Uncertain guidelines in a shadowy world

The recent release of four employees of Protection Vessels International, after nearly six months' detention in Eritrea, together with the imprisonment of six persons - American, Kenyan and British citizens - in Somalia, convicted of illegally bringing ransom money into the country, shows the risks that are run by those offering anti-piracy services.

These risks are merely the latest problem for companies and individuals engaged by ship operators in providing (1) armed security guards, and (2) facilitation and intermediaries in making ransom payments, among other things.

The Eritrean incident seems to have begun in December, when the SEA SCORPION, a ship used as a floating accommodations for security guards, had an engine room fire, resulting in an unplanned call at the port of Massawa. Everything went downhill from there.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the UK Department for Transport has announced that it is considering amendments to existing rules, that would allow armed security guards aboard UK-flagged ships.

What form these amendments would take is unclear. In the meantime, Cyprus has announced that security firms will be permitted to protect Cyprus-flagged ships, but that these service providers will be "vetted by the Cyprus Maritime Administration".

In addition, the president of the Cyprus Union of Shipowners has stated that "guards will not be allowed to fire first".

It's clear that the entire situation regarding security guards remains indefinite, to say the least.

An international convention on the suppression of piracy would be a big help in clearing the air, and giving some protection to security teams and others working to free the seafarers that have been taken hostage.

Clay Maitland

This article has been initially published at www.claymaitland.com