British Prime Minister Authorizes Armed Anti-Piracy Teams on UK-Flagged Ships

Navy .50 cal anti piracy security team forces naval self defense
Photo by PH1(AW/SW) Robert McRill U.S. Navy

LONDON (Dow Jones)–Ships sailing under the British flag will be able to carry armed guards for the first time to protect them from pirates attacks that are impeding international trade routes, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday.

The change of policy was necessary because of the escalation in attacks by Somali pirates and evidence showed that ships with armed guards do not get attacked, the prime minister said.

“Frankly, the extent of the hijack and ransom of ships around the horn of Africa is a complete stain on our world,” Cameron said during an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. “The fact that a bunch of pirates in Somalia are able to hold to ransom the rest of the world and our trading system, I think is a complete insult.”

Cameron’s announcement came after he held talks over the weekend with leaders from the Horn of Africa who were attending the Commonwealth heads government summit in Perth, Australia.

He said the Home Office will be responsible for issuing ships with licenses to carry armed guards, action that is not currently allowed under firearm laws.

Somali pirates have carried out 208 attacks to-date in 2011, which resulted in 400 people being held hostage and 15 people being killed, according to the latest figures from the International Maritime Bureau.

In addition to loss of life, pirate attacks also mean goods are lost, trading routes must be altered, insurance premiums increased and ransoms paid.

During Sunday’s interview, Cameron also said he would push to repatriate powers from Brussels if there was a change to the European Union treaty.

The prime minister is under pressure from members of his Conservative Party to renegotiate the terms of the treaty–last week around 80 Conservative lawmakers rebelled against his orders and voted in Parliament for a national referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the EU.

Cameron Sunday said holding a referendum on Britain’s membership was not in the national interest at the moment, however, he said potential alterations to the treaty to allow greater fiscal integration of the euro-zone countries could provide opportunities for the U.K. to claw back some powers.

-By Ainsley Thomson, Dow Jones Newswires