Thursday, 29 March 2012

Anti Piracy floating armouries cause concern

The Associated Press reports that the use of floating armouries by private anti- piracy security outfits is drawing attention to a "legal grey area since few, if any, governments have laws governing the practice." The situation is further complicated by the fact that some of the vessels being used to store arms are conveniently registered across the world and some security firms "have simply not informed the governments of the flag their ship is flying," according to sources quoted in the report.

Nick Davis of the Maritime Guard Group asks for more control over these armed flotillas. "Everything has got to be secured correctly, recorded, bonded, the correct locks, and so on. It's not just a case of find a room, put some weapons in it and everybody chill out." In the absence of laws, "Companies are just being economical with the truth," he says.

The practice has mushroomed since last year but has only recently drawn media attention. Britain, which hosts many of these companies, is reportedly investigating if any laws are being broken. Analysts say that there up to a dozen of these arms carrying ships remain in international waters in the Red Sea, off the UAE and off Madagascar, and many are not operating legally. In addition, many are small, with no secure arms storage facilities or guards for protection.

Security companies use these armouries to circumvent strict weapons rules in many countries; the arms stay in international waters while mercenaries fly in and out without regulatory hassles. No proper logs of weapons or 'shots fired' are maintained. A ship will typically pick up weapons from one floating armoury and then drop them off to another after transitting pirate waters. The guards may or may not remain aboard. The system is cheaper than having to go into port to pick up armed escorts and it circumvents stringent regulations that many Flag States enforce.

The problem is that countries do not have a system to regulate these floating armouries. This allows shady operators to flourish. "Ships have to use armed guards, yet none of the governments want to provide an ethical and accountable way of using firearms," says Davis. The UN's Alan Cole says that these arms regulations are complex and ever-changing. Davis agrees, pointing out that Egypt, Oman and Kenya have all changed their regulations in the last month.

It is also easier for operators of these arms carrying flotillas to store them on Flag Of Convenience vessels, where controls are easier and where not too many questions are asked. However, those that want to follow the law complain that it is not easy to do so. Legislation has "simply not kept pace with the rapid growth of the maritime private security industry, says Adjoa Anyimadu, a piracy expert at British think tank Chatham House," quoted in the Associated Press.

"There's lots of calls — particularly from the shipping industry — for there to be more regulation," she said.

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