Piracy off the coast of Somalia represents a very serious problem.
But putting armed security guards on board vessels which travel through the area is not the best solution.
Such an action would place the safety of crew members, as well as the guards themselves, in further jeopardy in my view.
Two important points
First, I feel that it is important to clarify two critical points:
• Crew safety is the most important consideration.
Granted, the increases in shipping costs which results from piracy is a serious concern, as is the unfair burden which it imposes upon ship owners.
Granted also, the impact of piracy in terms of inhibiting the delivery of food aid represents a more serious problem still.
But you can’t put a price tag on human life. And for this reason, the safety of crew members must surely be the overriding concern in terms of dealing with the piracy issue.
• Crew members themselves should never be armed.
Whilst there may be some merit in proposals to employ armed security personnel, crew members themselves should not be armed.
Arms should only be provided to those who are properly trained to use them, and under no circumstances should arms on board shipping vessels be placed in the hands of those who are not trained to use them properly.
A weak case for the proposal
The case for the use of armed security personnel does not appear to be particularly strong in my view.
It revolves around the notion that their presence (and that of their arms) would help to deter would-be pirates.
From the viewpoint of an individual ship owner, this may indeed be the case. Indeed, pirates may well be tempted to leave armed vessels alone, preferring the somewhat easier prey of unarmed vessels.
But from an overall perspective, the presence of armed security personnel on board shipping vessels is not likely to cause any significant decrease in piracy activities. Pirates who are sufficiently bold so as to continue to operate in spite of the proximity of large warships are hardly likely to be put off by a few armed guards. This is particularly the case as the shotguns carried by the guards are not likely to be any match for the extensive weaponry carried by many pirates.
For this reason, the case for having vessels manned with armed security personal would not appear to be particularly strong.
(Apparently, weapons carried on board ships is subject to the legal requirements of (a) both the ship’s flag carrier; and (b) the nations in which it intends to dock. In many cases, this means they are limited to shotguns (refer article)
Pirates, on the other hand, are typically armed with long range assault rifles capable of firing up to six hundred rounds per minute)
Very serious drawbacks
In contrast, there are at least two very serious drawbacks of the idea:
• Potential for escalated confrontation.
As it stands, the vast majority of crew members do not suffer any form of serious harm or injury in these ordeals. Nor do they typically suffer any form of inhumane treatment at the hands of the pirates.
That could change if there was an increase in cases of escalated confrontation resulting from the presence of armed security personnel.
• Possibility of accidents.
Misfired or stray bullets could easily result in serious accident, particularly where ships carry explosive material as cargo.
Over to you
In my view, the dangers presented by each of these risks far outweighs any deterrent benefit which the presence of armed security personnel on vessels which sail through pirate infested waters.
What do you think?