IMO Passes the Buck to Flag States Regarding Armed Guards on Cruise Ships

Fairplay published an interesting article (an excerpt is available here) about the International Maritime Organization's ("IMO") "guidance" regarding the presence of armed guards on shipping vessels.

The IMO met at its offices in London last week and discussed the issue of protecting seafarers who are employed on vessels which are increasingly being targeted by pirates.  One of the issues discussed is the use of private armed guards.

Pirate - Terrorist - Cruise ShipFrom the cruise ship perspective, we have written about the dangerous current set of affairs where some cruise ships are sailing into Somali pirate infested waters where the few security guards had to use fake wooden rifles, deck chairs and water cannons to fight off pirates armed with rocket propelled grenades.  You can read about pirate attacks against cruise ships here:

Are Cruise Lines Taking Adequate Steps to Protect Passengers from Pirate Attacks?

Cruise Line Liability for Injuries to Passengers and Crew Members Caused by Pirate Attacks

Some cruise ships go as far as to install razor wire around the rails and position logs to be dropped on the pirates below if they run their skiffs up to the cruise ship.  You can see a photo of this spectacle here.    

The Fairplay article mentions that the IMO issued "guidance" on the use of armed guards on ships, but stresses that it is still not recommending them.  Instead it states that shipping companies should consider arming crewmembers or hiring private armed guards on board after conducting a risk assessment. 

The article also states that the IMO recommended shipping companies that all laws and regulations imposed by that flag state regarding the use of armed guard apply to their vessels. 

Of course, the problem is that most shipping companies and cruise lines register their vessels in countries which have weak or non-existent safety and security regulations.  Liberia for example has a large vessel registry.  Does it prohibit the arming of security guards on Liberian registered vessels?  How about Panama where Carnival registers their cruise ships?

If the flag states are silent about weapons on vessels, why not have a strongly worded "recommendation" from the IMO after it has conducted a comprehensive risk assessment of the dangers posed by pirates (as well as terrorists) to vessels?  A weakly worded "guidance" won't accomplish anything. 

Just last week, the Associated Press published an interesting article entitled "Oil Tanker Terror Hijacks Easy, Attacks Complex" which explained how Osama Bin Laden was exploring ways to hijack a large super tanker filled with millions of gallons of oil or liquefied natural gas by imitating the tactics of Somali pirates who use small speedboat to overpower tanker crews in remote locations.

The risk to cruise passengers and crew is real, both from pirates and terrorists.  The IMO blew an opportunity to make a strong recommendation to arm the shipping community.  Instead, the vessels' security will be left under the auspices of countries like Liberia.  Security guards will be left to fight the bad guys carrying AK-47's with fake guns, deck chairs and water guns.

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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
J K M Nair - May 27, 2011 9:53 PM

Is it the final answer to this international menace?

Armed guards .........?

First of all an added expense bill, secondly the questions of expertise of the so called guards against the pirates, and finally who will guarentee the safety of the ship

Think.......

j k m nair

prasidh n rai - October 9, 2011 9:39 AM

we should use arme gard

Capt.Rajnish Shah - October 28, 2011 11:35 AM

The Naval forces and maritime governing body IMO have had limited success and very little to get around the crisis looming large on Ship Owners , Managers and ship's crew in and around HIGH RISK AREA of Gulf of Aden. The recent pirate attack on " M.T Fairchem Bogey " within port approaches of Salahah , Oman has added a new dimension to magnitude of risk and brings to light the helplessness to defend the merchant fleet against the menace of piracy.
A new chapter in Maritime Security , though in the interim stage of IMO's recommendation , regarding positioning armed security personnel on board merchant vessel is a very positive outcome and will aid the Naval forces to make the Gulf of Aden waters safely navigable again.


Dan Lester - August 8, 2012 12:49 AM

We sailed on the Ocean Princess from Mar 17 to June 3, Sydney to Dover, including Maldives, Mumbai, Muscat, Dubai, Mauritius. We spent some 14 days in pirate waters, counting a couple off the coast of Nigeria later in the voyage. The crew had 24 hour watch on darkened (and closed to passengers) stern deck, and had "sound blasters" on rear deck and bridge wings. Also had fire hoses and practiced with them. Also had a pirate drill on two occasions.

Captain explained that a ship has never been boarded if running over 16 knots (which container and tanker ships can't do) since they can't get thru the side wake at those speeds. I've worked with firefighters and know no one could board if blasted with firehose. You can't even stand if one hits you at 30 meters. And the sound guns will deafen you at least temporarily. We knew if a pirate alert was called we'd be in our cabins, windows/balconies closed, and as far from windows as possible. We were NOT concerned.

As far as terrorists, the ship boarding security at each port is better than in any non-USA airports. All is Xrayed, we go thru metal detectors, etc. Don't have to take shoes off, but otherwise the same. Of course if a passenger were a terrorist, or a chef who used the big knives.....but that's beyond me worrying about.

As we're retirees we weren't particularly worried about perverts or whatever, but they are everywhere. We used our cabin safe faithfully and practiced normal safety in all ports. We never take any jewelry when traveling, cruise or otherwise. We're experienced passengers/travelers and don't drink or use drugs.

The Captain maintained that Princess doesn't carry firearms as there have been "unfortunate incidents" where innocent fisherman have been shot on a few occasions. But as someone with a background in police and fire work I'm not worried at all about the lack of them. Just ask any metro police about the value of firehoses.

J K M Nair - December 2, 2014 12:59 AM

I have been hearing and following the Maritime Piracy issues over the world for the past 20 years or so. One issue is that of ship's safety and security.

The second issue is that of the Law implications of the security guards and parent ships.

We still have an unsolved problem of Erica Lexie? It is still rolling in the net of law and international political scenario. Will there be a logical lawful decision. I have my doubts and there are many in this industry with the same opinion.

Where does all this bring safety against maritime piracy...? ? Ugh! Ugh !

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