Fight against maritime piracy
Parliament launches debate on armed guards on ships
By Isabelle Smets | Thursday 15 March 2012
The EU should provide clear guidelines on the growing phenomenon of shipowners using private armed guards to protect their boats from pirates, some MEPs said this week. The question was raised during a debate on piracy in the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg, on 14 March.
The debate came in the wake of the recent shooting of two Indian fishermen by a pair of Italian sailors who mistook them for pirates. Both Italian men, who worked as security guards on the oil tanker Enrica Lexie Napoli, are now being held by police in India following the killings off the Indian coast, on 15 February.
During the plenary session, many MEPs recognised the growing pressure on shipowners, which is prompting them to turn to the private sector to protect their ships.
“The Commission should provide clear guidelines,” said Belgian MEP Saïd El Khadraoui, speaking on behalf of the S&D group. “For example, on the training of security guards, when they should be allowed to intervene in an armed capacity and which weapons they should be allowed to use.”
Meanwhile, the Commission recognises that this is a growing phenomenon “that we cannot ignore”.
“Due to the immensity of the sea area where Somali pirates now operate and the scarce naval resources available to protect this shipping lane, the industry has had no other choice than to turn to the services provided by privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships transiting the high-risk areas,” said Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
Is legislation necessary? The Commission believes it is. “We are not confident with the idea of self-regulation by this new business in view of the risks involved in this kind of activity, which can potentially lead to the – sometimes lethal – use of force.”
However, this means regulation at international level, rather than EU level, and the commissioner designated the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) as “the international body that should lead to the development of very clear, stringent rules and, in particular, of a mandatory instrument”. He added that although recommendations have already been published on the subject, since “no solution to piracy is apparent in the short term, we believe this must be addressed in more depth”.
The question of armed guards will be addressed by the IMO at a meeting of the Maritime Security Committee that will take place on 16-25 May, and MEPs will soon adopt a resolution on piracy which, in the light of current debates, should encompass the question of armed guards. Initially scheduled for this plenary session, the adoption of this resolution has now been postponed due to objections to the fact that the initiative was launched by the Committee on Transport (TRAN). Mathieu Grosch (EPP, Belgium), a member of this committee, said that it will now work together with other parliamentary committees on the matter.