Govt to issue notification on armed anti-pirate guards

Govt to issue notification on armed anti-pirate guards

Mumbai: Indian merchant ships may soon be allowed to have armed guards to counter pirate attacks, two senior government officials said.

The Directorate General of Shipping plans to issue a draft notification allowing merchant ships to deploy armed guards on board, said Satish B. Agnihotri, who heads the regulatory agency.

Agnihotri did not give any details. H. Khatri, nautical surveyor-cum-deputy director general of shipping, who is preparing the draft, could not be immediately contacted.

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Mint reported on 5 June that the government was considering allowing merchant ships to have armed guards to deal with the growing menace of piracy.

The International Maritime Organisation, a global overseer of operational and safety rules, in May approved employing privately contracted armed security personnel onboard ships transiting through the high-risk piracy area off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean.

There were 266 pirate attacks worldwide in the first six months of this year, compared with 196 in the same period last year, according to a July report of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a non-profit organization that deals with maritime crime and malpractice.

At least 60% of the attacks were by Somali pirates, mostly in the Arabian Sea. On 30 June, these pirates were holding 20 vessels and 420 crew members as hostage, demanding millions of dollars as ransom.

“In the last six months, Somali pirates attacked more vessels than ever before and they’re taking higher risks," said Pottengal Mukundan, director of IMB. “This June, for the first time, pirates fired on ships in rough seas in the Indian Ocean during the monsoon. In the past, they would have stayed away in such difficult (weather) conditions."

Nine Indian ships have been captured since January and 86 crew members are currently held hostage, shipping minister G.K. Vasan said. Talks for their release are on.

The government will allow shipping companies to hire private guards and former defence personnel for securing ships, said a person aware of the draft legislation being prepared.

The number of guards allowed on a ship will depend on its size, ranging from two for a small ship to four for a large crude carrier, said this person, who asked not to be identified.

India’s shipping industry has been lobbying for some time to be allowed to have armed guards on board. Hiring these guards will raise expenses, but the industry expects the insurance premium to come down in turn.

National security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon met executives of shipping companies last month to discuss ways to deal with piracy.

A senior executive with a shipping company said no progress has been made after the meeting, but welcomed the Directorate General of Shipping’s plan to issue guidelines on hiring armed guards.

The nation, he said, is paying Rs6 crore as additional war risk surcharge imposed by reinsurers.

The minimum additional premium on account of such attacks for a very large crude carrier valued at $64 million and carrying a cargo of 260,000 million tonnes (mt), is around $200,000 per month. A bulk carrier, valued at $50 million and carrying 50 mt, pays an additional premium of $50,000 a month.

“It is high time India pushed the United Nations for common and integrated efforts by deploying a force in the pirates infested area," the shipping executive said.

India took over as president of the United Nations Security Council this month.

But armed guards alone may not be enough to end piracy, said a security expert, asking not to be named.

“The Somalian pirates don’t go by the size of the ships or cargo. They target crew for ransom. Now they may shift (attacks) from big vessels with guards to small vessels and yachts," the expert said. International bodies, he said, should look for a sustainable resolution.