The International Maritime Organization said a working group in its Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) will develop interim guidance for private guards working on ships to protect them from pirate attacks.
The working group has been asked to develop the guidance for security companies following an intense debate on arms on board ships during a meeting of what the IMO said was a "special high-level segment" of the MSC convened by IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu.
“The carriage of firearms on board merchant ships is a complex legal issue with member states taking diverse positions," Sekmizu said in a statement. "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.”
Sekmizu said carriage of arms was a high-priority issue for the shipping industry.
"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,” he said.
The MSC subcommittee agreed the use of private maritime security companies on board ships was a measure to be used only in exceptional circumstances in high-risk areas, and should not become institutionalized. But it said 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. Such guidance would not constitute a recommendation or an endorsement of the general use of privately contracted armed security personnel.
The subcommittee endorsed the view that the carriage of armed personnel on board ships for enhancing their protection in the high-risk areas should be left to flag states to decide, once a thorough risk-assessment exercise had been carried out and following consultations with the relevant shipowners. - Chris Dupin