In parallel with its talks on naval action, the Indian government has been discussing the issue whether “sea marshals” should be placed onboard merchant ships to counter the threat posed by pirates.
The Government proposal to allow deployment of armed guards on Indian merchant ships comes in the wake of the increasing number of attacks by, and as 53 Indian seafarers languish in captivity.
Headed by the Cabinet Secretary, the inter-ministerial group includes representatives from the Ministries of Defence, Shipping, Law and External Affairs. In the recent times, various countries like Malta and Yemen have allowed the merchant ships to deploy armed guards.
The guards will be ex-servicemen, preferably former commandos, who are trained to deal with hostage crisis, sources said. These guards will be armed with small arms, sources said. Existing Indian and international laws do not allow merchant ships to carry firearms. Sources said the Indian Navy was in favour of this proposal as it would help in increasing the safety of ships while operating in high seas against pirate attacks. Officials also said the rules of engagement and laws in this regards would be framed in consultations with the Navy.
As regards the status of arrested pirates, they said at present there was no defined law in India to deal with pirates. Various provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) like attempt to murder and trying to damage Government property were used to book the pirates besides century-old Admiralty law.
Officials ruled out India becoming part of any US-led task force to counter piracy, and said, “We would be willing to be part of any joint effort under a UN mandate only.”
Highlighting safety measures, Indian ships were asked to step up vigilance and install barbed wires on the periphery of the ship and have a “safe house.” These measures are part of the International Best Management Practices.
“The ships must have a safe house with thick walls, electronic doors and an e-mail connection so that the crew can call for help and remain safe till the time security forces interdict the ship,” officials said. They also said pirates have carried out 87 attacks worldwide in the last two months and taken 243 hostages.