German Owners Threaten To Quit Flag In Anti-Piracy Row

The question whether to use private maritime security companies against pirates has opened a rift between the German government and owners’ association VDR, which has threatened to register ships outside the country unless there is swift legal change.

“Over the next two weeks, we should see a detailed proposal on how to change the trade law,” VDR general secretary Ralf Nagel told a German paper.

“Otherwise, German owners have no option but to fly a different flag when sailing through pirate-infested waters.”

Maritime co-ordinator Hans-Joachim Otto said a draft bill would be presented over the next few weeks, but was vague about the law-making process.

“The federal government is entering uncharted waters with this. Such a complex undertaking needs careful preparation,” he said.

Having initially opposed private armed forces and hoping to deploy sovereign forces to protect their vessels, owners made a U-turn last year when it became obvious that state support would not be forthcoming.

Since then, owners have been pressing for urgent amendments to laws governing the use of private companies, in line with international regulations. In particular, they want to clarify how security firms will be certified for service on board. But the process has already taken much longer than expected.

Mr Otto hit back at the owners, pointing out that most of their ships already fly foreign flags.

“Given that most pirate attacks take place against German ships under foreign flags, Mr Nagel’s comment on the necessity to flag out is completely baffling,” he said.

The German flag has seen an exodus over recent years, due to the poor financial state of many shipping companies. However, the EU is pressing for an increase in domestic or EU-flagged vessels in return for the tonnage tax regime to be maintained.

This development raises further question over Mr Nagel’s remarks.

Mr Otto said the two sides would meet again on January 31.

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