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American Privateer Princess
December 30, 2010 7:05 AM   Subscribe

SelectArmor, owned by Michele Lynn Ballarin, is a private military company based in Virginia. Her firm is at the center of covert military action in the waters around Somalia.

Somali piracy is big business and business is booming, with attacks up in 2008, 2009 and again in 2010.
posted by T.D. Strange (36 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I will never understand how in this day and age a private military is still legal.
posted by spicynuts at 7:08 AM on December 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


If it is on MeFi, can it really be that covert?
posted by spock at 7:12 AM on December 30, 2010



If it is on MeFi, can it really be that covert?


They must have had a facebook page ;p
posted by infini at 7:17 AM on December 30, 2010


Their page looks like it was designed by the Space Jam guys.
posted by tunewell at 7:21 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


The crosshairs cursor on the company's website is a nice touch.
posted by eugenen at 7:22 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Non of the three pieces about helicopter attacks make mention of SelectArmor; in fact, most of the information about SelectArmor (or mentioning SelectArmor in the SomaliTalk item) linked to here is from 2006.
The use of private military is interesting and sure to become an issue as time goes on, as you make a referencing to in after the fold, but starting off with SelectArmor in as the main bad-guy seems a rather poor fit, if a legit one at all.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:29 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't believe in this day and age, pirates can just climb onto giant freighters and kidnap people
posted by Redhush at 7:30 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure I mind if the shipping companies are paying mercenaries to fight pirates. They're legitimately under attack, and the world navies sure haven't dealt with the problem. What else are they supposed to do, just sit there and take it?
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:35 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Residents in Warsheekh told Garowe online that the skiffs reached on Friday in that region while their crews were jailed by the Somali insurgent group, Al-Shabaab on Saturday.

I don't know why, but I love the idea of one US enemy arresting another US enemy for threatening US interests. Even when we're trying to kill them we've got them working for us!
posted by Think_Long at 7:36 AM on December 30, 2010


starting off with SelectArmor in as the main bad-guy seems a rather poor fit, if a legit one at all.

The CEO was photographed there in September and made at least one trip in 2008. There's no direct evidence that the helicopter attacks are from SelectArmor, but it's a reasonable inference.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:38 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I will never understand how in this day and age a private military is still legal.

Really? Frankly, I'm surprised that they aren't more common. "Free Market" and all that, y'know. It seems like a huge growth market. I'm just waiting for the day when we see SelectArmor forces squaring-off against Xe forces in some urban conflict somewhere.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:45 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I can't believe in this day and age, pirates can just climb onto giant freighters

"Oy, think you could hold the ladder more steady, mate? It ain't easy trying to climb up a ten-story rope ladder while holding an Uzi!"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:49 AM on December 30, 2010


If it is on MeFi, can it really be that covert?

Goddamnit I rushed into this thread to make that exact comment. You guys are just too quick and witty.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:50 AM on December 30, 2010


There's a ticklish little problem in governments' getting involved in some of these piracy incidents and that's the flags the vessels are flying. If the vessel has a Panamanian flag, for example, it's the Panamanian navy that's supposed to go do something about the piracy.

Here many of the captured vessels' flags are stated.
posted by jet_silver at 8:18 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I mind if the shipping companies are paying mercenaries to fight pirates. They're legitimately under attack, and the world navies sure haven't dealt with the problem. What else are they supposed to do, just sit there and take it?

I think we should ban this practice globally and require countries that flag vessels to provide either funds for a UN fleet to protect ships or naval assets. Right now these shipping companies fly the Liberian flag and are shocked to discover the Liberian navy is in no position to enforce freedom of the seas. Instead they go out and pay private mercs to protect them. Except where does it end. Piracy off the coast of Somolia started when foreign fishing vessels illegally fished the waters off the Somali coast, ruining the lives of fisherman. What happens when private mercs protect a Japanese whaling ship from Greenpeace? A historical analogy would be the range wars of the old west. Where regulators were hired by cattle barons to track down cattle rustlers. Many a regulator became more of a problem for the locals than cattle rustling ever was.
posted by humanfont at 8:22 AM on December 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Great post!
posted by jason's_planet at 8:35 AM on December 30, 2010


There's a ticklish little problem in governments' getting involved in some of these piracy incidents...

I don't know if I have a problem with this, actually - I mean, if I pay half-price to a COVAD reseller to avoid paying Verizon, I don't expect Verizon-level tech support(Such as it is) when something goes wrong.

If a shipping line finds first world regulation, safety requirements and taxation so onerous that they have to fly a flag of convenience, they shouldn't expect US-level support when things go pear shaped. And the crew shouldn't expect it either - After all, the flag nation is painted on the stern of the boat. Did you really think the Liberian government was going to save you from pirates?
posted by Orb2069 at 8:47 AM on December 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


There have been vessels attacked from nations that field major navies (the US, Russia, etc.) Navies simply don't seem willing to do what needs to be done to eliminate the piracy (either root out the pirate bases or patrol heavily enough to make piracy impractical.) Of course having official navies deal with the pirates is the best solution, but if they won't do it, what should the shipping companies do then?
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:47 AM on December 30, 2010


what should the shipping companies do then?

A copassenger on my recent flight was/is a master mariner and he was saying that the ships are now taking a very long way around the whole area. The trouble is, he says, that the biggest ships are now uber easy to control as its all so computerized.
posted by infini at 9:16 AM on December 30, 2010


If the US navy is not doing everything possible to stop US-flagged shipping from having problems, that is unforgivable and it argues for, not against, flags of convenience. OTOH the idea that US military lives would be risked rescuing a ship with a St. Kitts & Nevis flag is repugnant to me. Orb2069 has it exactly right - that flag is supposed to be a guarantee. IIRC the Russians honor that.

Countries with significant benefit from flags of convenience ought to be protecting their revenue streams and if I were running one of them you damn bet I'd be putting mercs in any kind of craft available under letters of marque and reprisal. One good thing that might come of this is flags of convenience will be less attractive in the future.
posted by jet_silver at 9:16 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


jet_silver: If the US navy is not doing everything possible to stop US-flagged shipping from having problems, that is unforgivable and it argues for, not against, flags of convenience. OTOH the idea that US military lives would be risked rescuing a ship with a St. Kitts & Nevis flag is repugnant to me.

The problem with this approach is that rescuing ships is exactly the wrong way to deal with piracy. First of all, it's incredibly dangerous to the crew of the ship to fight the pirates when they've already boarded and taken hostages. Second, as long as piracy is profitable you will continue to see more of it, so if you ignore that flag-of-convenience ship it'll just fund more pirate operations you have to deal with later.

I tend to think the best solution would involve a coalition of naval forces that could use advanced sonar technologies, hydrophones, and UAVs to detect and track pirate vessels leaving the coast and prevent them from intercepting any ships. Why this hasn't been done yet, I have no idea (probably the expense.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:38 AM on December 30, 2010


How hard can it be to stop a skiff from boarding a 5-story tall supertanker moving wall of steel. I've actually run a skiff up next to a supertanker while going 30MPH. I don't see how they do it.
posted by stbalbach at 10:14 AM on December 30, 2010


I've been reading recent William Gibson and John Le Carre lately, and this resonates in all sorts of unnerving ways.
posted by mecran01 at 10:15 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


O the year was something like twenty-ten
(How I wish I was in Virginia now!)
A letter of marque came from DC
To the most tight-lipped firm I ever seen

CHORUS
God damn them all!
I was told "Protect the seas for American gold!
We'll fire some guns, shed no tears!"
But I'm a lonely man wishing for a pier
The first of Ballarin's privateers.

O Michele Ballarin scoured the land
(How I wish I was in Virginia now!)
For ex-Navy SEALs, all pensioned who
For her would reap great profits too

SelectArmor was a typical firm
(How I wish I was in Virginia now!)
She was privately held, hired old school ties
And sent lobbyists to Congress to tell sweet lies

The last of the fiscal year we put to sea
(How I wish I was in Virginia now!)
We were 1099s with no health care
But we were relatively young and loaded for bear

Round the old Cape Horn we sighted a prize
(How I wish I was in Virginia now!)
A Liberian freighter crewed by whites
Brought low by skinnies who were in our sights

Well we aimed our rifles and we took them down
(How I wish I was in Virginia now!)
It was quick and easy, not like work a'tall
But before we could board we got another call

Now I'm making six figures on the open seas
(How I wish I was in Virginia now!)
But every day is another fight
With my folks and my condo nowhere in sight
posted by infinitewindow at 10:33 AM on December 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm just waiting for the day when we see SelectArmor forces squaring-off against Xe forces in some urban conflict somewhere.

They'll both be sorry when Hammer's Slammers show up.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:43 AM on December 30, 2010


I remarked to someone today that our two remaining exports seem to be war and bullshit.
posted by atchafalaya at 11:00 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's interesting that what's happening off the Horn of Africa is called "piracy", but a Coast Guard vessel boarding a foreign ship in US coastal waters is not.

Obviously the "pirates" are actually non-state-sanctioned militiamen, but it requires a lot of community support and collaboration to "hide" a 300 meter supertanker in some harbour someplace along the coast of Somalia.

One way to look at piracy is simply as local communities imposing transit levies on passing merchantmen.

Then again, since this piracy occurs as far south as Madagascar, perhaps this isn't the best way to look at things. Still, it's a complicated phenomenon made more difficult by the West's refusal to support an Islamic government in Somalia that could have cracked down on pirates.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:02 AM on December 30, 2010


Maybe we'll start issuing letters of marque, just like the founding fathers intended.
posted by electroboy at 11:09 AM on December 30, 2010


KokuRyu: It's interesting that what's happening off the Horn of Africa is called "piracy", but a Coast Guard vessel boarding a foreign ship in US coastal waters is not.

We generally don't hold the ships and crews for ransom. That seems to be a fairly critical difference.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:19 AM on December 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Defense. It is a legitimate function of a government to inspect inbound shipping within the territorial limit with vessels of war. There are tons of laws dating back centuries that describe what's OK to do in a situation like that, and these are pretty much respected if trade is part of a government's interest. The Somalis are not respecting those laws. No matter how great threatening shipping and stealing cargo is for an economy, what they are doing is piracy and would be recognized as such by governments going back as far as the Minoans. "Transit levies on passing merchantmen" is not OK in open water, all have the right to pass in the open sea - and the Coast Guard, to complete the example, doesn't engage in boarding vessels on the open sea.
posted by jet_silver at 11:29 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Infinite Window, that's a thing of beauty you made right there, it is.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:53 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


related:
Tote Bags!
posted by clavdivs at 12:21 PM on December 30, 2010


I tend to think the best solution would involve a coalition of naval forces that could use advanced sonar technologies, hydrophones, and UAVs to detect and track pirate vessels leaving the coast and prevent them from intercepting any ships. Why this hasn't been done yet, I have no idea (probably the expense.)

See operational Atalanta a UN mission headed up by the EU. Also Nato/US Operation Ocean Sheild and of course the whole military /naval presence from difference nations in the 1.1 million square miles under threat.

Given the volume of ship traffic and the size of the ocean, it is cost prohibitive to simply fly a UAV over each one and fire a hellfire if something suspicious comes up.
posted by humanfont at 12:24 PM on December 30, 2010


The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Defense.

Actually, it's part of the Dept. of Homeland Security, formerly of the Treasury and Transportation departments. Only upon declaration of war or by Congressional/Presidential directive is it subject to the authority of the Department of Defense, even though it is one of the five military and seven uniformed services and its members subject to the UCMJ.

the Coast Guard, to complete the example, doesn't engage in boarding vessels on the open sea.

I have personally witnessed Coasties stopping and boarding vessels in international waters, as part of their core mission. All of this info is freely available on the Wikipedias.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:37 PM on December 30, 2010


Whenever I read about private military companies like SelectArmor or Blackwater Xe, I find myself wondering how the companies and individuals shield themselves from little things like homicide laws and such. Do they just count on the fact that they're organized and have guns and are scary to keep from being prosecuted? Because if I were to get a bunch of my friends together, "form" a company, and then go about being thugs and killing people in the name of security, we'd probably be arrested as gang members and not somehow honored as a private military company.
posted by hippybear at 2:27 PM on December 30, 2010


If I could make one change to the fantastic Ballarin's Privateers, it would be to change Virginia with Norfolk. Fits better with both the meter and content of the original.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:54 PM on December 30, 2010


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