The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has changed its position on providing armed security guards to protect merchant ships against pirates.
The ICS Executive Committee, representing national shipowners' associations from over 30 countries, met in London last week. Today it said it had "decided to clarify its stance on the use of private armed security guards" and that ICS members have also "identified a vital need for the military to disable the hijacked 'motherships' which the pirates are now using to launch attacks throughout much of the Indian Ocean."
ICS Chairman, Spyros M Polemis, explained:
"ICS has had to acknowledge that the decision to engage armed guards, whether military or private, is a decision to be made by the ship operator after due consideration of all of the risks, and subject to the approval of the vessel's flag state and insurers. The consensus view amongst shipping industry associations remains that, in normal circumstances, private armed guards are not recommended, and are a clear second best to military personnel. However, in view of the current crisis in the Indian Ocean - with over 700 seafarers held hostage and, most recently, a seafarer being executed - ship operators must be able to retain all possible options available to deter attacks and defend their crews against piracy. Many shipping companies have concluded that arming ships is a necessary alternative to avoiding the Indian Ocean completely, which would have a hugely damaging impact on the movement of world trade.ICS says that the shipping industry will meanwhile be looking at all possible options, including alternative routes, which could have a very dramatic effect on transport costs and delivery times. Piracy is already estimated to cost the global economy between $7-12 billion per year.
"The eradication of piracy is the responsibility of governments. Frustratingly, politicians in those nations with the largest military navies in the region show little willingness to increase resources to the extent that would be necessary to have a decisive impact on the problem of piracy. Western governments, at least, appear to give the impression that this otherwise unacceptable situation can somehow be tolerated. Sadly, until we can persuade governments otherwise, the use of armed guards by ships is very likely to continue increasing."
If increasing numbers of ships decide to divert around the Cape of Good Hope, this will almost certainly have a major impact on inventories and costs throughout the whole supply chain and, most particularly, on the cost of oil. It could also greatly damage the economies of Africa and the Middle East at this very politically delicate time.