Britain Lifts Armed Guards Ban and Gets Locked and Loaded

Published Oct 31, 2011 1:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Sunday a symbolic step in Britain’s fight against piracy, lifting a ban that didn’t allow armed guards on their major shipping fleets.  The decision to beef up their vessels against piracy attacks is a clear response to the growing maritime epidemic. 

Britain was one of only a few countries left that banned the use of such arms on their vessels, along with Japan, Greece, and the Netherlands.  With the increase of piracy attacks and a more stringent global stance to combat it, Cameron told BBC that Britain now plans to license guards to carry firearms on ships while travelling in the notoriously dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean.  Under the new plan, the Home Secretary will be able to license certain vessels to carry armed security and automatic weapons in danger zones, which is currently prohibited by firearm laws in the country.  When the Prime Minister was asked if he was comfortable with a “shoot to kill” order, he replied that necessary choices will be made.

Cameron said that evidence has proven that ships with armed guards either don’t get attacked, or don’t get taken hostage for ransom.  He stated that the fact that these pirates are managing to hold shipping companies all over the world by their throats for steep ransom payments is an insult to the trading system. 

The decision was unveiled after a Commonwealth summit in Australia where leaders from the Horn of Africa countries were present and discussing the escalating problem off of their shores.  In addition to loosening firearms regulations, Britain’s Treasury is also working to support Kenya’s initiative towards seizing pirate assets.

With recent studies revealing piracy is costing the shipping industry billions of dollars, the announcement from the Prime Minister proves to be another step towards a united world intolerance of chaos in our oceans. 

Despite the tough new stance from Britain, officials from the International Chamber of Shipping which represents 80% of the globe’s merchant fleet say that armed guards are only at best a short-term measure that has the potential to make pirate attacks even more violent.  The ICS stresses that long-term measures to combat piracy are still needed.

According to The Sun, about 200 commercial ships currently sail under the British flag.  The news comes just weeks after British commandos rescued 23 hostages from a Somali pirate-boarded ship off of the east coast of Africa.