Flag States & armed guards

  • Date: 11/08/2011

When the International Maritime Organisation met back in May it approved proposed interim guidance to owners and operators for the use of armed guards on board ships in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

The recommendations covered the need for Flag states to have a transparent policy on the authorisation of armed guards and any restrictions that may follow.  The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the European Community Shipowners Association (ECSA) have compiled a chart of the general guidance on Flag State Rules on the use of private armed guards to protect ships from piracy. They have kindly allowed us to reproduce this table for our website here.

The current view of most States and the industry, is that crew/on-board security personnel should not be armed. The reasons include the risks inherent in use of arms by untrained/improperly trained persons, the enhanced risk of loss of life/injury through armed engagement and the risk of encouraging the escalation of armed engagement and the use of more potent and warlike weaponry.

There is increasing pressure from some states to positively support the use of armed on-board security. The most recent indications from the US are that it is heading in this direction in relation to US flag ships. Industry bodies are also moving to a more neutral stance on the issue and leaving the decision to the owners. 

P&I cover does not restrict or prohibit per se the deployment of on-board security personnel.  But, due diligence should be exercised in the selection of the appointed security company.

The IMO stresses that the use of armed guards on board ships is not an alternative to best management practices. Experience, supported by data collected by Naval forces, shows that the application of the recommendations contained within the newly updated  BMP4 Booklet can and will make a significant difference in preventing a ship becoming a victim of piracy.

The UK Club has a dedicated piracy resources page which is updated regularly with industry news, links and advice.

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