IMO Armed Decision

The appointment of armed teams on ships has rocketed over the past six months, and the furore has grown to such an extent that the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) was forced to tackle the issues of control, standards and policing of armed security providers and personnel as part of its recent 89th session in London.

The eventual verdict, after much debate was to announce approval of interim guidance on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships transiting the high-risk piracy area off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean.

The MSC approved an MSC Circular on Interim guidance to shipowners, ship operators, and shipmasters on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the High Risk Area, and Interim recommendations for flag States on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the High Risk Area. Both sets of guidance are aimed at addressing the complex issue of the employment of private, armed security on board ships.

The guidance notes that flag State jurisdiction and any laws and regulations imposed by the flag State concerning the use of private security companies apply to their vessels. Port and coastal States’ laws may also apply to such vessels.

The guidance notes that the use of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) should not be considered as an alternative to the Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and in the Arabian Sea area (BMP) and other protective measures. Placing armed guards on board as a means to secure and protect the vessel and its crew should only be considered after a risk assessment has been carried out. It is also important to involve the Master in the decision making process.   The guidance includes sections on risk assessment, selection criteria, insurance cover, command and control, management and use of weapons and ammunition at all times when on board and rules for the use of force as agreed between the shipowner, the private maritime security company and the Master.

The interim recommendations for flag States recommend that flag States should have in place a policy on whether or not the use of PCASP will be authorized and, if so, under which conditions. A Flag State should take into account the possible escalation of violence which could result from the use of firearms and carriage of armed personnel on board ships when deciding on its policy.  The recommendations are not intended to endorse or institutionalize the use of PCASP and do not address all the legal issues that might be associated with their use onboard ships.

As the name suggests, these are only interim measures, and the next stage of the process will see an intersessional meeting of the Working Group on Maritime Security and Piracy will in September where the following will be addressed:

  • Recommendations to Governments (flag, port and coastal States) on the use of PCASP
  • Review the interim guidance to shipowners, ship operators and shipmasters on the use of PCASP for any consequential amendments;
  • Agreement on an MSC circular for the promulgation of the recommendations to Governments on the use of PCASP
  • Possible revised MSC circular on Guidance to shipowners, ship operators and shipmasters on the use of PCASP
  • Identification of consequential amendments to the Recommendations to Governments for preventing and suppressing piracy and armed robbery against ships  (MSC.1/Circ.1333) and the Guidance to shipowners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships (MSC.1/Circ.1334).

The MSC also adopted an MSC resolution on Implementation of Best Management Practice guidance, which strongly urges all parties concerned to take action to ensure better implementation of these important measures, recognising the urgent need for merchant shipping to take every possible measure to protect itself from pirate attack and that effective self-protection is the key to avoiding, evading and deterring pirate attacks.

The resolution strongly urges all those concerned to take action to ensure that as a minimum and as recommended in the Best Management Practices: ships’ masters receive updated information before and during sailing through the defined High Risk Area; ships register with the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa and report to United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) Dubai; and ships effectively implement all recommended preventive, evasive and defensive measures.

The MSC also agreed Guidelines to assist in the investigation of the crimes of piracy and armed robbery against ships, which are intended to be used in conjunction with resolution A.1025(26) Code of Practice for the Investigation of the Crimes of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships. The guidelines are intended to assist an investigator to collect evidence, including forensic evidence, to support the submission of written reports which may assist in the subsequent identification, arrest and prosecution of the pirates that held the vessel and crew captive. Formats for crew statements and logging of evidence are included, as well as guidelines on recovery and packaging of exhibits such as blood, clothing and weapons.

IMO Secretary-General Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos welcomed the progress made by the Committee in addressing the piracy issue.

“I am pleased with the progress the Committee was able to make on all the piracy related items it had set out to consider during the session and, in particular, on the development of guidance to the industry and recommendations to flag States on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on ships scheduled to sail through Indian Ocean areas exploited by pirates launching their operations from Somalia or mother ships.  The decision of the Committee to convene an intersessional working group in September to draft guidance to flag, port and coastal States shows its determination to deal with this sensitive issue in the most expeditious and effective manner,” he said.

“I also welcome the Committee’s decision to promote wider compliance of merchant ships with the industry Best Management Practice guidance, as I believe that their diligent implementation will contribute substantially to keeping pirates at bay,” Mr. Mitropoulos said.

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