MS Amlin recommends GoG-transiting shipowners to consult their flag states when considering the services of privately armed security

Insurer MS Amlin has issued an update on its Piracy Alert Gulf of Guinea, referring back to its previous circular in May 2020. That publication promoted the awareness about the dangers and risks associated with piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Since last May there had been “a significant increase in the number of violent attacks, some of which resulted in the loss of lives of seafarers”,

MS Amlin said that it wished to alert shipowners and charterers about the dangers of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea by providing information and practical recommendations.

An area that has generated much debate in recent months has been the potential for the use of privately armed security personnel, a strategy that was significantly effective in the early years of the last decade during the piracy epidemic off the coast of Somalia, which eventually spread far into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

MS Amlin noted that the past decade had demonstrated that the use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) on board vessels had proven to be an effective measure in protecting the safety of seafarers and deferring attacks from pirates in high-risk areas. However, MS Amlin warned that, unlike the Somalian pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean, the attacks in the Gulf of Guinea often took place on vessels that were entering or leaving ports, or which were at anchor within the territorial waters. The national laws of these coastal states did not permit foreign security guards to carry firearms on board merchant vessels. Therefore, shipowners had to rely on local security force, for example the local navy forces.

If a shipowner wished to have armed guards on board a vessel in an area which did not allow PCASP, all non-local armed guards would have to disembark the vessel and be replaced with local security personnel when the vessel entered territorial waters. “To make use of such local security guards, a ship owner can either rely on a local agent with direct links to the military or police within that country, or engage the services of an intermediary.”

MS Amlin also warned that the carriage of firearms was a complex legal issue and was still prohibited by some flag states, although a number of flag states were in the process of amending their laws in order to allow the practice of PCASP on board vessels.

“MS Amlin neither dismisses nor promotes the use of services of PCASP, but would rather emphasize that the decision whether to resort to the services of such companies lies solely with the shipowner”, said the insurer, adding that “accordingly, we recommend shipowners to consult their flag states when considering the services of PCASP, as well as contacting the coastal states of the territorial waters to be entered before embarking on the voyage.”

More generally MS Amlin advised ship operators, masters and mariners to remain vigilant and stay cautious when operating in the Gulf of Guinea. “As the subject matter is far too extensive to be covered in full within this circular, we recommend following and implementing the Best Management Practices for West Africa (BMP-WA), which aim to help ships plan their voyage and to detect, avoid and report attacks”, the insurer said.
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