We saw this coming over the last couple of months, long before piracy off the Somali coast was pushed by the press as "a problem":
The American security company Blackwater is planning to cash in on the rising threat of piracy by launching a flotilla of gunboats for hire by shipping companies.
The firm, which gained international notoriety when its staff killed civilians in Iraq, has already equipped one vessel, 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 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 the next year to form the company's private navy.
In fact, by the time they made that noble offer they had already begun remodeling light ships, such as the geophysical survey ship, The MacArthur seen in the photo, equipping them with heliports and quick offloading speedboats.
"Blackwater Worldwide today announced that its 183-foot ship, the McArthur, stands ready to assist the shipping industry as it struggles with the increasing problem of piracy in [Somalia's] Gulf of Aden," the firm says in a statement. "As a company founded and run by former Navy SEALs, with a 50,000-person database of former military and law enforcement professionals, Blackwater is uniquely positioned to assist the shipping industry."
Somali pirates have hit commercial vessels 100 times, just in this year. The U.S. Navy and its allies have admitted than they don't have a big enough fleet to ensure every ship's safety. So ship owners are now reaching out to Blackwater for protection, according to Executive Vice President Bill Matthews.
It's not exactly a brand-new idea. Mercenaries have been battling pirates for a good eight centuries, off and on. Back in 2005, the Somali government tried to hire a U.S. security contractor for maritime protection -- only to have the company fall victim to scandal. This June, there were conflicting reports that a French security outfit had won a $150 million deal to take the American firm's place. One U.S. admiral even joined in the pirate-fighting mercenary chorus, allegedly. But it "raises more legal issues than anyone could possibly count."
Meanwhile, Blackwater is looking for new income streams, as its business protecting diplomats and executives in Iraq looks increasingly fragile. Blackwater employees are protecting missile interceptors in Japan, schooling Taiwan's secret police, and rescuing blonds in Kenya. The company is assembling a private fleet of airplanes, helicopters, and spy blimps. And let's not forget about Blackwater's work after Katrina in New Orleans. Maybe the company will get a chance to follow up another mess.
Blackwater's 183-foot vessel MacArthur underway. The ship is based in Norfolk with a 14-person crew, and is ready to deploy with small rigid-hull boats and helicopters to provide escort. (Blackwater photo)