Piracy off the coast of East Africa has fallen dramatically over the past year thanks in part to better naval surveillance and shipping companies going to sea with armed maritime security contractors. The British government now is trying to persuade Sri Lanka not to upset the new status quo.
Sri Lanka has been a hub for private-security firms in the region because it allows them to carry weapons in and out of the country. But Sri Lanka wants to close these arms warehouses, fearing that weapons might fall into the hands of local militants.
Other countries have taken a stricter view on private firms bringing arms into their ports. With Sri Lanka now also thinking of closing its doors to weapons caches for security firms, shipping experts worry that shipboard security could be jeopardized.
“While the international shipping community objects to these proposed changes, the Sri Lankan government is extremely unlikely to back down on this decision,” said Arvind Ramakrishnan, principal Asia analyst at consultancy Maplecroft.
U.K. firms account for more than half of the 24 companies currently participating in the Security Association for the Maritime Industry’s certification program, an industry standard that has gained traction in the absence of an international benchmark of quality for private maritime security firms. Most of their ranks are filled by former members of the British military, according to Stuart Niven, operations manager at Britannia Maritime Security.
Sri Lanka’s decision raises a difficult legal question for U.K.-based maritime security firms, because arms licenses issued by the U.K. government don’t authorize the use of offshore floating armories. Finding reputable alternatives to U.K.-based firms may prove difficult for shipowners, as British companies are so numerous within the industry.