Revised guidance on combating piracy and armed robbery against ships was agreed by IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) when it met at the Organization's London Headquarters for its 86th session from 27 May to 5 June. Specific guidance relating to the continued attacks on ships off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden was also agreed.
The packed agenda also covered the adoption of amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), including a new regulation to make the carriage of electronic charts mandatory, and the approval of goal-based standards for new oil tankers and bulk carriers, for future adoption.
The MSC reviewed the latest statistics on piracy and armed robbery against ships, in particular off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, where ships continue to be attacked and hijacked, despite the concerted efforts of the international community, spearheaded by IMO, navies and the industry, to protect shipping. The number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to the Organization to have occurred in 2008 was 306, against 282 during 2007, representing an increase of 8.5 per cent. In the first four months of 2009, 157 incidents were reported to IMO.
The MSC agreed updated Recommendations to Governments for preventing and suppressing piracy and armed robbery against ships; and Guidance to shipowners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships. The guidance to shipmasters and crew includes a new annex aimed at seafarers, fishermen and other mariners who may be kidnapped or held hostage for ransom, based on the current United Nations guidance on “surviving as a hostage.”
An MSC circular on Piracy and armed robbery against ships in waters off the coast of Somalia was agreed, to include Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Coast of Somalia, which have been developed by industry organizations, and additional guidance to vessels engaged in fishing, identified as being particularly vulnerable to attack.
The MSC agreed that flag States should strongly discourage the carrying and use of firearms by seafarers for personal protection or for the protection of a ship. Seafarers, it was agreed, are civilians and the use of firearms requires special training and aptitudes and the risk of accidents with firearms carried on board ship is great. Carriage of arms on board ship may encourage attackers to carry firearms or even more dangerous weapons, thereby escalating an already dangerous situation. Any firearm on board may itself become an attractive target for an attacker. Carriage of firearms may pose an even greater danger if the ship is carrying flammable cargo or similar types of dangerous goods.
It was agreed that the use of unarmed security personnel is a matter for individual shipowners, companies, and ship operators to decide. The carriage of armed security personnel, or the use of military or law-enforcement officers (duly authorized by the Government of the flag State to carry firearms for the security of the ship) should be subject to flag State legislation and policies and is a matter for the flag State to authorize, in consultation with ship owners, companies and ship operators.
The MSC also agreed proposed amendments to the Code of practice for the investigation of the crimes of piracy and armed robbery against ships (resolution A.922(22)), for consideration by the IMO Assembly later this year.