Shipping associations warn on “military” response on commercial vessels

Shipping associations have warned shipping companies that if they deploy private security guards on vessels sailing through areas considered dangerous, they should be wary of responding on force to attacks from state-sponsored military groups.

The industry advisory said ships that switched off their AIS tracking transponders to avoid detection could also complicate rescue efforts if they ran into trouble.

The commercial shipping industry contributed significantly to the end of the piracy epidemic off Somalia in the period 2008-2012 by putting armed security guards on board. Although well-organized, the pirates were not strong militarily, and were not used to or able to cope with people firing back from ships they planned to kidnap.

However, a similar tactic might be less wise against attacks from Houthi militia, shippers have been advised, as (a) the attackers are militarily more sophisticated and (b) such a response could lead to an escalation of the situation in the region as a whole.

In an advisory issued on Friday by the shipping industry’s leading associations, companies were urged to “complete a thorough risk assessment when considering the use of armed guards. Caution should be taken when managing their employment and rules of engagement should consider the risk of escalation”.

Maritime security company Ambrey said last week that there had been an “exchange of fire” between armed guards onboard a vessel and armed assailants who that was attacked by a speedboat with armed assailants.

The Marshall Islands shipping registry said in a separate note on Thursday that vessels were advised “reassess rules for the use of force with their private maritime security company”, adding that “a clear distinction should be made between suspected attackers with small arms and military forces with more advanced weaponry”.

The Marshall Islands said that engagement with military forces was not advised.