Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel and Counter-Piracy: Is France at a turning point?

A guest post by Valerie Gabard. Valerie is a French national with notable experience in both French and International Law. Previously, she was a legal officer at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. She is currently a legal officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Valerie is also a regular contributor to the Bulletin of the French Society for International Law.

The number of recent blog posts on the issue of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) undeniably shows the growing role of PCASP as a piracy deterrent. As mentioned in an earlier post, the United States strongly supports the use of PCASP as an efficient means of containing piracy. In Europe, there is no harmonized position either at the European Union level, or among the individual States. As opposed to Great Britain, France has repeatedly expressed reluctance to rely on PCASP to protect French vessels against pirates’ attacks. So far, the French response has been limited to the on board deployment of Vessel Protection Detachments (VPDs) composed of professional soldiers. Until very recently the organization of French ship-owners (les armateurs de France) showed the same lack of enthusiasm with respect to the use of PCASP. Nevertheless, the deployment of VPDs appears insufficient to ensure the security of all French vessels traveling through the Gulf of Aden. As a result, French ship-owners recently changed their standpoint and began supporting the use of PCASP. This development may lead the French government to review its current position on the matter.

In late February 2012 a statement from the organization of French ship-owners noted the limits of the VPDs in protecting crew members and the urgent need for alternative solutions. They expressed strong support for a report filed by two members of the French National Assembly. The report underlines the need to reform French Law in order to allow the use of private security companies and to create a proper legal framework for their activities. According to its authors, the report aims to end a French taboo that traditionally associates private security with mercenary activities. The report underlines that the use of private security actors is a phenomenon that cannot be ignored at the international level, especially in the field of piracy, and that private security services have a potential worldwide market value of up to 200 billion USD a year. It further suggests that France should legislate to create a proper legal framework that would ensure transparency and address the responsibility of private security firms in contrast with the current legal limbo. Noting that there is a real and immediate need for private security on board French vessels, the report proposes that counter-piracy could be an area in which the use of PCASP can be tested with a view to possible broader application in the future. It also points to the increasing role of PCASP in the fight against piracy and the fact that French ship-owners may turn to British firms for protection if France does not react adequately. The report notes that although the number of French private security firms is still very low (around 10 to 15), there are important business opportunities in this field. The report is not naïve as it underlines the economic implications behind authorizing private security actors to counter piracy. It implies that France’s position against PCASP is untenable at the international level. With or without France, the number and scope of PCASP will increase in the fight against piracy. It is now up to France to decide whether to create a proper legal framework and be part of it or be left behind. The economic pressure represented by French ship-owners may force the French authorities to review their present position on the matter. While there is still no official position it is clear that France is now at a turning point and that there is an urgent need to take decisions on the matter. With the presidential elections looming, it is nevertheless not expected that an official position will be taken before the summer, at very least.

The debate around PCASP in France does not impact or call into question the current French military involvement inthe fight against piracy. This remains the main tool of the French counter-piracy policy and France recently reaffirmed the importance it attaches to a military deterrrent in the Gulf of Aden. Indeed, since April 2012 France assumed command of European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Atlanta counter-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. This is the second time that France has held command of the EU NAVFOR Task Force. It is also worth noting that the Council of the European Union has extended the mandate of the EU NAVFOR until December 2014 and has increased the area of operations to include Somali coastal territory and its internal waters.

2 Responses to Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel and Counter-Piracy: Is France at a turning point?

  1. Stuart Ford says:


    I don’t really have a comment, per se. I just wanted to say hi to Val and Matteo. I just heard about the blog on OJ and thought I would stop by to check it out.

  2. Pingback: TRITON RISK MSS | PIRATE ATTACKS HIT “LOW SEASON” IN SOMALIA – WHY & WHATS NEXT? – Maritime Security Specialists

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