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Arming Yachts Against Pirates

Tuesday 20 December 2011
The UK government has just allowed merchant ships (which would include superyachts) to carry armed guards in an effort to protect against piracy. The modern pirates that prey on the easy, unarmed targets in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean are not like the pirates of old who used swords and cannon. The weapons of choice for the modern pirate are the AK-47 and RPG (which stands for "Ruchnoi Protivotanoviyi Granatomyot" rather than the popular, but erroneous, "Rocket-Propelled Grenade").

Until recently ships and yachts of all sizes are sitting ducks that try to defend themselves by turning sharply, using fire hoses or locking themselves in a safe room. None of these tactics deter the pirates who come and go at speed and at will. By the time the EUNAVFOR task force is on scene the action is over.

It is estimated that less than 20% of merchant ships employ security teams of about 3 professional armed guards through the Gulf of Aiden. At around $20,000 a day it is not a cheap solution and for those running a superyacht it has billetting issues (not to mention aesthetic ones).

Another issue exists, it might not be all that legal either. Although the UK has endorsed the use of authorised companies to provide security aboard the practice is not internationally permitted by the UN's International Maritime Organization. Many states will not allow arms to be carried in their territorial waters. On the other hand safety at work laws may mean that it is illegal for companies not to protect their crew members if they send them into areas that are known to be dangerous.

With such uncertainty one thing seems certain, maritime lawyers are going to be the ones making a killing in navigating these murky waters. Things were probably far simpler in the days of the Privateer.