They glide on the water when the sun dives into the sea. The sunset is the number-one ally of the new pirates of 2000: winds calm down, waves subside, the horizon becomes flat. Large Galleons, to which we have been accustomed by cinema, no longer exist; at present, darkness envelops small boats of about 7 meters, the “boaties” as they are called in jargon. From 6 to 8 people on board, armed to the teeth, but with Kalashnikov rifles well hidden under the nets; fake fishermen, with war munitions, satellite technologies, VHF. Ready for the clash.
The “war of the seas” goes like this, in a continuous state of alert that begins in the Suez Canal and finishes in the China Sea. On board the vessels there are not the ordinary seamen anymore – such as the Italians Girone and Latorre, two riflemen who are still in the hands of the Indians – but a specialized private corps. They are called “MSO”, Maritime Security Operator, a selected corps of ex-soldiers who are trained specifically for anti-piracy operations.
The largest Italian company that provides this kind of personnel to the ships is G7. “We have several bases in the so-called High Risk Area, the one in the Red Sea, – tells Luciano Campoli, the general manager of the G7 – where we place our hotel ships”. In spite of their name, they are not 5-stars cruisers, but operational floating bases, where “the team”, that consists in four elements, prepares the equipment: semi-automatic rifles, body armour, nightvision goggles, medical kits, VHF radio, satellite technologies, munitions. The first ones to go aboard the ships are not the pirates themselves, but their escort: yes, because the ‘target’ does not stop in the port, but continues its navigation, slowing down a little. The team approaches on a dinghy, gets on the ship on motion, climbs up; then pulls on the equipment. And starts watching over.
When the pirates attack, they arrive on several boats. Then they try to approach the ship from several directions at ones, from that of the bow and that of the stern, in an attempt to surprise the team. A technique that had worked till not so long ago, when defense techniques had not yet been perfected. Today it is difficult for an assault of this kind to defy a team; but things go differently if you find the ship defenceless.
The MSO do not shoot immediately, actually, sometimes they do not shoot at all. They only launch rockets in the direction of the assailants when those are still 500 meters away from the target. They show their weapons, some warning shot, if needed. The other ones understand immediately if the cake is worth the candle. The real gusts arrive when the pirates get closer than 250 meters, also because at that point, the control tower of the ship disappears from view, it becomes impervious to attack. This is why modern pirates – most of whom are Somalis, Nigerians or Cameroonians – have changed their strategy. They wait in the ports where ships dock in order to deliver part of their load; climb and, as mice, hide in the depths of the holds. Three people are enough, once the ship is in the open sea, action begins: they assail the turret, take hostage the captain, and double-lock the crew. The ship is theirs.
“Even this technique – explains still Campoli – is not new for us. We are ready to fight also on board, if necessary. Yet, even in those cases we try to moderate force and avoid bloodshed”. Not a handful of Rambo without scruples, therefore; there is preparation behind, geopolitical studies, knowledge of territories and populations. As well as strict hiring rules.
Skills that are not limited to anti-piracy defense alone. Too many risks that our large companies run in war contexts or, at any rate, in ‘hot’ territories. Protection is needed also and especially there, not to leave our investments fall into the hands of some fanatical fundamentalist. This is why a special school for training personnel destined not only to the ships, but also to defending railway stations, ports, sensitive targets. At home we have police, but outside the boundaries of our country we are alone.
Historically, anti-piracy has been the peculiarity of the English and French traditions, but today Italy has its excellencies as well. One of them is exactly G7, an Italian company, that employs Italian personnel to defend ships flying their flag. A slap in the face of all those who describe Italy as a country that is unable to impose itself in global competition.