USA has passed legislation enabling ships to carry armed guards
The USA has passed legislation enabling ships transporting cargo for US agencies – including aid – to carry armed guards through high-risk waters to prevent piracy.
The move comes as part of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act, passed by the House of Representatives. The law also includes provision to improve training for seafarers on the acceptable use of force against pirates, as well as defence tactics and procedures if taken hostage. It also authorises a general accounting office to report on ways to track ransom payments to pirates and options to improve their prosecution.
The legislation comes as a major trial of an alleged Somali pirate leader is due to open in the USA. The charges relate to the hijacking of the US yacht Quest off Somalia in February 2011 in which four Americans died – six pirates have already been given life sentences for this crime and a further eight are awaiting sentence or trial.
The defendant Mohammad Saaili Shibin, captured in Somalia in April, is alleged to have been the hostage negotiator, and reported to be the highest profile pirate to have been captured and put on trial. Meanwhile, in the increasingly dangerous waters off West Africa, a further offshore supply vessel has been attacked by pirates. Eight armed men are reported to have boarded the Endeavour off the Nigerian coast on 17 November, attacked the crew and took three hostages, two Americans and a Mexican.
According to the most recent figures from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), Somali pirates are currently holding captive about 11 vessels and 194 hostages. Hostages continue to include seven Indian seafarers from the Asphalt Venture still held captive despite the payment of a ransom in April.
Recent incidents reported to the IMB’s worldwide Piracy Reporting Centre include:
- Six pirates chased and fired on a containership 190 nautical miles off Mombasa, Kenya on 21 November, but abandoned the attack after the master raised the alarm, took anti-piracy measures and fired flares towards the pirates’ skiffs.
- Eight pirates in two speedboats approached and fired on a bulk carrier in the Bab el Mandep straits, Red Sea on 20 November but moved away after the onboard security team returned fire.
- Robbers boarded a bulk carrier anchored at Chittagong, Bangladesh on 20 November and escaped with ship’s stores.
- Armed pirates hijacked a tug towing a barge from Sarawak to Johor, Indonesia on 25 October. They took the crew hostage and sailed into Malaysian waters, where they ordered the barge to be cast off. They damaged the tug’s communications and escaped with stolen crew cash and personal belongings.