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NITC employs unarmed security guards

NITC employs unarmed security guards

London: A brouhaha has broken out in the maritime press over the issue of shipowners employing private security guards to protect against pirate attacks. The story began when NITC chairman Mohammad Souri addressed the IUMI marine insurance conference in Bruges last week, indicating that his company now employs ex-Royal Marines as security guards aboard its tankers as they pass through the Gulf of Aden. In fact, these guards are unarmed and merely advise the crew on vigilance and evasive measures as well as being tasked with emergency communications with nearby naval forces in the event of an attack.

However, a daily maritime newspaper mis-reported that the guards were actually armed, and then compounded the mistake the following day in its leader by suggesting that such an initiative should be adopted by other shipowners as well.

The editorial provoked an immediate response from shipping organisations Bimco, ICS, Imtercargo and Intertanko, who jointly wrote an letter to the newspaper pointing out their concern that the unregulated use of armed security guards risked escalating the level of pirate attacks on unguarded vessels. They believe that it is for governments to deal with the worsening piracy situation. NITC likewise wrote in, setting the record straight.

Souri, for his part, expresses some personal sympathy with those advocating use of armed guards but points out that such a move would "have to be approved by marine insurers, P&I clubs and flag states" which currently it is not. In the meantime NITC sticks to its current policy of using trained professionals - whose contract of employment clearly stipulates that they shall be "unarmed" - to help protect its seafarers, ships and cargoes. [22/09/09]