Eagle Bulk Shipping and Trident Group have been identified in a video of armed guards shooting at a pirate skiff that has raised a heated debate on rules for the use of force and calls for further investigation.
The video shows a private maritime security company’s operatives firing what they call warning shots, but there appears to be no gradual or layered approach to protecting the ship, as advocated in the International Maritime Organization’s Best Management Practices. The guards continue to fire for some minutes as the vessel moved away from the pirates and the threat to the vessel became less urgent.
Eagle Bulk declined to confirm that the vessel in the video was under its control. However, in a statement issued to Lloyd’s List it said: “Piracy is a scourge which threatens the life and safety of seafarers. Out of respect for the safety of our crews, we do not discuss any aspect of our operations, safety or security procedures.”
Lloyd’s List has been told by several sources that the vessel in the video is owned by Eagle Bulk and shortly before the end of the clip the Eagle Bulk livery is clearly visible on the side of the vessel. Eagle Bulk uses Trident as a security provider.
In an emailed statement to Lloyd’s List, Trident president Tom Rothrauff said: “This action came 72 hours following another attack by this exact same pirate action group against this very same vessel. Further, the same PAG had attacked a tanker in the week prior, so this was a killer PAG. Our team acted with poise, and used every rule for the use of force as prescribed by the US Coast Guard in PSA 3-09.
“The skiff was identified as carrying RPG’s and AK 47’s. The team was compelled to wait before they initiated warning shots until the master gave permission to the team to release repelling force. When the warning shots were fired, it just so happened that the skiff opened up on our team at the exact same time.”
The International Association of Maritime Security Professionals issued a statement on its website stating that the PMSC in the video had employed a questionable use of force.
After receiving expressions of concern regarding the video’s content, the IAMSP felt it had sufficient information to warrant attention and launched an investigation. IAMSP said that after gathering information it had concluded that the nature of the events in the video warranted the attention of the appropriate flag state and not an administrative investigation.
Trident is based in Virginia in the US while Eagle Bulk’s flag state is the Marshall Islands. However, Marshall Islands chief operating officer John Ramage said the investigation bureau had no intention of investigating the incident further.
“Nobody on board the ship was injured and we have no plans to investigate further. However, we do reserve the right to look into the matter at a further date if we deem it necessary,” Mr Ramage said.
He added that it was important to remember that pirates were “doing an illegal act and too many people have been killed and injured by pirates”.
“That has to be at the forefront of our minds. Obviously, it is regrettable that anyone is injured, pirates included and it is a concern from a flag state’s point of view,” he said.
Mr Ramage said he was not sure if the incident in the video had been reported or not, but said that it was common practice to report all approaches from pirate vessels.
Meanwhile, there have been calls from the maritime security industry for the Security Association for the Maritime Industry to investigate the incident.
SAMI told Lloyd’s List it has no further information on the video clip but the debate generated “clearly demonstrates that clarification on the rules for the use of force is needed”.
“Indeed, SAMI cannot envisage any incident when exceeding the use of minimum force during the act of deterring a pirate attack or protecting of merchant vessels and crews is justified or indeed legal,” SAMI said.
“There is no place in the maritime domain for an excessive response, so PMSCs should provide a detailed graduated response plan to a pirate attack as part of its team’s operational procedures.”
The industry is awaiting an international set of standards and there have been urgent calls for clarification and strict flag state governing rules for the use of force.
In the interim period, shipping trade body BIMCO has published a standard contract, Guardcon, which sets out guidelines for a graduated response to any actual, perceived or threatened act of piracy.
The guidance explicitly states the deployment of armed guards is not an alternative to the implementation of the current BMP. BIMCO and SAMI both advocate that any force used should be “proportionate and appropriate” to the situation and consistent with applicable law.
In its guidance to members SAMI said: “It is important that the RUF should provide a graduated and proportional use of force, and that it respects human dignity and the human rights of all. Key to this graduated response is the measures which should be implemented before the use of weapons. BIMCO states that non-violent means of repelling pirates should be applied first.
“These measures would involve a visible presence, visual means such as lasers or flares and sounds. They also encourage the use of hoses, the use of nets and logs to hamper skiffs and weapons being shown.”
The industry body said any deliberate, direct fire should only be used against the attackers when all other methods have failed.
SAMI also raised concern that there is a danger that unless unequivocal guidance is produced, then pirates may seize the upper hand.
“When pirates approach vessels on which armed guards are unsure whether they can fire, then without clear and decisive guidance, there is a danger we may emasculate the very front-line solution which is currently keeping piracy at bay.”
Ince partner Stephen Askins said RUF needed to be sensible and graduated because the law demands that lethal force should be exceptional and used as a last resort.