Use of Private Guards and VPDs Remains Controversial

Staff of IntelEdge - A Private Security Firm

The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, as you will recall, was created by a UN Security Council Resolution in 2009 and is now composed of more than 60 countries and international organizations. It recently held its eleventh plenary session and issued a press communique measuring the progress of the fight against piracy. The statement first notes that the problem of piracy is far from under control:

Concluded that piracy continues to pose a serious threat, noting that while the number of hostages in captivity has decreased since the last meeting (currently 197 individuals as of 19 March 2012, as compared to 250 in November 2011), the number of hijacked vessels has gone up, and currently stands at 13, compared to ten at the last Plenary in November 2011; total incidence of attacks also remains high, with 36 reported so far in 2012, seven of which have been successful;

The statement then acknowledges the assistance that private guards and, government-provided vessel protection detachments (VPDs) can provide.

Noted that the low success rate of attacks was a positive development due to a combination of factors, including the application of best management practices (BMPs) by the shipping industry, the continuing naval presence and more effective engagement rules, deployment of military Vessel Protection Detachments (VPDs), and the more legally challenging issue of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP); and recalled the need for close cooperation between coastal states in the region, flag states, and countries deploying VPDs;

Key here are the difficult legal issues raised by the use of private armed guards and the fact that these issues have not found any ready answers. In fact, the statement,

Noted the concern of some coastal states in the Indian Ocean region about the increasing use of armed guards by commercial ships in the proximity of such states, and invited [Working Group] 2 and [Working Group] 3 to discuss the implications of the use of such guards, and potential ways to address the related concerns.

In addition to legal issues such as when the use of force is justified, some new ones have presented themselves. Private Security Companies were always confronted with the difficulty of complying with multiple legal regimes in different ports of call. While a point of origin might permit possession of some weapons, perhaps the next port of call would not. In some instances, this led to the disposal of weapons at sea. See also here. Now, in order to avoid these conflicting legal regimes, some private security companies have reportedly, stored guns aboard floating armories on the high seas in order cut costs and circumvent laws limiting the import and export of weapons. As the statement of the Contact Group makes clear, a consensus position on these issues is still some ways off.

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