Friday, May 18, 2012

IMO Pirate Conference Discusses Armed Guards on Container Shipping and Bulk Freight Vessels

Hijack Threat Leads to Controversy as Fight Spreads Landward
Shipping News Feature

UK – SOMALIA – WORLDWIDE – At the 90th session at IMO Headquarters this week a senior segment of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), convened by IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu, discussed policy matters related to arms on board ships in the piracy high risk area. Although this may seem a little behind the game, and despite the fact that the use of armed guards has already arguably contributed significantly to the fall in attacks upon larger merchantmen including bulk tankers and container vessels, the necessity remains to regularise the carriage of arms aboard non naval ships.

The MSC is meeting for its current session at IMO Headquarters until the 25th May and a decision was taken to create a working group from within the MSC to develop interim guidance for private maritime security companies following an intense debate which saw interventions from a number of Ministers, Secretaries of State and other senior Government representatives as well as the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs.

The MSC session was prefaced by a Conference on Capacity Building to Counter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia on the 15th May preceded by the signing of five strategic partnerships with a number of UN agencies and the EU. The Conference was attended by some 300 delegates from States as well as a number of organizations and saw presentations on capacity building as a mechanism to tackle the piracy issue, focusing on matters such as building maritime infrastructure and law enforcement capacity and the implementation of the Code of Conduct for the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean (Djibouti Code of Conduct), which had been the subject of a Ministerial meeting held at IMO one day earlier.

Cynics will say that the fact that Ministers at the meeting agreed the Code is a non binding agreement closed to other states indicates a degree of prevarication reinforced by the fact details of the initiative, including liaison with African organizations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), had still to be worked out, however it was agreed the code would be reviewed in the coming two years and it was noted that whilst the implementation of the Code would also enhance capabilities and capacities to counter threats from pirates in the region the IMO had also agreed to be part of the combined UN efforts on the ground in Somalia.

IMO and the other international Organizations have already been working with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the authorities of the Galmudug, Puntland, Somaliland regions of Somalia through the “Kampala Process” to promote an integrated approach to the development of a safe and secure maritime sector in Somalia.

With regard to the thorny topic of arming merchantmen the high-level segment agreed that the use of armed private security on board ships was an exceptional measure to be used only in extraordinary circumstances such as currently exist in the high risk area, and should not become institutionalized. However, guidance was needed to assist policy development at the national level and facilitate greater harmonization of policies in international shipping related to the issue of arms on board, a problem which has caused legal problems in the recent past. Such guidance would not constitute a recommendation or an endorsement of the general use of privately contracted armed security personnel and Mr. Sekmizu commented:

“The carriage of firearms on board merchant ships is a complex legal issue with Member States taking diverse positions. The Committee has determined that the carriage of armed personnel is a matter for flag States to authorize, however it has also accepted that their carriage has legal implications for coastal and port States, particularly with respect to the carriage, embarkation and disembarkation of firearms and security equipment in areas under the jurisdiction of such port or coastal States.

“While recognizing the reality of the situation in which private security guards are employed and the diverse positions of Governments, there is a need to consider how the international community should deal with the issue of private security guards and, in particular, the need to arrive at practical solutions to the issue.”