Malaysia will meet Singapore and Indonesia over the presence of well-armed civilian ships in the Straits of Malacca.
“These ships are sailing under the guise of providing protection to other vessels in the straits.
“These mercenary ships are often well-armed,” said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.
“We cannot accept the presence of these ships in the straits as they may be taking over the role of our navy and maritime enforcement agencies,” he told reporters after Timor Leste Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister Dr Jose Ramos Horta paid him a courtesy call at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre yesterday.
Asked if the meeting was initiated in the wake of pirate attacks in recent weeks, Syed Hamid said it was planned to provide optimum security at the world’s busiest waterway.(source
Private armed escorts have been the subject of concern for some time. From a Singapore Angle posted this report on April 7 and included this photo of a security boat:
Additional info here and here.
Update: Probably a good place to remind people that "armed merchantmen" were common in the days of sailing ships.
The Galleon was the ship of the line for its day. However it served the dual purpose of being both a Man-O-War and also a treasure/merchant ship. In the Golden age of Piracy, Spain has the most fortified Galleons in the water. A noticeable design of the galleon was that its hull sloped inward as it rose, tapering to a narrow top deck compared with the ship's beam at the water line. The purpose for this design was to concentrate the weight of its cannons close to the centerline of the ship in an attempt to improve stability. The galleon was heavily armed. It typically carried 74 guns, with 36 each of these being mounted on either side of the ship. The two remaining guns were mounted aft. This does not include the numerous swing guns mounted along the rail that were used to repel borders.(source)