In the lawless waters in the Indian Ocean off Somalia armed guards became a choice for many to defend their ship and crew a few years ago, helped by a steady supply of security contractors from the then stabilising Iraq looking for a new business opportunity.
Along with the international naval forces it proved rather effective in largely stamping out the scourge of Somali piracy. This has had a knock-on effect – the security contractors need to find new markets to which their attention turned to West Africa and Southeast Asia. These are a very different kettle of fish.
Unlike Somalia these are not failed states, there are sovereign governments in charge of the waters and having ex-military types firing machine guns from your ship at passing pirates/fishermen is generally frowned upon, and not to mention downright illegal.
P&I club Skuld has already warned owners not to use armed guards in Southeast Asian waters, but this has not stopped security companies from marketing their wares in this region.
Indeed recently at conference in Singapore I saw a presentation from a security company, in the process of setting up here, which included a video of four security professionals liberally spraying bullets into the water from the side of a ship.
This may look rather effective, but to say you might be walking into a legal minefield is an understatement. By way of illustration look at the 35 crew and security personnel of the Seaman Guard Ohio owned by US security provider Advanfort.
Despite the fact that all but one of the 35 crew and security contractors were cleared of charges relating to the carriage of illegal weapons in Indian waters last July all remain stuck in Chennai in legal/diplomatic limbo with no money. Advanfort blames the insurers and the men themselves clearly just want to go home.
Has this directly affected any shipowner, in this case no, but it could well do so if employing armed guards in sovereign waters.