India: Merchant ships get guns
Monday, 02 April 2012 | 11:00
Waking up to the need of beefing up the security of seafarers to combat the menace of high sea piracy, the Shipping Corporation of India Ltd (SCI), the largest Indian shipping company, with a fleet of over 77 ships is all set to hire armed security personnel from private agencies, to guard its vessels.
According to SCI's latest guidelines, a team of four guards will now be allocated per vessel. The team will comprise of a team leader, a medical personnel and two armed personnel, with appropriate training pertaining to the vessel and cargo as per the provisions of International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Speaking to MiD DAY, Sabyasachi Hajara, chairman and managing director, SCI, stated that the decision was taken to enable safe and secure passage for their vessels through piracy-infested waters, especially in the Gulf of Aden, off the Somalia Coast, which in shipping terminology is referred to as High Risk Areas (HRA).
"Though we are going ahead with plans to have armed personnel onboard our vessels this may not be a long-term solution. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of governments and their armed forces to provide protection to the merchant navy in international waters. The final solution lies in eradicating the pirates, who have till date amassed millions of dollars as ransom," Hajara said.
According to him, the implementation of the plan, where armed personnel will protect the ships, will be governed by directives issued by Indian authorities regarding embarkation and disembarkation of the guards with weapons on board at Indian and foreign ports. This will be done so that it does not raise the concerns of customs, police and other agencies tasked with law enforcement and coastal security.
While no Indian vessel has been targeted by pirates, Dr Satish Agnihotri, director general of shipping, claimed that this does not rule out the possibility of such attacks in the future. Dr Agnihotri said, "SCI vessels make over 30 trips a month through HRA. This step will go a long way in providing a secure and safe operating environment for not only the crew, but it will also safeguard huge quantities of valuable cargo being transported."
According to the chairman of the Maritime Association of Shipowners Shipmanagers & Agents (MASSA) captain Shyam Jairam, his organisation has been demanding such a step for a very long time.
"We welcome the initiative, but at the same time it is essential that strict guidelines are enforced on issues such as the command of the vessel, which should always remain under the ship's captain. The armed personnel cannot be trigger-happy, like in the recent Enrica Lexie incident, where armed security personnel deployed on an Italian ship killed two innocent Indian fishermen. All deterrent actions have to be taken, before engaging in armed conflict," said Jairam.
Source: Mid Day