Logistics

Govt to deploy armed guards on board cargo vessels

N. K. Kurup Mumbai | Updated on May 24, 2011 Published on May 24, 2011

Commander Arun Bahuguna, Commanding Officer of INS Cankarso, which spearheaded the anti-piracy operation off Lakshadweep and rescued 20 Thai and Myanmarese fishermen held hostage by sea pirates, with one of the rescued hostages. Commander Bahuguna is standing to the right of the rescued fisherman from Thailand. Coast Guard Commandant D.P. Yadav is also seen.   -  Business Line

The Government has decided to allow deployment of armed guards – preferably retired naval officers – on board Indian cargo vessels sailing on the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean, a top government official told Business Line on Tuesday.

Detailed guidelines on the number of guards that each vessel can have will be issued shortly, he said.

In the wake of rising incidents of piracy on the high seas, Indian shipping lines have been seeking government permission to deploy armed guards on board their ships.

The plan is to give preference to retired naval officers, said the official who has just returned from the meeting of the Intentional Maritime Organisation (IMO) which discussed the guidelines on allowing armed guard on board the merchant ships. The Maritime Safety Committee of IMO has endorsed the use of armed guards.

Draft guidelines

In India, the proposal under consideration is to seek retired navy officers from the pool maintained by the Directorate of Resettlement under the Ministry of Defence. Each vessel can have a group of five armed personnel – one officer and four others. The shipping companies have to bear the cost of hiring the guards.

A draft guidelines prepared by the director general of shipping is being vetted by the defence, shipping and the law ministries, he said.

The government is not in favour of allowing private security guards on board national flag-carriers, because of concerns regarding their screening. The guards themselves should not turn out to be a threat to the national carriers. “As far as possible we want to go in for navy personnel,” the official said.

The IMO meeting last week also discussed the use of private armed guards and issued draft guidelines.

In India, seamen's unions, shipowners and other maritime stakeholders have been seeking government intervention to find a solution to the growing incidents of piracy and targeting vessels with Indian crew.

Growing piracy cases

Welcoming the government decision, Mr S. Hajara, President of Indian National Shipowners Association and Chairman and Managing Director of the Shipping Corporation of India, said: “We are positive on the government decision. This is crucial as the incidents of piracy have been growing and we are concerned over the safety of men and material on board our ships. We, shipping companies, have been requesting for use of armed guard on board. There will be an additional cost and we will have to bear it for the safety of our men on board,” he said.

Some of the other flag carriers are already employing armed guard on their ships sailing close to the pirate- infested Somali coast. Some international carriers have been deploying private security guards.

Last week, the IMO issued guidelines to member-states on the use of private armed guards on board ships. The guidelines noted that the flag state jurisdiction and any law and regulation imposed by the states concerning deployment of private guards should be applicable to the shipping lines.

“If the sourcing of armed guard is restricted to the pool of retired navy officers, there could be one problem, You may not get enough hands,” said Mr Arun Sharma, head of technical advisory group at INSA on the matter. “For a ship, the time is very important. Charters are ready to pay the cost of armed guard, but if you don't get them on time, there will be problem,” he said.

In 2010, more than 480 incidents of piracy and armed robbery were reported which is 20 per cent higher than that of 2009. In the last five months, over 200 cases have already been reported.

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Published on May 24, 2011
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