by Rejimon K
Muscat: Strong competition from rivals in neighbouring countries and an increase in the number of floating armouries in international waters are affecting the business of local representatives of global private security firms that equip anti-piracy forces in the sea, said businessmen in the Sultanate.
“Until the beginning of this year, the total business volume of all security firms in Oman was around OMR10 million. However, the increase in the number of floating armouries anchored in the international waters of the Gulf of Aden and the threat from similar firms in the neighbouring countries, where more flexible norms exist, are posing a big threat to us. We are facing a hard time,” said local businessmen.
For the last five years, local shipping companies have been supplying arms and private guards’ assistance for ships, either docking in Oman or passing through the Omani ports. The firms bring in arms legally, stock them with Royal Oman Police (ROP) and deliver it to the vessels aided by the ROP’s special department.
“Everything is in line with the rules and regulations of the Sultanate. Arms are brought in legally and even the private guards who are flown in are according to the rules and regulations of the land,” said the businessmen, adding that bringing in guards, most often mariners from the United States of America and United Kingdom defence forces, to the Sultanate was also a good business.
Talking more about the loss in business, they said that now global firms were reluctant to send in guards and arms due to the new rules in Oman.
“Recently, the authorities cut short the storage time for arms. This has put global security firms in trouble. They are afraid that they may lose their arms if they are not able to pick them up in time. This is pushing them to look for other ports and options,” added the local businessmen.
According to the businessmen, earlier, around 600 to 700 vessels needed arms and private guards from Oman. Now, less than 100 vessels were approaching them.
“Business has reduced drastically in Oman. There are now around 15 to 25 floating armouries in the international waters near the United Arab Emirates, posing a big threat to our business and for the countries in the region. To avoid paper work and other hassles, most of the vessels now take arms and private guards from the floating armouries,” revealed the businessmen.
According to them, each floating armoury has around 2,000 guns and the ammunition needed for them, in addition to other safety gear. Companies and legal experts say the floating armouries are a ‘legal grey area’ because few governments, if any, have laws governing the practice.
They added, “We have learnt that some security companies have simply not informed the governments of the flag their ship is flying. Some floating armouries do not have proper storage facilities for weapons, do not have enough watchmen, or enough space for guards to sleep indoors, forcing them to sleep on the deck. Governments should impose standards on the unchecked practice of storing weapons offshore to equip anti-pirate forces off Somalia’s coast.”
Furthermore the businessmen said, “This practice could lead to a total disaster in the region if the governments of Oman and the United Arab Emirates fail to take timely action.”
Storing guns on boats offshore really took off as a business last year. European countries, where many of the operators are from, are investigating the legitimacy of the practice, which has received little publicity outside shipping industry circles.
Companies use floating armouries since they are cheaper than having to take the ship into the port and pick up escorts because there are so many restrictions on bringing weapons into the region around Somalia.
“If Oman and the United Arab Emirates authorities take this issue of the illegal practice of floating armouries seriously and find a solution for it, then business will back in Oman as it was earlier,” added the businessmen.
A top official at the Atalanta EU NAVFOR told Times of Oman recently that the fight against Somali pirates has been so effective that they haven’t been able to mount a successful hijacking attempt since the beginning of 2013. According to EU NAVFOR data, there were only 11 suspicious events and three attacks. Somali pirates had hijacked 46 ships in 2009, 47 in 2010, 25 in 2011, and five in 2012, within the region.