Bimco plans to introduce an armed-guard contract as fears grow that scores of second-rate companies are jumping on the piracy bandwagon.
The move comes as UK prime minister David Cameron confirmed that the UK is reversing its position and in future armed guards will be permitted on ships flying the Red Ensign.
Giles Noakes, Bimco’s chief maritime-security officer, says the new contract is to protect the interests of shipowners using privately contracted armed security personnel.
“We have been forced into a position where large numbers of owners and operators are using armed guards,” said Noakes.
“Unfortunately, growth is exponential and there are a large number of cowboys out there jumping on the bandwagon.”
The new contract will be aimed at ensuring that armed-guard companies follow the guidelines to owners in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) MSC Circular 1405.
The circular is designed to provide “hoops” that security companies must jump through to prove they are capable of doing the job.
Noakes claims that only around a dozen of 160 or so armed-guard companies in the market could negotiate successfully every hoop.
He said: “Unfortunately, I am not sure how fast we can move before the first disaster occurs.”
Some companies are offering ships two guards with a shotgun.
The Bimco security boss’s concern is about a “negligent” firearm discharge by a guard that seriously injures a key crew member or the master.
The shipowner faces being sued for millions of dollars but the security company may have no third-party liability insurance, which is a requirement of MSC Circular 1405.
“You are going to come a cropper,” warned Noakes at a Capital Link shipping and offshore corporate social responsibility (CSR) forum in London.
The very reason for using armed guards is a duty of care to seafarers. It is “hypocrisy” for owners to employ armed guards and not follow the circular.
Noakes estimates that between 6,000 and 7,000 personnel would be needed to deploy four-man armed teams on around 50% of vessels transiting the Indian Ocean or Gulf of Aden. But that number of professional operatives does not exist.
Peter Swift, former managing director of Intertanko, and now chairman of the industry’s Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme, notes that in the last five years some 4,000 seafarers have been hijacked, with about 250 currently being held hostage.
In that period, 70,000 seafarers have been subject to attacks, with 100,000 sailing every day either in or toward “piracy-infested waters”.
However, Swift says the downside of the commerical world arming its ships is that governments start walking away from providing naval support.
Instead of the nearly 30 naval vessels used to provide cover for commercial transits and the World Food Programme, there are now less than 18 as states succumb to budget cuts or grow weary of providing military support.
“What we don’t want is a very plausible scenario where we get no government support and we are expected to protect ourselves in international waters when engaged in legitimate international trade,” said Swift.
No ship with armed guards on board has so far been hijacked. It was reported this week that the 74,600-dwt SCF Group (formerly Sovcomflot) tanker SCF Plymouth (built 2011) survived a pirate attack with the aid of armed guards.
The International Ship Managers’ Association (InterManager) also welcomed Cameron’s call for armed guards on UK-flag vessels.