The dog days of summer are upon us, which may explain why Norway’s release of new anti-piracy regulations crept by without much attention. But the force and practicality of Norway’s effort to lay out practical terms for using armed guards on Norway-flagged vessels is now dawning on shipowners and maritime lawyers.
“The Norwegians have helped ships flagged in Norway take the bull by the horns,” said Chris Greiveson, a Singapore-based partner at Norwegian law firm Wikborg Rein.
Norway had tried to make the guidelines for using weaponry on ships during an attack as simple and straightforward as it could, he added. “[The rules] are essentially exemptions to local firearms law,” Mr Greiveson said.
The rules go so far as to specify the type of weapons that owners are allowed to deploy via security guards on their vessels, including rifles with as high a calibre as AK-47s, and large semi-automatic weapons.
Norway issued the rules on July 1, at a time when more shipowners are turning to armed guards for protection, particularly in crossing the Indian Ocean.
Lloyd’s List has reported that protection and indemnity clubs are being swamped by requests from owners in all flags to review contracts with security companies offering piracy protection.
Guidelines for selection of security companies and for rules of engagement have been issued by the International Maritime Organization and by P&I clubs.
However, owners that opt to deploy armed guards are still entering a grey area in the law that has not been tested with a great degree of legal precedent. For example, they are held to the laws of their flag state on such matters as which weapons are allowed and the use of weapons.
Only Norway, so far, has been specific about the actual weapons the owners may use. The rules require owners to get a general framework permission from a Norwegian police authority and the country’s maritime directorate, and then to document the actual use of a properly trained and vetted armed personnel with the authorities.
“A granted permit will not be linked to each individual firearm,” the regulations state said. “However, companies must apply for an exemption in order to be permitted to hold prohibited firearms.” Moreover, exemptions are granted for fully automatic firearms with bullets that do not exceed 7.62 mm in calibre or that use rounds with a size of 9 x 19 mm.
The exemptions also allow for single-shot, repeating semi-automatic firearms with bullets with diameters that do not exceed 12.7mm — in other words, “quite a big beast of a weapon”, according to Mr Greiveson.
The regulations include guidelines for storage of weapons and many other practical issues. The detailed level of advice came in the wake of criticism of the Norwegian government by Norwegian shipowners, who were calling for a more useful code to work with. “Norway has done a great service to its shipowners,” said Mr Greiveson.
BW Group chairman Helmut Sohmen said that the regulations were helpful, and would help stop “incidental attacks”.
However, he raised the caveat that deploying armed guards was no solution to the problem. The escalation of violence could put seafarers into the middle of a melee, or pirates could simply be clever enough to stay away from Norwegian ships and attack those less likely to be so well armed.