Piracy has probably existed since man first took to the sea, but it took on new dimensions with the advent of commercial shipping. SOFREP wrote about this very topic recently in Benghazi: The Definitive Report, which includes historical background on America’s first war on terror against Barbary pirates off the coast in Libya. Perhaps the formation of the US Marines was America’s first strike back against piracy.
When you start to look at the privateers, who were pirates that were semi-sanctioned by various governments, and the Letters of Marque, which authorized said pirates to ply their trade against enemy nations, we get into a gray area of commercial maritime activity, unconventional warfare, mercenaries, pirates, and criminals…one that exists to this day, if in different forms.
During the 1980’s and 90’s, the US Navy often pre-positioned equipment and supplies on ships around the world in places that were difficult to get to, so that if a war broke out, much of the logistics and resupply infrastructure would already be in place. Since it would be massively expensive for the US Navy to actually position their own supply ships around the world, they leased or contracted commercial vessels. Some of these ships were “gray-hulled,” while others were painted commercial colors. Of course, when these ships, filled with food or medical supplies, were stationed off the coast of impoverished countries, the locals would occasionally board them and loot the ships of vital supplies. Even in the 80’s, there were Nepalese security guards being stationed on some of these ships.
The rise of the Private Military Company and private security contractors (often bemoaned by the same politicians who make use of their services or use them as proxies while keeping their hands clean) is something that simply is not going away. With ships valued at hundreds of millions of dollars carrying equally valuable cargo on board, it only makes sense to take on a few guns for hire when these commercial vessels travel through the maritime choke points frequented by pirates.