Friday, September 3, 2010

Use Armed Guards Against Pirates

As Reported HERE
After all the hoopla about resolving the piracy problems - the ultimatums by the seafarers’ unions, serious concern shown by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) besides Intertanko, BIMCO, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and other maritime organizations being in hot in pursuit of the Somali pirates - the issue remains largely unsolved and the sea brigands continue to rule the waters. This unfortunate situation seems to have triggered a kind of a metamorphosis among some who command ships in pirate infested waters.  

A year back when the issue of piracy took center stage at one of the seminars of the Company of Master Mariners of India (CMMI) captains and nautical officers who attended the program felt it was best to wait and watch the situation, as it appeared that some lasting solution was finally underway. It seemed at that time that the world organizations had taken the beast by the horns and some decisive action would be forthcoming. At the same time experts talked about imminent solutions being put forth that would make ships invincible to pirate attacks.

But during the last week CMMI again focused on the piracy issues at their quarterly seminar. This time however Garry Stevens, Associate Director of London Steamship who addressed the participants about the measures that needed to be taken for transiting safely through the Gulf of Aden and Somalian coastal waters got some astonishing responses when he sought the views of the participants.

“Pirates are after the cargo and the ransom but not the crew,” Garry had informed. According to him it was the pirates’ intention to do everything possible to secure the ransom at the earliest by using the media to their advantage and they also try and project the difficulty imposed on the crew and their families during the detention of the vessel.

“P & I Club is concerned about piracy,” he said. “Ultimately it is involved in ransom payment.” He dwelt at length on the various safety practices incorporated in the Best Management Practices (BMP) and which could ensure safety of the ship’s crew. He highlighted the use of razor wires, maintaining speed above 15 knots, sailing only in day light hours, use of ‘the Citadel’ and also moving in a convoy escorted by a naval vessel.

“Unfortunately countries did not want to get involved in legal issues and in prosecuting pirates as it was serving as a deterrent,” he said. “There is no death sentence and only a prison sentence. Besides, countries did not want to get after the pirates as they did not have room in their prisons and may have to offer them citizenship after they complete their sentence.” 

At the end of his presentation he posed this question to the participants: “How many present here feel that use of armed guards is a solution to overcome piracy attacks?” More than half the number of nearly 300 master mariners present affirmed that it was the only solution including those captains who have had a close call with the pirates while navigating through Somalian waters. It was worth taking the risk they felt, knowing well that if their vessel was to be captured after a gun battle, with the pirates suffering casualties it could turn out to be dangerous for the ship’s crew.

I would like to point out, there has never been a ship taken when armed guards were protecting the vessel.


  1. The pirates have no interest in the cargo apart from the value the owners put on their cargo's return. The ransom is the only prize they care about. The only exception is in the case of the Chandlers still held after 10 months. The Transit Corridor employs group transits in much the same way air traffic control passes aircraft between zones. Convoys are done by the non-Coalition nations such as China, India and Russia, but convoys leave a hole between them and any vessel that arrives late, at either end,which in turns leaves them at greater risk.
    Agreed, their is little appetite to prosecute by a particular nation as they, especially European nations, apply human rights to any individual in their custody. Moreover, it is difficult to prove that piracy has occurred unless they are actually caught in the act (see the US case where the definition of piracy could not be agreed enabling the 'pirate' to claim any other reason than piracy for his actions). The call for more courts, tribunals or chambers in Africa (UN statement)is on the cards but the notion of an African solution to an African problem prevails.
    Now, the armed guards issue. Whilst in international waters, the possession of arms is not a problem. The difficulty comes about when the vessel arrives at a port and is legally required to declare whether weapons are held on board. Apart from dismantling the weapons and throwing them overboard prior to arrival, the armed guards are in danger of being arrested, along with the master. Some people may be more unscrupulous but the potential legal difficulties are not always made visible when companies or flag states contract armed guards. The fact no ship has been hijacked whilst armed guards are on board has more than likely been due to the fact they will be on a vessel where the company has sufficient funding to do so, which indicates the value of their ship, which is probably in a fairly good state compared to the poorer standard ships. They are probably low freeboard, lower speed and cannot afford armed guards. I am fairly certain that the security companies conduct an assessment and are heavily weighted towards vessels that can meet their minimum standards.
    The stats show that the percentage of ships attacked in comparison to the vessels transiting the area is actually relatively small. The masters of the CMMI are no doubt quite content for action to be conducted as seen from the Russian and Indian navies where a more aggressive policy of 'shoot em up' is there for all to see. But everyone, including the pirates, know that a naval vessel from a European nation is unlikely to breach the human rights of any suspect.
    Ransoms, Insurance, K&R negotiations are big business. Why cut off the flow of money to so many? Its an easy earner all round. You would have to focus on a more dangerous environment if piracy was eradicated in the manner you have highlighted. We know the answer to that...

  2. The use of armed guards may well be a deterrent to some of the pirates. But it could create new problems, probably more serious than the one cited by the previous commentator. It really is an interim solution to a deep-seated and complex problem, the roots of which have not be adequately addressed by the UN Security Council, the African states and the world community at large.

  3. The use of Armed Guard is highly recommended for all type of vessel transitting the Gulf of Aden as well as in the Indian ocean where bands of pirates are waiting. Seafarers are helpless individual when it comes under attacked from pirates specially in the open sea where they are outmaneuver by skips with greater speed. Seafarers are unarmed and untrained soldiers and employing Armed Guards Against Pirates is a must to minimize or totally give peace of mind to all Seafarers transitting the Gulf of Aden and Indian ocean. This is only the beginning of the solution, lets hope and pray that an ultimate solution comes on hand once and for all