WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- Pirate attacks on merchant vessels in Africa pose a threat with ripple effects for U.S. homeland security and must be tackled as such, security industry experts say.
The industry's experts want specialist teams from commercial security firms deployed on every ship that sails in the danger zone in east Africa, where most recent piracy incidents have taken place.
"Success at sea by the early Somali pirates has attracted major organized-crime syndicates, Muslim extremists and a more robust and sophisticated confederacy of operatives," Jim Jorrie, chief executive officer of ESPADA marine services argued in the March 2012 issue of Homeland Security Today magazine.
"While this is all happening half a world away, it has put more operating cash in the hands of extremists, including al-Qaida -- and that should be of no small concern for us in the United States," Jorrie said.
About one-fifth of merchant marine ships using the route between the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and the East African coast already use security teams on board.
Several regional nations have deployed naval units to protect merchant vessels but the numbers of vessels still exposed to danger from pirates remains high.
Rising piracy in the region has involved several levels of deterrent action by U.S. and NATO forces, regional navies and security arrangements not directly linked to government or private security firms in the West. Western security agencies aim to change that and secure a greater share of the business growing out of a growing threat.
Jorrie said the piracy networks could be expanding.
"Most disturbing, the United Nations and Interpol have seen a rise in the cooperation between the Somali-grown al-Shabaab terrorist group and al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula," he said.
"This cooperation includes the sharing of proceeds from ransom payments."
The growth of piracy on the high seas had diversified over the past two years and "a confederation" of the pirate networks could be active, Jorrie said.
"For example, a vessel attacked and hijacked in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen may be taken by Yemeni, Eritrean or even Sudanese pirates.
"At some point the captured ship is handed over to one of the Somali clans for safekeeping until the ransom is paid by the ship's owner. The same scenario plays out on the east coast of Africa, where we have seen Kenyan, Mozambican and other confederates of maritime piracy directly involved in the attacks and hijackings."
Deterrent teams hired by the ship operators from the ranks of security agencies carry a variety of arms.
The principal goal of an on-board security team is deterrence -- to discourage pirates from initiating hostile acts while maintaining a safe standoff distance from the client vessel, he said.
Privately hired security teams armed with long-range rifles, semi-automatic rifles, even 12-gauge shotguns for close combat are used on seagoing ships of all sizes and cargoes.
The security industry wants more ships to engage the services of security contractors to make deterrence more effective.
Most security firms announce "non-lethal" defense and security contracts for ships but always offer advanced options included heavily armed teams on board.
British Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants listed on its Web site anti-piracy stakeholders that included oil majors, energy exploration companies and related industries, insurers, ship owners, naval forces and protection and indemnity clubs.