UK Overhauls Counter-Piracy Guidance, Allows Some Armed Guards
On December 6th the UK Department for Transport (DfT) posted on its website two documents providing guidance for UK-flagged vessels on countering piracy and armed robbery against ships. They include guidance allowing the use of armed guards against Somali pirates, implementing a change in policy that was promised in October.
The DfT describes “Guidance to UK Flagged Shipping on Measures to Counter Piracy, Armed Robbery and Other Acts of Violence Against Merchant Shipping” as largely replicating the information formerly contained in Marine Guidance Note MGN 420 M, which was replaced by a new Marine Guidance Note MGN 440 M on November 30th. (As of this writing, the links on the Maritime Coastguard Agency website to both of these MGNs do not work.) The Guidance includes discussions of piracy off Somalia and elsewhere, followed by general advice and specific recommendations to deter acts of piracy. Curiously, the section on general advice about piracy begins with a recitation of International Maritime Bureau statistics from 2009. The Guidance then discusses armed robbery against ships and recommends practices to deter it. It also has sections discussing what to do if pirates or armed robbers are successful in boarding a vessel or if they gain control of it, as well as post-attack actions and incident reporting. In general, the Guidance calls for risk assessment before entering high risk waters, adherence to the latest version of industry-promulgated Best Management Practices (BMP) in the Somali piracy threat area, crew training on counter-piracy measures in advance, vigilance, high speed (where possible), and good communications with the proper authorities. A specific requirement is a Counter-Piracy Plan. In contrast to the US MARSEC Directive 104.6 (series), which requires the inclusion of counter-piracy security protocols in the Vessel Security Plans of US-flag ships operating in High Risk Waters, the UK Counter-Piracy Plan “can exist as a standalone document to sit alongside (but not be incorporated within) the Ship Security Plan.” This Plan “should supplement the Ship Security Plan but that the latter document must take precedence as a Government approved document.” Additionally, this Guidance summarizes the new UK policy on armed guards, but refers the reader to the separate document on this topic that was published at the same time.
That document, “Interim guidance to UK flagged shipping on the use of armed guards to defend against the threat of piracy in exceptional circumstances,” stresses, both in its title and in its content, the limited and exceptional nature of its authorization to employ private armed security against piracy. Armed guards may only be used when:
- A ship is transiting the High Risk Area (Suez and Hormuz South and East to 10° and 78°); AND
- The latest BMP is being “fully followed” but is not deemed (by the Company and the Master) sufficient to protect against piracy; AND
- Use of armed guards is assessed to “reduce the risk to the lives and well being of those onboard the ship.”
Additionally, the policy only applies to ships subject to the ISPS Code. Smaller vessels are out of luck. The document offers additional guidance on risk assessment; selection of a private security company; security team size, composition, and equipment; the Master’s overriding authority; command and control; storage, handling, and movement of firearms; liaison with the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) and the UK Maritime Trade Operations Office (UKMTO); the use of force (graduated response, with each step “reasonable and proportionate to the force being used by the attackers” and with no “needless” escalation of the situation); and post-incident reporting and crime scene investigation (including a firearms incident report for any accidental or deliberate discharge, other than a controlled test firing). Of particular interest to the maritime security provider community are the training requirements for armed guards. At a minimum, they’re expected to have:
- STCW training in Personal Survival Techniques, Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities, and Designated Security Duties;
- “Training in, a complete understanding of, the agreed rules of the use of force;”
- “Relevant” medical training;
- Training and “extensive recent experience” on the specific weapons and other security equipment to be used; and
- Training in the BMP and protecting ships from piracy.
The Guidance requires that UK shipping companies that decide to employ armed guards must send copies of ship-specific Counter-Piracy Plans to DtF. The Plans must include a signed statement that the Guidance is being followed, a copy of the full risk assessment, and procedures on a host of topics (from weapons handling and storage to assisting in official incident investigations) set forth in an Appendix to the Guidance.
So, the UK Government has moved away from a policy of “strongly discouraging” the use of armed security to defend against piracy anywhere to allowing armed guards in the extraordinary circumstances of Somali piracy in a High Risk Area that does not cover the Somali pirates’ entire range. In both new guidance documents, the Government has promised to “continuously review these exceptional circumstances and inform the shipping industry if they change.” In the meantime, however, using armed security in any other circumstances is atill “strongly discouraged” It is also “unlawful where prohibited firearms are possessed without valid authorisation from the Home Office.”
Thanks to my good friend Dennis Bryant, of the eponymous Bryant’s Maritime Consulting and his outstanding Bryant’s Maritime Blog, for tipping me off to the release of the UK Guidance.
NOTE: This post may be copied, distributed, and displayed and derivative works may be based on it, provided it is attributed to Maritime Transportation Security News and Views by John C. W. Bennett,http://mpsint.com.