Legal Concerns

Armed security guards may be a pragmatic answer to safeguarding vessels, but Paola Ghiradani, partner at London maritime law firm Stephenson Harwood, speaking in Lloyd’s List has stressed that there are clear legal concerns facing armed personnel.

“Under UNCLOS ’82, [Sea Marshals] won’t have the right to engage or start firing, and will effectively be little more than an escort service.

“If they do engage, they will expose themselves to criminal liability. Either they could be sued by the pirates, or more likely, if they were within territorial waters, they could end up being prosecuted, effectively for vigilante-type crime.”

Given these barriers to force, we could eventually see armed personnel registered by Flag States, and perhaps a licensing system being introduced. One possible alternative route, which could speed the process, is the establishment of a trade association which could act as a central point of control and monitoring of personnel standards.

Mr Ghiradani questions the cost savings of the armed response – and stresses that insurers are not comfortable with armed guards. Much of this is conjecture of course until something goes wrong and then the courts will perhaps decide just how cost effective and legally compliant the armed response really is.

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