The current UK law that prohibits private maritime security companies from training with firearms in the UK contradicts the International Code of Conduct and could encourage firms to cut corners.
Maritime Asset Security and Training director Phillip Cable said the firearms issue was a difficult one to overcome. The ICOC includes an obligation that men deployed in complex environments are trained with the weapons they are going to use and also have refresher training.
“The private maritime security industry is growing and is fairly new and international in nature. There is currently little formal regulation. The ICOC has been drafted by the Swiss and it is good, but there are questions over how far it understands the space we operate in,” he said. “Thirty years in the British army may provide great experience, but it doesn’t mean someone will be experienced with the right type of weapons.”
In the UK, firearms commonly used by PMSCs are prohibited. There has been a change in UK law that allows security companies to apply for permission to purchase, possess and export firearms. However, they are not allowed to train with these firearms. Mr Cable said there are also restrictions in the areas where PMSCs generally embark and disembark.
Nevertheless, PMSCs are finding ways around the current restrictions. While semi-automatic rifles and pistols are illegal in the UK, this is not the case in other European countries. MAST is based in Malta, with a UK office.
Mr Cable said: “It seems strange to give permission to work with firearms on a UK-flagged ship, but not be able to test fire and train before departing. The government needs to make it easier for PMSCs to comply with any regulation. At the moment, companies like us who operate abroad have an advantage, but there are some that do no training at all and that is a real worry.”
A number of PMSCs are lobbying for controlled ranges and Mr Cable said in many ways, this would not be difficult to control.
“However, there is the concern that if the government opens the gate here, then it will have to open it elsewhere as well and this could create more problems than it solves,” he warned.