In 2008, the international shipping industry was shaken by the sudden explosion of Somali piracy. The high number of pirate attacks posed a significant problem to the shipping industry, leading to calls for armed protection. Initially, this resulted in the establishment of an international transit corridor patrolled by warships from a variety of states. This approach, however, proved to be inadequate and ineffective as pirate attacks diffused over a much wider area and continued hundreds of miles from Somalia’s coast. Accordingly, a security vacuum was created as the shipping industry turned to the private sector for additional protection. This market gap was filled by an emerging private maritime security industry through so-called private maritime security companies (PMSCs), offering a variety of armed security services. Yet, while the emergence of PMSCs has often been considered a historical novelty by various scholars within the disciplines of international relations and security studies, the historical record tells a rather different story. Throughout history, armed non-state actors have been more of a rule than an exception in the maritime warfare and security environment. Accordingly, this thesis synthesizes the emergence of PMSCs in the 21st-century with the larger historical record of non-state armed security and warfare at sea. It analyzes how these PMSCs can be positioned within the larger historical record of maritime warfare and security; and what their emergence means and says about the current state of affairs in maritime security in relation to established international norms surrounding the use of force at sea. In doing so, the thesis employs the historical method centered around a qualitative methodology that mainly focuses on primary source analyses while also incorporating the relevant literature. Sources include documents and reports from a wide range of international actors including international organizations, states, shipping industry associations, research institutes, as well as PMSCs themselves. The main findings illustrate how PMSCs can be positioned within a long line of non-state actors in the larger historical record of maritime warfare and security following the similarities in the dynamics underpinning the outsourcing of armed force to both early-modern actors such as privateers and the PMSCs of the 21st-century. Consequently, the emergence of PMSCs has created significant consequences and challenges to the established international norms guiding the maritime warfare and security environment since the Paris Declaration of 1856, which positioned the state as the sole provider of maritime security. By responding to the market gap, created by the inadequate state responses, PMSCs have managed to largely bypass the state in both their operation and regulation. The research, therefore, illustrates the dynamism surrounding the international norms guiding the maritime security environment and suggests the possibility of a maritime security environment in which non-state actors like PMSCs become relevant stakeholders instead of exceptions to the rule, following the recent refocus of states and navies away from non-traditional security threats like piracy towards traditional security.

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H.A.M. Klemann
Global History and International Relations
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Pieter Zhao. (2022, July 20). Outsourcing Security at Sea The emergence of private maritime security companies in the 21st-century and what they mean for modern maritime security. Global History and International Relations. Retrieved from