Floating Armoury

A vessel being used by a Sri Lankan company to operate a floating-armoury in the Gulf of Aden was briefly arrested by the authorities in the United Arab Emirates. Sinbad the vessel in the control of ‘Avant Garde Security’ was held whilst it was being refueled off the coast of Fujairah. The company was approved by authorities in Sri Lanka to operate a maritime security company in the troubled Gulf of Aden which has become a risk-zone with frequent pirate attacks.

It appears that the vessel has run into a storm with the so-called ‘Russian mafia’ who have thus far operated maritime security companies in this volatile area with little or no competition. Our maritime sources have indicated that the Sinbad has been lured to within the territorial waters of the UAE during a routine refueling exercise. International Maritime conventions and treaties govern the use and transport of weapons on board vessels with many countries specifically barring the importation of arms and ammunition on board visiting vessels. Generally a vessel that has weapons on board is likely to make use of a ‘floating armoury’ before entering the territorial waters of any country.

In this instance the Sinbad – reliably understood to be a minesweeper – has strayed into UAE waters whilst refueling. Ordinarily the refueling would be done well outside of the 12-mile port limit. In what maritime sources said was ‘very strange’ the Captain on board the Sinbad appears to have allowed his vessel to be in UAE waters along with some 1,500 pieces of arms.

An official for Avant Garde claimed that the vessel was in international waters when arrested along with two other vessels by the UAE coastguard. Matters he said were a bit difficult because ‘they did not speak Arabic’ and was hopeful that the matter would be resolved within 48 hours. In fact after a flurry of activity between maritime and diplomatic authorities of both countries the vessel was released and allowed to proceed.

The temporary arrest of the Sinbad raised concerns amongst Private Maritime Security Companies in the area who feared loss of access to weapons in their quest to combat the growing rate of maritime piracy on the seas off the coast of Somalia for instance. Many vessels use independent ‘shipping marshalls’ – some refer to them as “Maritime Mercenaries” to be on board and provide the vessel with security. Due to stringent rules governing the movement of arms, floating armouries are used to store and also hire weapons for their use. Storage becomes necessary when a vessel has to enter a particular port for any number of reasons.

In Sri Lanka the move away from land-based armouries in Galle and the establishment of a floating armoury off the coast of Galle was met with skepticism by the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents (CASA). They have expressed concern on the basis that the business of providing maritime security for ships who are represented by their membership will be diluted. At a meeting held in Colombo where foreign maritime security companies were also present, last month, some of these companies voiced concerns as to the legality of the new arrangements. They pointed out that whilst the matter was within the control of Sri Lankan Navy – who were deriving an income of over Rs 300 Million annually – matters were perfectly legitimate and very well accepted by all international participants. It was also pointed out that vessels with weapons on board would not necessarily call at the Galle floating armoury merely to deposit weapons before coming to Colombo. In that light permission will now be given for vessels to hold their weapons on board ‘in-bond’ whilst visiting Colombo Port. An industry source pointed out that this arrangement hits out at the Sri Lanka Navy collecting fees. “If the land based armoury was also operational, the Navy would still collect fees for that use. By now doing away with that arrangement revenue is needlessly lost – also vessels will be mindful of extra costs by stopping in Galle for the use of the floating armoury. Eventually this will be another factor in Colombo attracting fewer ships, the source warned. He added, “Maldives is likely to be the beneficiary.” Sri Lanka’s authorities have cited National Security concerns in the move away from land-based to floating armouries.

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Article written by Faraz Shauketaly.  Article and image courtesy of The Sunday Leader.

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