The UK government has performed a volte-face on the issue of armed guards…which finally lifts the veiled threat of shipowner prosecution.
As reported in Lloyd’s List, any formal opposition to the use of private armed guards on board UK flagged vessels will now be dropped.
UK Foreign Office minister Sir Henry Bellingham confirmed a reversal on the previous strong discouragement of armed vessel protection.
The change has been mooted for a long while, and UK Shipping Minister Mike Penning has hinted as much previously.
The announcement was tempered with the government stressing that this was only planned to be a temporary measure. The green light to go armed is seen as being a response to the extraordinary circumstances. However, it would seem that the pirates, rather than the government will be the force which may or may not drive the next reversal.
Until now it seems that any lingering hesitations to allow armed guards was based on the concerns over the standards of the companies providing them. Much work has been done in this area, and with the IMO guidelines there is now a framework to allow shipowners to assess whether the companies are of the quality required.
Sir Henry also praised the work of the industry in its efforts to self regulate maritime security, and separate to the main speech he highlighted the important role that the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) has played in these developments.