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Ex-Marine offers response to pirate attacks Print
Jenna Carlesso and Khurram Saeed

When pirates attacked a 17,000-ton cargo ship off the Somali Coast three days ago, former Marine Troy Osborne wasn't surprised.

But the West Haverstraw resident had to do a double-take at the television when news reports announced that the pirates had attempted to hijack a U.S. vessel, and, subsequently, had taken the ship's American captain hostage.

"Pirates are looking first and foremost at the flag the ship has. That's going to tell them what kind of resistance they're up against," said Osborne, a former private security contractor who is developing his own company to help combat piracy threats. "This was definitely a desperate measure. I was shocked they attacked this ship, knowing full well the heat that's already on them."

The hijackings are nothing new for Osborne, who served in the Marines from 1988 to 1996. From 1989 to 1991, he fought in Panama, the Philippines and Iraq.

From 2006 to 2008, the Sloatsburg native spent two years working for the Military Professional Resources, a private military contractor, comparable to Blackwater, that works for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Army, and private companies. During his two years in Iraq, he said he trained the Iraqi Army and police.

Osborne, who now owns Leatherhead Fleet Service, an auto repair shop in West Haverstraw, said the advantages of using quick-strike mercenaries were that they were cheaper, could be mobilized faster and were still obligated to act under the same rules as the military when employed by government.

But he also acknowledged the inherent dangers when private security groups lacked oversight.

"A lot of these companies get too big and there's no type of monitoring system, and some guys are too fast on the trigger," said Osborne, 39.

According to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre, the greatest number of pirate attacks have occurred off the coasts of Africa, Brazil, Peru, the Philippines and Indonesia.

"A lot of fishing and shipping industries don't report them because of the insurance liability," Osborne said. "What we hear and see is only a fraction of the attacks that take place out there."

On Wednesday, a band of Somali pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama about 500 miles south of the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean. The 20-member crew later regained control of the ship, but Capt. Richard Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vt., was taken hostage on a lifeboat. Phillips attempted to escape yesterday but was recaptured. He was being held for ransom. The ship was carrying emergency food aid to Kenya.

"I don't understand why they didn't have a (Navy) SEAL team submerged under that boat," Osborne said. "They would have popped up out of the water and smoked every one of those guys."

It was the sixth ship seized within a week, a rise that analysts attribute to a new strategy by Somali pirates operating far from the warships patrolling the busiest shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden.

Osborne said his security company, dubbed Pira-Sea Inc. and based in Rockland, would conduct rescue operations, put armed guards on ships, and train security forces. So far, he said the company has five employees - all former military personnel - and is working with the State Department to get certified and security clearances.

Pira-Sea also can quickly call on soldiers from the Liberian Army to join their operations, he said.

Osborne said the company is necessary at a time when pirates are becoming more sophisticated.

"There's no deterrence for these pirates. They know these ships are out there with no armed presence on them," Osborne said.

The pirates have also stepped up their attacks from simply robbing ships to kidnapping crew members and demanding hefty sums of money.

"They started out in 20-foot boats, and lately they've been hijacking larger ones to use as mother ships," Osborne said. "This increases their range and operations further offshore."

One of Osborne's biggest criticisms of current operations is the lack of arms when dealing with pirates, who use automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades to take control of a ship.

While it's not safe to use weapons if the boat has an oil or gas tank, there are several types of lethal and nonlethal means of defense, including lasers and sound waves, Osborne said.

"You cannot not arm your crew," he said. "All you're doing is inviting them."
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