Pirates Beware: The Gurkhas May Be Lurking

Friday, February 25, 2000
A British firm is offering shipping companies the services of up to 300 ex-British Army Gurkhas to combat piracy, particularly in Asia. Anglo Marine Overseas Services Ltd. has sent letters to international shipping companies offering "anti-piracy embarkation teams" of four to eight Gurkhas. The letter, one received by Australia's Western Bulk Carriers, states the primary mission of the Gurkhas is to deter piracy, but a "secondary mission is to manage the event should deterrence fail against a determined boarding party". "These men are available at reasonable rates of pay and average 16 years British military experience," said the letter. The London-based company said that two Japanese shipping companies were now negotiating the possible use of Gurkhas, but it stressed they would be unarmed. "What we are offering is not an armed unit," Captain Sal Irfan, general manager of Anglo Marine Overseas Services said in an interview from the company's London office. Irfan said the Japanese shipping firms, which he would not name but said operated small 25,000 deadweight ton bulk carriers through Indonesian waters, had sought an armed force. "We explained we do not do that type of work. We advised them against it. In a situation like that, putting arms on board will make the situation more volatile," Irfan said. He said Gurkhas were marital arts experts and could repel pirates in hand-to-hand combat. Although stressing they would be unarmed, he did not say whether or not the Gurkhas would be carrying their traditional daggers. Anglo Marine Overseas Services said Gurkhas were already stationed aboard Hong Kong casino vessels and ferries. "We have an establishment in Hong Kong which is already giving some kind of guards or protection to casino vessels and ferry boats," Irfan said. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said it had not heard of Anglo Marine Overseas Services, but had heard of other firms offering anti-piracy mercenaries. "There are a few groups which have contacted us. They are offering armed men, mercenaries," said Noel Choong, regional manager of IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Shipping firms in Hong Kong and Singapore contacted by Reuters said they had not received Anglo's letter, adding they opposed the use of armed, anti-piracy teams on ships. "I think our worries would be whether the ships would stand up to the hammering they would have to take if you engage in an all out war with these people," said Hong Kong Shipowners Association Director Arthur Bowring. "Merchant ships are not built to be able to withstand rockets, machine gun fire." Pirate attacks worldwide surged 40 percent in 1999 from 1998. The IMB said the number of actual and attempted pirate raids increased to 285 last year from 202 in 1998. Indonesia accounted for 113 of the attacks, almost double its 1998 total of 60. Some ship owners said the reason there were few reported pirate attacks on Israeli and U.S. ships was a belief they carried arms and professional security personnel. But Irfan said the fighting reputation of Gurkhas, even if they were unarmed, would deter pirates, adding that if pirates boarded the Gurkhas were best placed to negotiate a solution. "We have people who in this type of situation can keep cool... who can talk to these guys without agitating them, without getting them to resort to killing somebody on board," he said. Irfan said Anglo Marine had no links to mercenary firms. He said it was marketing Gurkhas as anti-piracy teams to help find jobs for Gurkhas made redundant or who had left the British army. - (Reuters)
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