Good Company

Good Company
Good Company

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Armed Guards on Merchant Ships: The "Flag-State Endorsement"

Who will be responsible for Barney?
Interesting update to the Italian armed guard mess off India at The Hindu "Business Line" Ships with armed guards: Govt may fix responsibility on flag-state:
India's maritime administration may make ‘flag-state endorsement' mandatory for foreign merchant ships entering Indian waters with armed security guards on board. The idea is to make the Government of the country in which the ship is registered (flag-state) also responsible for any action on the part of the armed guards deployed on the vessel.
Currently, flag-states give a general approval for shipping companies to engage private security guards. The contract is between the ship owners and the security agency which provides the armed men. With rising incidents of attacks on cargo ships by Somali pirates, many countries, including India and Italy, have allowed their merchant ships to have armed guards on board. Ships have to follow the policy (on deployment of guards) of the country in which they are registered. The policy is based on the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) guidelines.

Problems can arise when the ship is owned, managed and operated by people of different nationalities. Typically, a ship may be registered in one country and its owner based in another. Further, the private security agency that provides the guards could be operating from a third country. Adding to this, there is every possibility of the security men belonging to different nationalities. Given such complexities, Government officials here said it needs to be made mandatory that flag states should shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that any liability arising out of reckless acts by armed men on board are honoured.
Of course, there are problems with such an "endorsement," too. What if the foreign merchant ship is not in "Indian waters?" In fact, what if the entire act complained of occurs on the "high seas?" How do you hold the government of some "flag of convenience" state like Tuvalu responsible? Somewhere I once dug up the info that about 35% of shipping sails under a "flag of convenience." Is India going to forbid entry to its waters for such ships - not that it may matter all that much because many of those ships can't afford or won't hire armed security guards.
UPDATE 22 Feb 12: "It was an accident, not manslaughter" - an opinion piece.


  1. Anonymous6:08 PM

    'Who will be responsible for Barney?' Hilarious! But, the question really needs to be addressed.
    It is my understanding that 2 of the marines have been arrested.
    Tuvalu, Tuvalu - I had to look that one up.

  2. Gary Stringer10:38 AM

    I agree that flag of convenience states represent some confusion but i doubt that India will stop entry into their waters or that any guards would indeed be aboard.

  3. Anonymous3:50 AM

    see here for answer >

  4. Anonymous5:47 AM

    The Italian government is now preparing to court-martial the two marines. Who gave the order for the two marines to fire their weapons? I haven't seen anything on an order being given to fire.