Floating armouries debated
Are floating armouries really dangerous?
Floating Armouries – When solutions become the risk
There has been some media attention earlier about the legality of floating armouries and their operations. Most of it seem to have been brushed under the carpet by simply saying “we are approved” and this in combination with the lack of laws in international waters has made it a complex subject.
The floating armouries that today service the Private Maritime Security companies are located just within reach of some pretty unstable areas of the world, off Yemen, off Sudan and off UAE. While UAE cannot be considered an unstable region in that sense, but the offshore location is right at their doorstep and a huge pile of weapons are stored on board some vessels of various quality in a region active in the fight against terrorism they have on their doorsteps.
PMSC’s who are the initial contractor for the use of a floating armoury, it’s their weapons being stored onboard, are very quiet when it comes to floating armouries and their functions. Everyone clearly states they use one, they write it into contracts and inform the client about its use. But very little else is mentioned.
Floating Armouries, a solution or a risk?
While floating armouries without doubt fill a very important role in the provision of armed guards for commercial vessels and has streamlined operations for PMSC’s to lower costs of services provided, they can also pose a risk for any ship.
BIMCO earlier floated the problem with weapons being borrowed or rented between PMSC’s. This is a practise that is not only against the licences, “End User Certificates”, under which most weapons are issued to PMSC’s, it’s against the requirements in the ISO28007 most PMSC’s work along, it’s against the regulations of the controlled goods licence issued by UK BIS that so many PMSC’s rely on in their operations and finally it’s against the standard contract terms of BIMCO’s Guardcon that is widely used in the industry.
The borrowing of weapons between PMSC’s, often concealed as a “joint venture”, is also the main ingredient that allows PMSC’s with little or no experience, the use of unqualified men, uninsured, unlicensed and unsupervised companies to operate in the industry.
It’s the existence of floating armouries that operate without any government insight, in international waters, that make the illegal weapons usage possible. Had each armoury on both the embarkation point and disembarkation point been government supervised, such trade would not exist and the quality of the services offered would have been both higher and more equal and ships and their crews would be exposed to a lesser threat.
Are ship-owners taking a risk with Floating Armouries?
From above it’s perhaps very clear that there is a risk for ship owners in the contracting of a PMSC. But apart from sitting with a Guardcon contract in their hands where the terms are broken, armed men onboard with illegal weapons put there by a company with no certification meaning a massive insurance liability for the ship-owner, are there any other risks worth considering? Yes there is, there is more risk in it.
If there are weapons on board a commercial vessel and this vessel get a route change, it may be for breakdowns, cargo changes or medivac, regardless of what, the ship might find that it’s sailing towards a port that was not initially planned. What is the risk that the authorities in the next port then ask for the origin of the weapons? They might only ask for the correct documentation, and if the ship manager is lucky and has done the basic work prior to boarding the security team, the documents are in order and the correct name is on all of the certification. But if the weapons come from an unsupervised floating armoury there is another risk, the weapons might have been in the wrong location previously and the ship manager now has no proof, valid proof, that the weapons boarded the vessel in a legal way. Picture this; you are the customs official in a port, a vessel turns up with short notice, it has weapons onboard. Would you ask where they came from? Would you accept the answer “we picked them up from a fishing boat not far off Yemen”? Any risk of a costly delay now?
There is one further risk to ship owners and managers in relation to the use of floating armouries for embarking or disembarking of weapons onboard their vessels. We have already seen the demise of more than one PMSC, and we have already seen the demise of more than one floating armoury supplier. What happens if legal or illegal weapons that are disembarked on to a floating armoury end up in terrorist hands if the floating armoury operation is interrupted in one way or other? Who transported the weapons to the unlicensed, unregulated, unapproved floating armoury? Was it the PMSC contracted or was it the vessel owner / manager who hired the service from a PMSC and did very little if any due diligence on it? What is the risk with weapons ending up in the wrong hands for the ship owner? Is it a commercial risk only where a ship or its crew can be investigated or could it have more serious implications such as arrest of masters, managers or other key persons in the organisation? The Seamanguard Ohio saga in India with vessel, crew and security guards arrested should be an eye opener for many CSO’s in shipping companies.
I haven’t even mentioned the fact that BIMCO pointed out in a recent CSO Alliance survey that one of the main risks in the maritime security industry today was the risk of a floating armoury being attacked itself.
What every shipping CSO should know.
The industry with Private Maritime Security Companies is today well established and more and more regulations and recommendations have come into force over the years. Most CSO’s will today know the very basics and most already have what they call an “approved list of suppliers” for their needs. CSO’s know what to look for in most cases and BIMCOS Guardcon has been the key in many ways to lead the way in establishing what should be looked at when contracting a PMSC.
But very few CSOs know the following about the floating armouries they agree to use in the contract;
- A Floating Armoury that is approved by UK BIS is NOT under UK BIS control, survey, regulations or under government control.
- Very few ship registries actually permit the use of a vessel as a Floating Armoury.
- Floating armouries that have ship registry (flag state) permission to work as a Floating Armoury is not the same as a floating armoury under government control or surveillance.
- A ship registered under a flag state where the type of vessel is listed as “floating armoury” is not the same as a flag state approval to conduct work as a floating armoury.
- A Floating Armoury that uses class certificates that states approved for the use of dangerous cargo is not the same as approval to store arms offshore.
- PMSC’s with ISO28007 does not mean that they only use government controlled Floating Armouries.
There are Floating Armouries that are approved to operate as an FA by their flag state, who also are under government control and regulations in both the Red Sea and offshore from Fujairah UAE. Many CSO’s think that the cost of using a PMSC who only uses such approved facilities is much higher, but in today’s competitive market there is very little, if any at all, difference in price between a compliant and a noncompliant PMSC. The difference between using the two and the risk or security it carries with it is only one thing, a bit of time.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of MarsecReview.com