With the International Maritime Organization (IMO) having approved a Maritime Safety Committee (MCA) circular providing interim guidance on the use of privately contracted armed security guards on board ships in the high risk piracy area, Dr. S. B. Agnihotri, Director General of Shipping, Government of India stated, “We have decided to allow armed guards on Indian flagged vessels also.” However, he informed that the standard operating procedures for the recruitment of armed guards and use of firearms will be finalized soon.
Capt M. M. Saggi, Nautical Advisor to the Government of India explained, “When this issue was taken up in the previous MCA meeting every country was against carrying of armed guards. But in this MCA meeting every country was in favor of carrying armed guards. There is need to understand the change of heart. The situation has changed after 26/11.”
He informed that before issuing the standard operating procedures we will have to consider various issues, such as what happens if there is an exchange of fire and a fisherman gets hurt or killed or some damage is caused. These are the issues that need to be examined and also consider the laws that will be applicable.
The INSA had represented to the Government insisting as “a first option for armed naval guards from the flag states. If this is not possible then they had insisted that Indian ship owners be permitted to employ armed private guards, of course with due regards to selection of a reputable company through due diligence.”
S. Hajara who is the President of INSA and also the CMD of the Shipping Corporation of India, the largest state owned shipping company in the country however explained that INSA had actually recommended to the government to allow armed guards on board our vessels. “But why should every ship passing through the pirate-prone waters carry armed guards?” he countered. “How should it be done? This is the sovereign responsibility of all the governments and not the responsibility of the ship owners. It is like a citizen under threat – should he carry armed guards and everyone who feels threatened should go about carrying armed guards? I don’t see the logic.”
Capt Saggi pointed out that to eliminate the root cause, it would be necessary to sanitize the coast of Somalia with a no-sail zone on the lines of No-fly zone. All vessels leaving Somalia should be searched and tracked and a safety / buffer zone should be demarcated and ship or fishing vessels or any other vessel not be allowed to ply close to this.
Another suggestion was to have a unified command under the mandate of the United Nations and equally important was to undertake speedy trails of the pirates and introduced effective legal mechanisms.