British merchant ships to carry arms: PM

Pirates of Puntland
.. .
Signifying, for the cruising sailor, just how seriously the UK takes the pirate dangers of the western Indian Ocean, in an historic break with a long held tradition, Britain will now allow armaments on British ships.

UK Prime Minister will permit the licensing of armed guards aboard merchant vessels sailing under the British flag. Armed guards will now be permitted onboard ships sailing under the British flag to protect them from pirates, the UK prime minister has announced.

'Somali piracy is a complete stain on our world,' David Cameron told the BBC this week. The UK Home Secretary will be responsible for licensing armed guards for ships, as part of the new plans.

Most armed guards would be using high velocity rifles, in order to 'deter pirates' from attempting to board a ship, Peter Cook, director of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (Sami) told the BBC.

Use of armed guards would be restricted to voyages through particular waters in affected areas.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has welcomed the new plans, but has called them only a 'short-term measure'.

'To date, no ships with armed guards on board have been captured. But pirates will respond with increased firepower to overwhelm the armed guards, and when that happens the impact on the crew will be pretty dreadful,' ICS secretary general Peter Hinchliffe told Reuters.

Armed guards onboard ships could still fall foul of laws in areas of foreign jurisdiction, however. Armed guards are not currently permitted on ships sailing through the Suez Canal.

The plans have been welcomed within the industry by InterManager, the International Ship Managers’ Association, which has campaigned for the freedom of Owners and Managers to choose to deploy armed guards onboard ships they manage.

Alastair Evitt, President of InterManager, stated the move is 'a quantum leap in public perception to hear the issue of piracy and merchant shipping addressed by the UK Prime Minister David Cameron so openly and frankly'.

Up to 200 vessels flying the British merchant navy flag regularly sail close to Somalia. Officials estimate that about 100 of those would immediately apply for permission to have armed guards, the BBC reports.

Somali pirates are known to be technically savvy and keep up with the news. It is therefore quite likely, they being businessmen after all, that pirates are likely to avoid any ship from now on flying the British flag. Why attack an armed ship when there are still plenty of unarmed ships sailing through the region?

Maybe it will serve as an encouragement for ships of other countries to keep a couple of British flags hidden away in case of imminent attack...