Prominent UK and US maritime lawyer and maritime author Dr John A.C. Cartner is calling on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to enact changes to the Safety at Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) to combat the continuing problem of piracy facing the global merchant fleet by allowing ships to carry armed guards. Piracy is a growing phenomenon with 1,181 seafarers captured and eight killed in 2010.
According to Dr Cartner, managing member of Washington-based law firm Cartner & Fiske LLC, under SOLAS and other laws it is a ship master’s doctrinal duty to protect the lives of those aboard his ship, but that he may not currently lawfully do this with private armed guards. As pirates endanger the lives of persons aboard ships, SOLAS should be amended under the tacit acceptance procedure of the Convention to give limited transactional immunity to the shipowner and master placing armed guards aboard their vessels to protect the lives of those aboard. The tacit acceptance procedure facilitates a quick and simple modification to keep pace with rapidly-evolving technology in shipping, but can also be used to deal with pirates.
Dr Cartner, who is himself an unrestricted master mariner who has commanded tankers and container vessels, said: “A vote of IMO members can pass a change to SOLAS which would give limited transactional immunity to any person who in good faith injures a putative pirate to protect the lives aboard. This person would be immune from prosecution by any state party or civil suit in any jurisdiction by the injured or his personal representative if the injury occurs in an area declared by the IMO Secretary General to be one known to be frequented by pirates. The language would cover any party including owners, managers, operators, insurers, armed guards and their hiring entities, masters and officers and ratings.”
“I urge shipowners and other stakeholders to bring pressure to bear on IMO to enact these changes. It is an inexpensive and simple move for the IMO to make. Armed guards carried on ships will substantially suppress piracy. Whilst naval forces and their marines are immune from criminal prosecutions for their acts unless they step outside their perimeters of duties, armed private guards killing or injuring a pirate are currently committing a crime under flag state laws and the master is an accomplices or abettor to this crime. A contract cannot waive this criminal liability and an owner agreeing to a contract where armed guards kill a pirate is perhaps premeditating. Any case for self defence is argued before a court and not prior to the act. It is clear that naval forces face too huge a challenge to successfully defeat piracy singlehandedly and that the carriage of armed guards aboard merchant vessels is the only practical solution to this problem. The IMO's act would serve to immediately suppress piracy in those regions designated by the Secretary General as zones for concern. ”