The Indian Government has decided to allow deployment of armed guards – preferably retired naval officers – on board Indian cargo vessels sailing on the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean, a top government official has stated.
Detailed guidelines on the number of guards that each vessel can have will be issued shortly, he said.
The plan is to give preference to retired naval officers, said the official who has just returned from the meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which discussed the guidelines on allowing armed guard on board the merchant ships.
The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) has drawn up guidelines on the use of armed guards. Draft guidelines In India, the proposal under consideration is to seek retired navy officers from the pool maintained by the Directorate of Resettlement under the Ministry of Defence.
Each vessel can have a group of five armed personnel – one officer and four others. The shipping companies have to bear the cost of hiring the guards. A draft guidelines prepared by the director general of shipping is being vetted by the defence, shipping and the law ministries, he said.
The government is not in favour of allowing private security guards on board national flag-carriers, because of concerns regarding their screening. The guards themselves should not turn out to be a threat to the national carriers. “As far as possible we want to go in for navy personnel,” the official said.
In India, seamen’s unions, shipowners and other maritime stakeholders have been seeking government intervention. Welcoming the government decision, Mr S. Hajara, President of Indian National Shipowners Association and Chairman and Managing Director of the Shipping Corporation of India, said: “We are positive on the government decision. This is crucial as the incidents of piracy have been growing and we are concerned over the safety of men and material on board our ships. We, shipping companies, have been requesting for use of armed guard on board. There will be an additional cost and we will have to bear it for the safety of our men on board,” he said.
However some foresee issues with the Indian approach, “If the sourcing of armed guard is restricted to the pool of retired navy officers, there could be one problem, You may not get enough hands,” said Mr Arun Sharma, head of technical advisory group at INSA on the matter. “For a ship, the time is very important. Charters are ready to pay the cost of armed guard, but if you don’t get them on time, there will be problem,” he said.