Dutch Shipowner To Flag Out Over Ban On Armed Guards

Dutch owner Seatrade Groningen is to begin the process of removing vessels that trade in pirate-infested waters from the Netherlands flag, writes Eric van den Berg .

Seatrade, which operates a fleet of some 90 vessels, mainly consisting of reefers, said it lost faith in Dutch government policy regarding the armed protection of vessels after a parliamentary debate on the matter last Thursday.

Dutch justice minister Ivo Opstelten then made it clear he has no intention of allowing armed guards on vessels flying the Dutch flag, a move supported by a majority of the Dutch parliament.

“This unwillingness to help on the part of the Dutch government leaves us little choice,” said Seatrade Groningen managing director Mark Jansen. Mr Jansen Seatrade owns 10 vessels that are registered under the Dutch flag and 15 more that are registered in one of the nation’s dependencies. Jansen said the first step towards flagging-out would be selecting a new register. “This is not something that will happen overnight,” he said.

The refusal to allow for armed guards aboard its ships makes the Netherlands the odd man out in Europe, as more and more European countries have been moving in the opposite direction. So far, the UK, Denmark, Norway and Spain have legalised the use of armed guards aboard vessels flagged with their registries.

Other Dutch shipowners have announced they intend to flout the law altogether, including Arnold van der Heul, deputy director of Rotterdam-based heavy lift specialist Jumbo Shipping .

“What else can we do?” said Mr Van der Heul. “We have an obligation to the law, but we also have a duty to our captains and crews to ensure their safety.” Vroon Shipping was cited in Dutch media as having announced similar intentions.

Mr Opstelten said that vessel owners who deployed armed guards aboard Dutch-flagged ships risked criminal prosecution.

Dutch shipowners can apply with the Ministry of Defence to have a detachment of marines board their ship for protection. It became apparent last night during the parliamentary debate that a majority of the Dutch legislature supports expanding the number of these so-called Vessel Protection Detachments to 100.

Shipowners say this is too little, too late. The six-week application period is considered unrealistic. “It is completely unworkable in our line of business,” said Mr Van der Heul.

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