Thursday, October 13, 2011

Somali Pirates: Armed Guards Worried Over

That's not an AK-47 that pirate has
For people who have been living under rocks someplace, The Economist offers up Piracy: Prepare to repel boarders dealing with the use of armed guards on ships plying pirate infested waters:
Until February the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which represents the world’s merchant shipowners, opposed the use of armed guards—even as some members were discreetly hiring them. Since the chamber changed its line, the number of owners tooling up has accelerated. Now, says Simon Bennett, its spokesman, perhaps 20% of all ships passing through the risky parts of the Indian Ocean have armed guards aboard—typically retired marines or the like.

In recruiting armed security men, some shipowners have defied the laws of the countries where their vessels are registered. But governments, unable to provide the naval cover the shipowners want, are one by one legalising the practice. Spain, one of the earliest to let its fishing-boats carry armed guards, said on September 27th that they would now be allowed to use machineguns and other heavy weapons against the pirates’ AK-47s.
The UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO), while still not endorsing the practice, last month asked Somalia’s neighbours to let armed merchant ships call at their ports. The ICS says it understands Egypt is to lift its ban on armed merchant ships’ passage through the Suez canal. But the Indian government is still said to disapprove of armed merchant ships calling at its ports: their guards either have to go elsewhere or dump their weapons overboard.

An official inquiry in the Netherlands last month recommended that the government itself do the hiring of armed guards, enlisting them as temporary members of the armed forces. This is one potential way to ease worries about the spread of what would in effect be private navies on the high seas—something not seen since government-sponsored “privateers” were banned in the 19th century.
Shipowners’ insurers are worried that ill-trained guards without insurance of their own might shoot someone and land them with huge claims. . . .
There do not yet seem to have been any claims, or lawsuits, over the use of armed ship guards, says Tom Heinan of International Registries (which runs the Marshall Islands’ shipping register). But shipowners using them could face legal action in various places: their own country, the flag state of their ship, the home countries of injured crewmen, and so on. All the more reason to ensure that the guards are competent and well-insured.
Meanwhile, the UK government seems to have decided armed guards aren't all that bad, as reported here:
As reported in Lloyd’s List, any formal opposition to the use of private armed guards on board UK flagged vessels will now be dropped.

UK Foreign Office minister Sir Henry Bellingham confirmed a reversal on the previous strong discouragement of armed vessel protection.
The Dutch are going to provide an armed force for ship riding, as set out here, as will Italy.

Welcome to 19th century, sorta. Sometimes you just have to shoot back.

1 comment:

  1. MandB3:36 PM

    At long last common sense is prevailing. Hand wringing and just plain poor advice by lawyers, trade associations and insurers had convinced the owners and shippers that armed guards were bad and a reckless liability. How many crews have had to endure captivity, mental hardship and death in the most extreme cases, for months by these prevarications when the earlier use of armed guards would (and I use that word carefully) have reduced the hijack rate substantially over the last few years. Some would say we needed regulation or attestation of armed guards now being done by the likes of SAMI. I would say that type of regulation would have occurred naturally if those 'advisers' in the early days had thought more carefully about the welfare of the crews themselves and not the legal position of the owners and insurers.