IMO: “We are against the arming of seafarers in the fight against pirates”

Last week the USCG issued its Maritime Security Directive 104-6 (rev. 2) that, among other things, calls for security personnel and added piracy watches when operating in high risk waters.  While the USCG did leave the decision of whether or not to allow armed guards up to the ship operators, the IMO warned Monday that arming sailors is no answer to piracy and that armed crew or mercenaries on board ships would only escalate violence and create a “legal minefield”.

Delegates at an international conference on piracy said the aggressive approach would create a high-seas “arms race,” and recommended non-lethal measures like fire-hoses and electric barriers to prevent boarding.

“We are against the arming of seafarers in the fight against pirates. We are also against armed private security guards,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

“We think it can be counter-productive,” said Mukundan, whose organization monitors piracy worldwide and has urged greater international efforts to combat a spate of attacks off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.

“Pirates will upgrade their weapons. Only a few ships will have armed security. The vast majority are unlikely to do so,” he told reporters.

The conference was also attended by Tim Wilkins, Asia-Pacific manager for ship owners’ association INTERTANKO, who said that arming vessels would increase fatalities which until now have been low despite the large number of attacks:

“We would certainly not advocate arming of the crew. It is not the answer. Seafarers are not trained to use guns. They are trained to navigate ships,” he said.

“We believe it will escalate the problem. At the moment, the pirates are not killing the seafarers. They only hijack and kidnap the sailors. Arming the crew will put their lives in danger.”

It was also stated that armed crews would create legal problems as ships passed through different territories or entered ports.  Meanwhile, Philip J. Shapiro, President and CEO of Liberty Maritime Corporation, has requested that vessels need either U.S. government protection or U.S. legislation that clears these obstacles.  Shapiro is set to testify again before the U.S. House of Representatives Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Sub-Committee on Wednesday morning.

One thing that pops into my mind when reading through this material is the Today Show’s interview with Capt. Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama that we posted here on the blog (although it was only viewable to U.S. viewers and has since been taken on of Hulu).  In the interview he repeated what the IMO states here, that seafarers are not trained to use weapons. In fact, he even mentioned at one point when being held hostage on the lifeboat he saw the opporotunity to take one of the pirates weapons but mentioned that he wouldn’t know what to do with it if he got it.

To say the least, it’s going to be interesting to see how this pans out.

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