The Asian Shipowners’ Forum has offered a detailed proposal calling for the United Nations-sanctioned armed personnel to guard ships transiting high-risk areas in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
The proposal was made to Working Group 1 of the Contact Group for Piracy off the Coast of Somalia in London on July 12. Versions of the plan have been in the works since last year.
The proposal features two options, one for UN involvement and another that could be an alternative if the first proposal is supported only by “a few like-minded governments”, but is not approved.
This scheme would deploy floating bases to avoid the sensitive issue of establishing armed forces within national boundaries.
However, the Singapore-based ASF’s preferred option is UN participation.
“The protection of important shipping and strategic sea lanes is the full responsibility of an international body such as the UN, and it is therefore vitally important for the UN to act swiftly to deal with this Somali piracy menace,” said Patrick Phoon, chairman of the ASF’s safe navigation and environment committee.
The ASF proposed that at least 780 armed personnel from UN member states would be deployed on 30 ships a day passing through the high-risk area, roughly defined as the Gulf of Aden, the coastal waters off Somalia and Oman and portions of the Indian Ocean leading up these areas.
The UN would deploy four personnel per detachment per ship during a five-day passage time through the high-risk area, involving 600 active personnel at all times.
The ASF’s proposed minimum force of 780 personnel includes rest requirements and a 30% reserve for manpower.
The use of UN-sanctioned armed personnel would “address shipowners’ concerns with regards to accreditation of private armed guards and shipowners’ liability under national legislations”.
Under the proposal, operations would be led from centres established on land and would involve co-ordination with existing coalition forces already active in fighting piracy in the region.
The proposed 30 ships under protection would represent about 40% of the 80 vessels that currently pass through the high-risk area every day, according to the ASF.
The figure of 40% is based on the number of ships transiting the region that deploy private security guards now.
The ultimate aim of a plan for UN involvement would be to relieve shipowners of the use of private security guards.
An escalation in their use — along with naval task force action and best practice by shipowners in avoiding pirates — has aligned with a drop in successful pirate attacks.
However, their deployment is controversial and seen as extremely risky, as the boundaries of liability have only begun to be discovered.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, 177 piracy incidents were reported in the first six months of 2012, compared with 266 during the same period in 2011, representing a 33% reduction.
The ASF’s second option would cover only 10 ships a day, or one third of those requiring armed guards on board. It would provide for a minimum of two floating bases.
“One can be located off the western coast of India and the other in the northern part of the Red Sea,” the proposal says.
This option would require at least 300 military personnel. This option has been modelled after an actual test that was enacted “between a shipping company and the navy of an Asian government,” according to the ASF.
During this exercise, two 700 teu containerships were “brought in by the national navy to serve as floating bases”. The ASF would not disclose which navy is involved.
The ASF’s proposal would call for bigger ships — two vessels of 3,000 teu, or training ships or accommodation barges — because of the higher number of personnel required.
Under this scheme, a collection of “like-minded governments” would deploy their armed forces to act as guards on commercial ships and to man the floating bases.
The ASF estimates the cost to convert the two vessels would reach $12m, while annual operations would cost another $12m.