In his new book, Private Anti-Piracy Navies, award-winning author John-Clark Levin explains how private security companies are combating and preventing piracy and maritime terrorism by protecting merchant ships with armed escort vessels.

In 2008, Somalia saw a steep increase in piracy when merchant ships were hijacked and prisoners taken ransom along the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, which is roughly as long as the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

After 2011, firearms were permitted aboard merchant ships, and with increased methods of securing ships the Gulf of Aden saw a significant decrease in piracy.

“We saw Somali piracy plummet as a result in that region,” Levin said at a recent Heritage Foundation event.

Levin explained, “By 2012, actually a majority of major merchant ships in the high-risk area had armed private security of some form.” However, Levin warned the fight against piracy isn’t over: “Over the last year, piracy has been surging in the Gulf of Guinea, off the Horn of West Africa.”

Levin said West African pirates who steal oil and sell it on the black market in Nigeria are more dangerous than Somali-based pirates. He said that there is greater violence and more fatalities among crew members. While the armed escort vessels are working to protect merchant ships there, it has proven to be more challenging.

Levin explained that, while only three maritime terrorist attacks have occurred in slightly more than a decade, Al-Qaeda’s growing interest in maritime terrorism is a credible threat.

“Al-Qaeda has been shifting its center of gravity from the fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan toward Africa through its affiliates,” Levin said. “Al-Qaeda has repeatedly threatened merchant shipping.”

Levin explained the consequences of a maritime terrorist attack would be “catastrophic” compared to piracy and oil bunkering. If a super tanker was sunk, there would be great fallout in the maritime shipping and maritime insurance industries and premiums would continue to sky rocket.

Heritage hosted John-Clark Levin on December 6. His discussion and the question-and-answer session run about 50 minutes.