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IMO Considers Armed Security In Piracy Hot Spots

by Jason Gorringe,, London

25 May 2012

The International Maritime Organization's (MSC) Maritime Safety Committee has commissioned a working group to produce interim guidance on the use of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) to protect ships in areas prone to piracy.

The document will take into account recommendations and policy discussions emanating from the 90th Session of the MSC, held between May 16-25, 2012. The Session was attended by some 900 delegates from IMO member states, and observers from international and non-governmental organizations.

The instruction to the working group to develop the guidance for PMSCs followed an intense debate on arms on board ships, held over the first day and a half of the Committee’s session, which saw interventions from a number of Ministers, Secretaries of State and other senior government representatives as well as the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs.

In summarizing the outcome of discussions, IMO Secretary General, Koji Sekmizu, said:

“The carriage of firearms on board merchant ships is a complex legal issue with member states taking diverse positions. The Committee has determined that the carriage of armed personnel is a matter for flag States to authorize; however it has also accepted that their carriage has legal implications for coastal and port States, particularly with respect to the carriage, embarkation and disembarkation of firearms and security equipment in areas under the jurisdiction of such port or coastal states.”

“While recognizing the reality of the situation in which private security guards are employed and the diverse positions of governments, there is a need to consider how the international community should deal with the issue of private security guards and, in particular, the need to arrive at practical solutions to the issue.”

In summary, a high-level meeting of the MSC agreed that the use of PMSC on board ships was an exceptional measure to be used only in exceptional circumstances in high risk areas, and should not become institutionalized. However, it was agreed that guidance was needed to assist policy development at the national level and facilitate greater harmonization of policies in international shipping related to the issue of arms on board. Such guidance would not constitute a recommendation or an endorsement of the general use of privately contracted armed security personnel, the MSC agreed.

The MSC endorsed the view that the carriage of armed personnel aboard ships for enhancing their protection in high risk areas should be left to flag States to decide, once a thorough risk-assessment exercise had been carried out and following consultations with the shipowners concerned.

TAGS: marine

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