Almost A Call To Arms

After much internal debate The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has arrived at a new stance on the use of private armed security guards to defend merchant ships against attacks by Somali pirates.

The body, whose members represent around 80% of the world merchant fleet, states: “The decision to engage armed guards, whether military or private, is a decision to be made by the ship operator after due consideration of all of the risks, and subject to the approval of the vessel’s flag state and insurers”.

While this statement may not seem challenging, it actually represents a real change of approach for an organisation which has always been opposed to the use of arms on ships. However the threat posed by pirates and the reality that armed guards do appear to be providing a pragmatic short-term answer has seemingly prompted this reassessment.

ICS has also identified a “vital need” for the military to disable the hijacked “motherships” which the pirates are using to launch attacks in the Indian Ocean.

Chairman, Spyros M Polemis, comments: “The consensus view amongst shipping industry associations remains that, in normal circumstances, private armed guards are not recommended, and are a clear second best to military personnel.” He adds: “However, in view of the current crisis in the Indian Ocean – with over 700 seafarers held hostage and, most recently, a seafarer being executed – ship operators must be able to retain all possible options available to deter attacks and defend their crews against piracy.”

While the choice is left with the shipowner as to whether to appoint armed guards or not, it seems likely that a control mechanism will be need to be introduced to control and assess the standards of maritime security providers.

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