloat and operating. Many ex-Navy, or retirees could be hired, but they won't do it unless they're suitably compensated. Find the money, first!

  44. As long as they stick to fighting piracy without becoming pirates themselves, I say have at it. I'm sure the shipping companies would rather invest in a little prevention than figure out how to get their ships and crews back. Now when they start calling it "protection money".. hmmmm..

  45. "X-Navy" summed it up nicely…a very easy remedy. wtfu!

  46. Hey "Nick"…you must have your name stamped on the back of your belt…savvy???

  47. Bob Sullivan | March 31, 2012 at 1:37 pm |

    Ole Vet,

    Those WW2 mothballed ships were scrapped more than 30 years ago. You used them when you shaved in the 70's. Old and obsolete is 30 or less years old. Even most of the older of the newer ones have gone to the bottom or have been scrapped.

    The few WW2 era ships that are left are museums or monuments. The same is planned for us as well.

  48. Remember the German Q-ships during the Second World . Just send out some ships like that. with Navy or Civilian operators. And when the pirates attack these ships.And SUPRISE! SUPRISE ! They end up in Davy Jones Locker. It will give them something to think about.

  49. Fuck the pirates, kill the lot!!!!!!!!!! blow them out the water, if they think they can take lives, then the forfit there own!!!

  50. Sure they could do that they've got no problem in producing a heavy-duty schroff enclosures to pack everything safely especially what they will be storing and shipping will be ammunitions and will create an arsenal factory.

  51. Private comerce requires private security against stateless actors.

    Most if not all private security contractors are former military and/or law enforcement.

    Governments and their militaries should not have to be the force providers to protect commercial interest. IE: yours and mine tax dollars

    Private interest have an obligation to protect the merchant marine crews of the vessels and an obligation to protect the cargo, it is an investment someone is paying for it.

    Additionally vessels are insured and bonded. If paying a nominal fee to have armed guards on board brings down the cost of insuring the ship, crew and cargo it is a worth while investment.

    There are international maritime laws governing arms lockers on vessels, as well as each country having its own standards and best practices. Who is to say how Latvia chooses to police the ships under their flags or any other country for that matter. That is what diplomats are for, to reach compacts, treaties and memorandums of understanding.

    If a country chooses to not allow vessels with arms in its territorial waters, that’s their prerogative. However by maritime tradition and law, armed merchant class vessels in international waters violates nothing.

    Havning identified issues with private security and military assets in Iraq and Afghanistan the maritime community by and large have established guidelines and credentializtion process to qualify maritime security profecinals and those with a reputation of providing quality services get the best jobs. You will always have the 10%. It is unavoidable.

    Those who are skeptics very likely never served in unifor, never Been more than 50 miles from home and have never heard a shot fired in anger. Somali pirates and their ilk are not plesant people and care very little for a ordinary able body seaman of his countries merchant marine, no matter where he is from. Frowning on an individual who is very likey only making 45k a year to live on a cramped boat and risking his life for crews he has never met is not someone to look down upon and question thier motives and motivation. Those on the sidelines, could extend them the courtesy of dong some research and homework before commenting. However it is a free country where I am from.

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