Difficult Questions For Private Security Firms

The implementation of a much needed private security firm accreditation process, driven by shipowners, flag states and insurers, is underway but there are still worrying gaps on particular aspects of the carrying of arms on commercial craft.

The All-Party Parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group at Westminster saw some tough questions being asked on Tuesday evening. It is partly to do with the re-designation of piracy away from ‘acts of war’ to criminality.

This, says Peter Cook of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI), means that private security firms can now become further involved in protecting ships. Since the world’s navies are getting overstretched at the same time as more goods are carried by sea, his point is that there is a place for “well regulated” private security firms.

He added that these escorted transits “could also help to provide 1,500 more pairs of eyes per month” in vulnerable waters. So, the relaxing of some states (including the UK) toward the carrying of arms aboard commercial vessels is helping a now burgeoning industry.
Despite the forming of some very good processes for these accreditation procedures (both UK and international), the point was raised during the evening by a number of people that there are still aspects to the rules of engagement between armed guards and pirates which need working through.

One set of questions in particular revolved around “what happens in a fire-fight if the security force onboard doesn’t just ‘deter boarding’ but kills a pirate? Or, possibly even more problematic, has to take prisoners?” After all, if the pirates need help, there is still an obligation for the ship to pick them up and hold them securely before taking them to a nearby port or possibly a naval vessel, all of which sparks yet other issues.

What is clear is that there are a number of issues that need to be sorted out before the early March maritime security convention that aims to put down foundations for procedures that all accredited armed guards and security companies will have to adhere to.

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