South Africa Firearms Procedure

18 April 2011

Members may be aware that, due to the upsurge in piracy activity in the Gulf of Aden/Indian Ocean region, there has been widespread discussion in the media as to whether vessels should carry armed security personnel, which would of course include the carriage of arms and ammunition. Where vessels have already carried armed security personnel, we are informed that it is common for the security personnel to disembark the vessel after the vessel has transited the “hotspot” area off East Africa with the arms/ammunition remaining on board until final destination. Given that many vessels will call at South African ports having sailed via East Africa, the Durban Correspondent, P&I Associates, has highlighted that the following regime currently applies in respect of arms/ammunition on board vessels calling South Africa, in the light of the recent arrest of 2 Masters under the South African Arms Control Act:-

The South African Police require that 21 days before a vessel arrives at a South African port that an application must be made to the relevant authority for a permit. This application must be duly accompanied by a number of documents.

  • The application must be made on the South African Police (SAP 520) form
  • Copy of the applicants passport on which the photo and passports details are reflected
  • Copy of the legal licence, permit, authorization or any other documentary proof confirming lawful possession of the firearm
  • Documentary proof of knowledge of safe use and handling of a firearm, i.e training certificate
  • Written authorization, which permits the export of the firearm from the country of origin
  • Equipment list, firearm description and serial numbers and number of ammunition
  • Documentation giving proof of last port of call and destination

Once the permit has been granted and the vessel berths in South Africa, the master can make arrangements for the guns and ammunition to be removed from the vessel and taken to a police locker for safekeeping and then these will guns and ammunition will be returned to the vessel one hour before departure.

It is now very clear that the South African Police will arrest the master and charge him with an offence and non conformance under section 120 and section 73 of Firearm Control Act, Act 6 of 2000.”

For a full list of the requirements, see the attached letter from the South African Police. The Correspondent informs us that the 21 day period would appear to be excessive on the basis that often Owners do not have sufficient advance notice that vessels will be stopping in South Africa. By way of comparison the ISPS clearance period is 96 hours. In the circumstances, the Correspondent is (a) liaising with the South African Police as to whether the length of this period can be reviewed and (b) checking to see whether these requirements have a proper basis in law.

In the meantime, the Correspondent informs us that, in order for a vessel to enter a South African port with arms/ammunition on board, the vessel must have a permit from the South African police. Without a permit, the Master will be arrested and charged (the penalty being either a fine - varying from R50,000 to over R100,000 - or imprisonment depending on the severity of the offence), which may also result in delays to the vessel.

If Members are to call South Africa with arms/ammunition aboard, their usual Club contact will of course be available to discuss any concerns.