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EUROMOVERS International

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Should armed guards defend ships against piracy

Jun 27, 2011
The International Maritime Bureau reported that there were a total of 440 attacks on shipping in 2010 and there have been further outrages in the first quarter of 2011.

Shipping industry experts recently raised a clear voice in favour of deploying armed guards on merchant vessels to repel piracy attacks. Many maritime professionals who previously opposed the measure for fear of escalating the violence say they have changed their minds, while retaining various reservations. The switch in mood has been reflected in a decisive vote at the 2011 ‘hot topic’ debate of WISTA-UK (part of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association), for the tough approach.

The International Maritime Bureau reported that there were a total of 440 attacks on shipping in 2010, of which 218 were attributed to Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, off the Coast of Somalia and in the Western Indian Ocean, and there have been further outrages in the first quarter of 2011.

Opening discussion at the WISTA event, Peter Hinchliffe, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping, said that proposing the motion was a task he “would not and could not have undertaken a few weeks ago,” and it was important to put this into context.

Citing rising brutality in recent cases Peter Hinchliffe said that it was important for this lucrative business of piracy to be removed. “The military presence in the Gulf of Aden had caused piracy to shift almost as far as the coast of India,” he said, adding that “Sea control in the northern Indian Ocean was being ceded to armed gangs.”

Mr Hinchliffe continued: “Some 600 seafarers are at present held for ransom, and the average time in captivity has extended to around eight months. No nation has a strategy to tackle the problem and seafarers were daily running the gauntlet of armed pirates, with ships’ superstructures being penetrated by rocket propelled grenades.” Unfortunately most flag states did not have the resources at their finger tips to provide military guards in the theatre of operation.  “In these exceptional circumstances, it is our belief that the use of armed guards and private security should be permitted by the flag state when considered appropriate. We must not send masters into the area with their arms tied behind their backs.”

Maria Dixon, President of WISTA-UK agreed. “I certainly think that there should be armed guards on board,” she said. “The crew are seafarers meant to sail the ship, not to defend it!”

Leslie-Anne Duvic-Paoli of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security, however, questioned the trustworthiness of some private security companies in a market which was unregulated and a legal framework that was vague. “When pirates see that there are armed guards on board they will resort to more violence,” she said.

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