October 6, 2012: At the moment there's a booming market in security guards for merchant ships plying the waters off Somalia and adjacent areas (Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, western Indian Ocean, Straits of Hormuz). While many ships get by on-the-cheap by forming convoys that are guarded by warships of the international anti-piracy patrol, others have schedules that preclude waiting for a convoy to form. Most of these ships are now using a detachment of 4-5 armed guards, which cost them about $40,000 for the short trip through pirate infested waters.
It's not just the armed former soldiers and marines now riding on the most choice targets that scare off the pirates but also all the dozens of boats (the size of seagoing fishing boats) that ferry the armed guards between African and Arabian ports to the ships that are to be guarded. The pirates have learned to keep clear of these boats as well, as they are full of heavily armed men willing to undertake some target practice before reaching their merchant ship and going on duty.
The rapid growth in the use of armed guards (who were on ten percent of large ships a year ago and some 70 percent now) and more aggressive operations by the international anti-pirate patrol have caused ship captures by pirates to decline by two-thirds this year. The reduction in ransom money has led to a collapse of the economic boom in and around the northern Somalia port towns where the pirates were based. There are now a lot of unemployed pirates and those still at sea have to proceed much more cautiously.