Writing in their brochure to celebrate World Maritime Day, the International Chamber of Shipping has focused on the issue of armed guards.
They state that one important development in 2011 is the increasing use of private armed guards by shipping companies, many having concluded that arming ships is a necessary alternative to avoiding the Indian Ocean completely.
The consensus view among most ICS national associations remains that, in normal circumstances, private armed guards are a clear second best to military personnel on board. However, ICS has had to acknowledge that the decision to engage armed guards, whether military or private, is a decision to be made by the ship operator after due consideration of all the risks.
Following this lead, IMO has now started to develop much needed guidance for flag States and industry on the use of private armed security personnel on board ships in high risk areas. But problems remain with respect to many nations still refusing to allow the use of armed guards, or to embark or disembark them from their ports.
However, private armed guards do not represent a long term solution. Rather, their use actually signals a failure on the part of the international community to ensure the security of maritime trade on which the whole world depends. The use of private guards does not mean that military forces are no longer required. They are needed more than ever and should be greatly increased in number.
The industry has recently proposed that the United Nations should agree to the use of UN armed guards on board merchant ships, particularly those carrying food aid, which would free up military vessels to protect other merchant ships.