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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Brits worry about application of armed force by anti-pirate guards

Can a private security team shoot at these guys? Or does he need to wait until fired upon?
Reported at BBC News - Clarify "lethal force" piracy defence rules, say MPs, worry over "free fire zones at sea" prompts effort to have good rules for private armed security guards:
But Mr Ottaway said much more detail was needed on how UK-flagged vessels could respond, if confronted by pirates.

"The government's guidance on the use of force, particularly lethal force, is very limited and there is little to help a ship's master make a judgement on where force can be used.

"The question anyone would ask is that if a private armed guard on board a UK-flagged vessel sees an armed skiff approaching at high speed, can the guard open fire? The government must provide clearer direction on what is permissible and what is not."
Ok, we're talking British law (as it only applies to UK-flagged ships) but I would assume that once fired upon by an "armed skiff" a security team is justified in returning fire - unless there is some "you must retreat as far as you can rule" before shooting back rule. However, up the to the point of receiving fire there are a whole lot of scenarios that can arise - perhaps the private security teams need to have counsel present.

The pirates, on the other hand, don't seem to be troubled much by rules - or concerns about damage to innocent lives - being outlaws and all.

Update: You can find an excerpt of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on "Piracy off the coast of Somalia" here:
We conclude that the guidance on the use of force, particularly lethal force, is very limited and there is little to help a master make a judgement on where force can be used. The Government must provide clearer direction on what is permissible and what is not. Guidance over the use of potentially lethal force should not be left to private companies to agree upon. We recommend that the change of policy be accompanied by clear, detailed and unambiguous guidance on the legal use of force for private armed guards defending a vessel under attack. This guidance should be consistent with the rules that would govern the use of force by members of the UK armed forces in similar circumstances, and should include:
  • the circumstances in which private armed security guards faced with a clear threat of violence may respond with force, including lethal force, where proportionate and necessary, and
  • examples of a "graduated response" to an attack, including confirmation that nothing in UK law or the CPS guidance requires a victim of pirate attack to await an aggressor's first blow before acting in self-defence.
We recommend that the Government take this forward as a matter of urgency, as we understand that private armed guards are already being deployed on some UK-flagged vessels.


  1. Pirates, I didn't see any pirates, or anyone else, I was just testing the weapons.

  2. Ah, you'd rather go with a pure "negligence" defense . . .

  3. Anonymous5:55 AM

    The pirates get a free 'first' shot!

  4. mandb6:26 AM

    The background to this are the unions winding up the MP's (BBC radio this morning). All concerned need to be sat down and given a detailed lecture on the meaning and interpretation hostile intent. I'm afraid the efforts of certain PSC's in Iraq have not done the industry any favours. An armed guard on a ship is not an SUV in downtown Baghdad - he has elevation, stability, a large pair of binoculars and a sheet of steel in front of him. The pirate in a skiff has none of these. Hostile intent is relatively simple to work out when a skiff with 6 pob is heading towards you at 20 knots with an RPG, a few AK's and a ladder you know he's not out for a day's fishing. The company ROE would authorise a warning shot(s) at this stage when in range. If the pirates do not turn away (they normally do at this point) and open fire on the ship then fire may be returned until they do turn away - as they most certainly will.

  5. Well, if you want to apply common sense to the matter, M, then there is no need for Parliament to be involved.

    But if you want a list of "do's and dont's" written by people who haven't seen the problem at sea, then this is the obvious way to go.

  6. mandb8:49 AM

    Agree this is an industry issue that will sort itself out by means of natural selection (due diligence sifts out the rubbish companies) over time. There will come a time, however, when there is a mistake made at which point all the 'I told you so's' come piling in. However, watch this space over the next month or so as trade associations really grip the contract details and necessary accreditation's come to the fore.

  7. The environment offers some very clear and understood parameters that Baghdad or Kabul streets do not offer... those "big binoculars" give a ships security force plenty of time to ascertain "malicious intent"... skiff 6 pob's with weapons and ladders = obvious intent... and a force continuum - Warning shots... application of force on material targets... use of deadly force. Simple.

  8. We're talking about the place Great Britain used to be, where law-abiding citizens go to jail for defending themselves against armed criminals breaking into their homes.

    The House of Commons must be concerned that a ship may successfully defend itself.