Liability Issues

While the use of arms on ships has seen some begrudging acceptance, there is still the small matter of legality to consider.

The biggest underlying concern for owners and masters is liability. Lawyers are lining up to defend pirates on a pro bono basis as it boosts their profile. So we can be sure that if many more pirates get shot, then there will be many more trials…with hitherto “innocent parties” in the dock – as the security guards, master and owners face the judge.

With guards under the command, dominion and control of the master, it seems that once again the criminalisation issue might be about to take a rather nasty turn. It seems that the exisitng laws must be changed to permit the practices on which the defence of shipping currently rest.

While progress is being made through the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) to sort out the current mess in the provision of security, there is another parallel battle to be fought. Increasingly lawyers are seeing that the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) has to be the catalyst for change. SOLAS exists to protect life – and pirates, are every bit as lethal as wind, waves, fire and the breakup of old Bulk Carriers. The much maligned ISPS Code is part of SOLAS and it covers many areas relating to piracy, but its failure is to not make them specific and explicit enough. One US lawyer states that, “We should amend SOLAS and its contained ISPS code to include pirates and piracy expressly and precisely.”

John AC Cartner a practising UK solicitor and American lawyer in Washington, DC, also makes the excellent point, he wants to see changes to the definition of piracy. Today we have conflicting and confused messages based on the UNCLOS definition. It is time to tidy up the law, so we can then clean up the seas.

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