But union says questions remain over vessel security and over arms liability and responsibility

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Nautilus International has cautiously welcomed the prime minister’s announcement that British-flagged vessels will be able to carry armed guards to protect them from pirate attack.

The union — which represents some 23,000 ship masters, officers and other shipping industry staff — agrees the deployment of armed guards on vessels will help to further secure the safety maritime professional sailing through high risk areas, but believes that there are still ‘questions to be asked and concerns to be addressed’.

General secretary Mark Dickinson said: “There continue to be grave unanswered questions about liability and responsibility associated with the use of weapons onboard merchant ships.

“Whilst it may be reassuring to see that no ships carrying security teams have been hijacked – so far, at least – there are a number of unresolved issues arising from their deployment.

“There needs to be consideration and agreement on key issues including the liabilities of masters and officers in the event of something going wrong, or the problem of flag states, coastal states and port states facilitating the carriage of weapons onboard. The thorny of issue of the cost of providing security has the potential to give further incentives to shipowners to flag out and the quality and regulation of Private Armed Security Guards.’

The union has previously stated its preference for military Vessel Protection Detachments rather than the privately contracted security operatives proposed by David Cameron in an interview with the BBC.

Mark Dickinson said: “This would ensure there are no concerns regarding training, authority and liability. We believe this would be cost-effective and provide direct protection to merchant vessels. We also believe there should be absolute clarity on the type of weapons private security guards can use.

“The industry and government are putting the focus on armed guards onboard ships, but there is still significant room for consideration of other, more passive yet highly effective, forms of defence against piracy and armed attacks.

“It’s important to remember that for merchant seafarers, the problem of piracy is not simply confined to the immediate threat of attack and kidnap but also to health, safety and general welfare.”


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