Somalian Piracy - IMO Guidance on the use of Private Armed Guards

30 June 2011

As the reach of pirates operating out of Somalia has spread well beyond the Gulf of Aden and military resources have as a consequence become ever more stretched, the deployment of private guards on ships transiting high risk waters has become more prevalent.  The use of armed private guards is also becoming more common, which in turn is attracting an increasing number of providers of such services.

Industry opinion over the use of armed private guards remains divided but where their use is contemplated, an array of legal and practical considerations arises.  There is a broadly held concern that not all of the providers of armed guards are familiar with the issues, which may result in an increased risk of injury, fines and/or delays.

At the last session of the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee, two interim guidance papers were developed for the employment of private armed guards; one for shipowners (for MSC.1/Circ.1405 click here) and one for flag states (for MSC.1/Circ.1406 click here).  These guidelines are intended to be used in conjunction with the industry’s Best Management Practices for mitigating the risk of Somalian piracy (click here for the third version of the BMP).

The guidelines are due to be reviewed and developed as necessary by an IMO working group on maritime security and piracy that next meets in September.  However, the interim guidance for shipowners, having been developed from a joint industry project, is already a detailed document, extending to the following subjects:

  • Risk Assessments
  • The Selection and Vetting of Private Armed Guard Providers
  • Armed Guard Team Size and Composition
  • Insurance
  • Command and Control
  • Management of Firearms and Ammunition
  • Rules of Engagement
  • Reporting and Recording

Members considering the appointment of private armed guards are recommended to review the IMO’s interim guidance for shipowners.