Swedish shipowner Wallenius Wilhelmsen Lines is placing armed guards to protect its vessels from attack by Somalia-based pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
The decision following an investigation by Sweden’s government puts Wallenius, which transports cars and trucks on worldwide routes, firmly if reluctantly on one side of an issue that has divided the shipping world as pirate attacks on international ships off the East Africa coast have grown increasingly frequent, bold and deadly.
Wallenius said the guards are equipped with sniper rifles and assault rifles.
The Swedish government began an inquiry in April into whether Swedish ships should used armed guards to protect themselves from piracy.
After holding its own internal investigation, Wallenius decided to hire security staff to protect its ships as they sail through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
“This is not a development we would have liked to see, but we have unfortunately felt forced to act,” Peter Jodin, head of maritime security at Wallenius, told Swedish Radio.
The Swedish Shipowners Association backs Wallenius’ decision, which is in line with International Maritime Organization guidelines.
It is not known how many ship-owners use armed guards as the industry is reluctant to publicly speak about security measures.
Until fairly recently, private security contractors acted mostly as unarmed advisers but the number of armed guards is reported to have risen sharply in recent months as attacks have spread to a wider area of the Indian Ocean.