British merchant ships traveling around the Horn of Africa will for the first time be able to carry armed guards to protect them from pirates, Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Sunday (October 30). Cameron's statement stems from a legal ban being relaxed so that shipping companies can apply for a license from the government to carry weapons on board in the most dangerous areas, particularly off the coast of Somalia.
In his statement, Cameron cited evidence that suggests that vessels with armed guards are not boarded by pirates and don't have crews taken hostage for ransom.
The plan could see commercial, passenger and cargo ships carrying firearms off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden, in the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean within a month, a spokesman for Cameron's office said.
COMMENT: Although experts agree that private guards do deter pirates, their use can cause problems of legal jurisdiction and spark concerns about the use of mercenaries, questions of liability and private militarization of the seas, yet Cameron stood firm by saying that toleration of piracy has to end: "The fact that a bunch of pirates in Somalia are managing to hold to ransom the rest of the world and our trading system, I think is a complete insult and so the rest of the world needs to come together with much more vigor," the PM emphasized.
Cameron's announcement should be applauded, not criticized. The success of having armed guard aboard merchant vessels will be found in having guards licensed, extremely well trained, rigorously supervised and operating within the constraints of written rules of engagement. This should also include full documentation of all pirate attacks and an external review of all incidents involving the use of deadly force aboard vessels. This should temper the concern of critics.
My hope is that other governments whose vessels have been seized, crews taken hostage for months and who have been forced to pay enormous ransom payments will follow the British government's example.