The Shipping Shogun Joins Global Armed Counter-Piracy Efforts

Japanese Shipowners Association is key to new effort.

Published Apr 24, 2013 12:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

By Nicholas-Andrew Iliopoulos
Special to Piracy Daily

The recent decision by the Japanese Diet to go forward and permit the use of armed guards on Japanese flag vessels is one that carefully melds historical lessons learned and vivid concerns for today's risks and opportunities, with a profound understanding of what maritime challenges are likely to be key in the future.

As AdvanFort President William Watson has noted, the new Japanese position is critical for the protection of its world-renowned position as a leader second to none in manufacturing, shipping and other industries.

In a world in which some 90 percent of all global trade is by volume done by sea—moving by container ship, heavy-lift vessel or tanker—Japan's economic livelihood is uniquely linked to maritime transportation.

Whether in the production of motor vehicles, machine tools, chemicals, textiles, electronic equipment, steel and non-ferrous metals, ships and other goods, Japan is at the front ranks, when not the proud winners of those industries' "gold medals."

As the influence of Asian countries as a group, and in particular those of the Asia-Pacific region, grows at an astounding rate—even in the face of continuing international economic difficulties—it is hard to overstate Japan's importance to the international shipping industry.

In recent decades, the island nation has become one of the globe's most powerful and vibrant economies, a literal giant in industrial production, underlining the reciprocal importance of maritime shipping to its continued prosperity.

In the land of the sword and the chrysanthemum, enormous quantities of fuel and other raw materials arrive by sea, while Japan's massive cargos of exports also leave the country by vessels bound to markets around the world.

For all those reasons and more, including real protection of Japanese citizens working in the maritime industry, it was time that the government loosened the ban against private maritime security company (PMSC) guards aboard Japanese ships?a protection that, for other countries, a senior U.S. State Department rightly called counter piracy "game changers."

The recent trial of Somalia pirates by a Tokyo court underscored the disadvantage of Japanese merchant crews who, unlike those of many other nations, could not offer a visible deterrent or defensive ability while navigating the difficult waters of the Gulf of Aden and much of the Indian Ocean—not to mention the growing threats off West Africa.

The statistics behind the public's attention to the trial are staggering. Of the some 18,000 ships that navigate the waters off the Somali coast, some 1,700 are registered in Japan or operated by the country's shipping companies. At least 13 Japanese ships have been attacked recently by pirates. The Tokyo trial revolved around the participation of four Somali pirates who, in March 2011, boarded the Bahamian-registered oil tanker Guanabara, operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., in the Arabian Sea.

The general ban on civilians bearing firearms, a rule that included personnel aboard Japanese-flagged vessels around the world, was understandable in the context of post-World War II Japan, when the country opted for transformation into a global leader as an internationally-minded citizen of peace.

However today, if there is one characteristic unifying the maritime scourge called "piracy" it is their well-documented efforts to target unarmed vessels.

Thanks to the leadership of the Japanese Shipowners' Association, a body that mainly represents shipping agents, PMSC guards are now free to fire warning shots into the air or at the water and, whenever under direct threat, protect crews, cargos and the vessels themselves. Instead of a total ban on using private guards, shipping companies will now be required inform the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism about private security companies like AdvanFort that are hired for each voyage.

AdvanFort's comprehensive solutions in counter piracy can help maritime owners and operators from the very beginning, as they seek to fulfill government requirements for detailed information about what security equipment will be onboard, what their security plans entail, and what are the high-quality capabilities of our company's security personnel.

The bottom line: AdvanFort's never-ending mission is to keep peaceful mariners' worst fears from coming true.

Commander Nicholas-Andrew Iliopoulos, the Senior Manager for Business Development at the AdvanFort Company, for nearly a decade served under the direct command of HM the late King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan as "The King's Captain" and his Marine Consultant.