Call for Armed Guards

Security companies believe that overt protection deters piracy. At an industry event jointly hosted by Gray Page and Protection Vessels International, delegates were told that the shipping industry needs to “emerge from its comfort zone and adopt a security posture” on vessels to combat piracy.

Speakers said that merchant shipping now faced a greater threat from Somali pirates than at any time over the past three years, however, the shipping industry remains somewhat reluctant to adopt security options such as armed guards.

James Wilkes, Managing Director of Gray Page, told delegates that “There continues to be a lot of debate about the merits and consequences of employing armed guards on merchant ships and we understand that, in an ideal world, this is not what the industry would want to be doing.”

Wilkes added that “However, it is time for shipping to emerge from its comfort zone and face up to the realities of the threat posed by Somali pirates.” He further specified that “We believe that fewer vessels would be attacked and hijacked if they employed professional armed guarding services.”

Protection Vessels International’s Founder and Director of Operations Dom Mee stated that “Piracy is extremely expensive. The human cost of losing a crew to hostage for extended periods of time cannot be underestimated.” He added that “The use of private security against an average ransom payment of US$3-4 million demonstrates a clear cost benefit advantage to the international maritime trade.

Despite the simple mathematical logic of putting armed guards on board vessels there is still a lot of opposition to actually doing so. One of the reasons for this reluctance is, according to Leslie-Anne Duvic-Paoli of the UK’s Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security, the use of private security companies in a market which is unregulated and in which the legal framework that remains vague. According to Leslie-Anne Duvic-Paoli “When pirates see there are armed guards on board, they will resort to more violence.

The latest International Maritime Organisation figures on attacks and hijacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean show a rise from 66 between September 2008 and February 2009, to 134 between September 2010 and February 2011.

Worthy of note is the fact that a fall in incidents in the Gulf of Aden has been offset by a considerable increase in attacks and hijackings in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. The pirates’ use of mother ships to launch attacks has allowed operations to conducted much further out at sea.

Also see Dom Mee Interview by Peter Cook

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Mark Lowe, Wednesday 30 March 2011

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