Manning up – Guns on Board

Navy commando is seen detaining a speedboat with suspected Somali pirates

Private security firms have found a new niche. In the absence of naval forces sufficient to protect all of the commercial ships traveling through the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, ship owners must decide whether to take the risk of hiring a private firm to protect their ships, with lethal force when necessary. Here and here are a few examples. One proposed venture would offer the following:

Vessels transiting Gulf of Aden waters will get both armed patrol boat escort and full anti-piracy cover for an average of US$21,500 per voyage, dependent on speed. This so-called Convoy Escort Program scheme would be classed as a “flag naval company” under the maritime and criminal law of a still-to-be-decided flag state.

Many ship owners have been reticent to hire private security companies to protect their ships because of: (1) the potential for escalation of violence; (2) questions regarding the legality of the use of force to prevent pirate attacks and (3) potential liability for injuries to seamen.

The need for adequate self-defence measures at sea leads to some surprising outcomes when faced with national regulation.  The criminal and regulatory regimes of a given State apply to a ship in a State’s territorial waters (usually 12 miles from shore). But when a ship is on the High Seas, the flag State where the ship is registered dictates what law applies. Considering the number of ports where a ship may dock, this makes for a complicated patch-work of laws. As a result, in order to avoid running afoul of local gun control laws, some maritime security companies are tossing weapons overboard prior to reaching port. There is a need to establish some kind of uniformity:

The Swiss government led efforts last year to create the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, a set of principles for the growing global industry. But it is up to the countries that licence ships to oversee security teams.

Countries have vastly different laws for the use of force and for carrying weapons on board. The US allows for pre-emptive attacks on pirates, while Sweden will not allow any guns except for a single shotgun on any merchant ship it regulates.

For the time being, the International Maritime Organization Best Management Practices only provide, “The use of additional private security guards is at the discretion of the company, but the use of armed guards is not recommended.”

One Response to Manning up – Guns on Board

  1. Pingback: The International Jurist › The Return of the Mercenaries – Combatting Piracy

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