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Insight: Piracy - Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean

Armed Guards

The contractual position has improved considerably following the publication of the BIMCO contract GUARDCON on 28 March 2012 - for details see International Group Circular.  It has been reported that, with the reduced demand for security guards, some PMSC's are saving costs by sharing weapons and making use of floating armories. Clause 10 of GUARDCON requires PMSC's to obtain and maintain all permits required for firearms and security equipment. It is normal for permits to specify a named end user. Sharing of weapons may fall outside the scope of the permit. Possession of the weapons may be illegal and place the contractors in breach of GUARDCON. Members should exercise due diligence to ensure that their PMSCs are complying with the terms of their permits.

IMO Maritime Security Sub-Committee has published Interim Guidance to Shipowners, Ship Operators, and Shipmasters on the Use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel On Board Ships in the High Risk Area. The latest version of this Circular MSC.1/Circ.1405/Rev.2 was published in May 2012.

An International Model Set of Maritime Rules for the Use of Force was released in May 2013.

Introduction to Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) published by Oceans beyond Piracy also provides a useful overview of key documents and the stance of flag states.

National regulations on the use of armed guards

ICS (International Chamber of Shipping) and ECSA (European Community Shipowners’ Association) have prepared a useful Comparison of Flag State Laws on Armed Guards and Arms On Board updated March 2015. ICS & ECSA point out that this information is for general guidance only and is not a substitute for proper verification with the flag state.


On 30 january 2013 Belgium published in the Belgian official gazette a new law on maritime piracy. The law set out the legal framework for ships sailing under Belgian flag wanting to take armed guards on board. It imposes a number of conditions on the use of maritime security companies.

A Royal Decree implementing the law is expected during February 2013. For more details, please see article by Ambos NBGO published 1 February 2013.


Cyprus has adopted legislation that allows armed guards onboard merchant ships.

Egypt - Vessels in Suez Canal

In August 2011, the Egyptian Ministry of Defence announced a prohibition on the carriage of armed guards, weapons and ammunition on vessels in transit in the Suez and Egyptian territorial waters. This measure appears to have been replaced by a requirement that vessels carrying armed guards, weapons or ammunition must submit to the Suez Canal Authority in advance or transit a letter endorsed by the flag state with the following:

  • name of the vessels and owners,
  • quantity and description of weapons and ammunition on board,
  • number of armed guards on board,
  • identity of the armed guards’ employer, and
  • confirmation that the weapons will not be used while the vessel is in Egyptian territorial waters

Owners advised to check with local agents prior to entering the Suez Canal or Egyptian territorial waters to ensure that they are able to meet the applicable requirements.

The attached translation of a notification issued by Maritime Sector of transport in January 2012 has been received regarding the presence of weapons and armed squads on board vessels calling Egyptian Ports and transiting Suez Canal.


On 31 December 2012, Germany passed a law regulating the use of private maritime security companies (PMSCs) which will require accreditation if protecting German flag vessels. For details see article by Michael Karschau of Grimme & Partner published in Maritime Risk International in March 2013, a second article in Lloyd's List on 12 July 2013 and the December 2012 update by SAMI.


Greece has adopted legislation which allows armed guards on Greek flagged ships.


Mumbai Port Trust shall have issued guidelines to shipowners and operators concerning the use of armed guards. Supposedly, the guidelines require all vessels intending to carry security personnel through the high risk waters of the Indian Ocean bound for Mumbai or Jawaharlal Nehru port, to notify authorities at least 96 hours before ship’s arrival. Notification is required even if guards are not armed.


On 13 April 2013, the Italian Regulation came into force giving effect to Decree no. 107/2011 on the deployment of military forces or private security guards onboard Italian Ships. More information is available in this article by Studio Legal Garbarino Vergani, together with a second article published in October 2013.


In February 2013, the Japanese Government announced plans to introduce a bill legalising the use of armed security guards.


On 29 June 2011, the Norwegian Government announced a new framework on the use of armed guards by amendments to Regulation 972/2004 on ship security and amendments to Regulation 904/2009 relative to arms. The changes came into force on 1 July 2011.

The new framework follows the IMO guidelines, and allows Norwegian owners to have armed guards onboard in a certain geographical area within the legal limits laid down. An owner wanting to place armed guards onboard must apply for authorization with Norwegian Police Authorities and provide necessary documentation to the Norwegian Maritime Directory. However, the owner is required to conduct an independent risk evaluation to prove the need for armed guards. In addition the owner must be able to show the Security Company’s documentation on procedures for training, qualification and storage and use of weapon.

The simultaneously issued Provisional Guidelines the use of armed guards  offer practical guidance on the interpretation of the new framework.


The Panama Marine Authority has issued Circular MMC-228 setting out the basis upon which Panamanian flag vessels are authorised to carry armed personnel onboard.

South Africa

See information in Industry News provided by our Correspondents Durban, P&I Associates (Pty) Ltd.


On 12 October, the UK Government stated that it intends to go back on its formal opposition to the use of private armed guards on board UK flagged vessels. The change of policy was confirmed by the Prime Minister on 30 October but concrete proposals are awaited.

The Department for Transport has issued two documents:
Guidance to UK Flagged Shipping on Measures to Counter Piracy, Armed Robbery and Other Acts of Violence Against Merchant Shipping
Interim Guidance to UK Flagged Shipping on the Use of Armed Guards to Defend Against the Threat of Piracy in Exceptional Circumstances (updated June 2012). 

The Shipping Bulletin published by Holman Fenwick Willan contains an article on the UK Government measures in relation to armed guards