UK-flagged merchant vessels will be allowed to carry armed guards to combat piracy, the Prime Minister David Cameron said.
“The evidence is that ships with armed guards don’t get attacked, don’t get taken for hostage or for ransom and so we think this is a very important step forward,” Cameron said. “The fact that a bunch of pirates in Somalia are managing to hold to ransom the rest of the world and our trading system I think is a complete insult.”
The UK is one of the few major maritime nations, along with Greece, the Netherlands and Japan, that ban the use of armed guards on board ship. Up to 200 UK-flagged vessels regularly sail through pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia.
The UK will license guards to carry revolvers, automatic and probably rocket launchers, but this would only be permitted when sailing through dangerous shipping lanes like the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
The licensing system is expected to launch within a month. The ministry of transport said it expects up to half of the 200 ships sailing through dangerous waters would apply to use armed guards.
The London-based International Chamber of Shipping, which represents over 80 percent of the world fleet, said the use of armed guards would deter pirates but it is only a short-term fix. The ICS expressed concern the move risks shifting the focus of fighting piracy from naval to merchant vessels leading to an escalation of violence as pirates respond with heavier firepower.
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