Owners reputed to be deploying armed security services onboard ships

Some ship owners are apparently deploying armed security guards onboard their vessels on the sly to help protect their crew and cargoes against potential piracy attacks when transiting through the dangerous waters off the coast of Somalia, according to a leading defence equipment manufacturer.

In the continuing fight against piracy, BCB International has devised a new piracy prevention system to avoid the potential war conflict of carrying arms onboard merchant ships, yet this controversial issue is being sidelined by some shipping companies with a phenomenal degree of risk involved.

“I have actually spoken to security companies who have been employed by major shipping companies to take armed guards onboard their vessels before they move through pirate-ridden seas. They carry AK-47s which are very cheap, about $5 , and as they approach the port destination they throw the rifles overboard so Port State Control doesn’t see them,” claimed Jonathan Delf, UK Marine Sales Manager for BCB.

“These guys are paid £500 a day to stand on that ship. There’s an entire armed Yemeni patrol craft that’s provided by a company called AMPCS Security Solutions, but it’s all down to the Port State Control whether they allow these services onboard,” he added.

Revealing how one major Belgian shipping company attempted to employ armed services onboard its vessels, Mr Delf told SMI that the Belgian Government apparently point blank refused, instead demanding the use of Belgian contracts plus a £10,000 fee to the government in order to make a profit out of what he described as a “big business”.

“Currently there are approximately 32 different security consultants out there being used in this way. It’s a huge concern for the shipping industry, and while it doesn’t want conflict, it’s still being attacked by pirates who are defeating all the systems that have been put in front of them so far. Shipping companies don’t know any other solutions, and so are realising that they are going to have to take action themselves through additional services,” he added.

On the flip side, Mr Delf added that “it is very expensive to use armed guards, and according to international rules and regulations, essentially there aren’t any specific rules that prohibit taking weapons onboard ships, depending on the flag state, of course.”

However, the risks incurred in doing so could have colossal repercussions, and given that fundamentally, the responsibility over a ship is the Captain or the ship’s Master, such a situation could potentially amount to destructive levels of confusion.

“If you’re about to go under attack and the Captain orders these guys to fire in defence then instructs them to back off once the message has been delivered, the armed security professionals could keep on firing, claiming that they are in charge now,” explained Mr Delf.

“What qualifies the Captain to say when you can use weapon forces? He’s not had any military experience or training, so how does he know that’s the point when he needs to respond, but if he defers it until the security forces come into action, what qualifies the security personnel to come and announce the point of opening fire?”

The potential liabilities for the ship owner in the event of a miscommunication could prove fatal both from a financial and legal perspective as well as for the reputation of the company, and with very little political or legal standing from the pirate’s end of the equation, such conflicts could be encroaching into very dangerous territory.

Yet the temptation is proving strong for owners, who, according to Mr Delf, “cannot now just accept that someone is always going to come and rescue them. Ship owners realise that they now have a degree of responsibility, and it’s just a question of how they go about achieving that.”

He added: “Piracy is definitely going to increase; it’s become a proven business model. These pirates are exceptionally well trained and organised and they will do literally anything to get hold of those sums of ransom money, which average at about $6m. It will happen anywhere there is a failed state, and there will be more failed states in the future, especially with the current economy.

“Pirates are also getting more violent, especially off the coast of Nigeria, where it’s more cost-effective to just jump onboard a ship, kill the crew, and take anything they can get their hands on. Effectively it’s a mugging at sea, rather than a hijacking, and owners are preparing themselves for potential violence by carrying weapons on the quiet.”

In the widely-believed industry drive towards non-confrontational solutions, BCB has launched the Buccaneer system, a long-range projectile launcher which deters a piracy attack without the use of lethal weapons and without entering into a war-risk situation. The company hopes such a solution will also allure the attraction of lower risk insurance premiums for owners as a result of the added protection.