The UK’s prime minister, David Cameron, has recently announced a change in the legislation which would allow the use of guns and other kinds of weapons on British merchant ships. In fact, UK is one of the very few countries whose strict regulation in the matter of weapons does not allow ship crews to carry weapons as a way to defend themselves from the attacks of pirates off the Somali coast.
The move undertaken by the British PM would not be so surprising if we consider the evidence of the latest events coming from the Horn of Africa, which show a quite clear difference between vessels carrying weapons and those that don’t. In fact, according to Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the International Chamber Shipment, to date there has not been a single ship with armed guards that have been seized by pirates. However, he also believes that a shift towards armed guards on board of every single ship that operate in dangerous areas of the world could consequently make pirates respond with increased firepower and even more cruel attacks.
By allowing crews to carry weapons on board, it is hoped that the number of vessels seized could decrease and a higher level of maritime security guaranteed for everyone who operate in specific off-limits parts of the world such as the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, it would be important to consider the possible negative consequences of such measure, as lack of strict regulations could lead to a new kind of ‘Far West’ of the seas. In this sense, it would be useful to remind that a very large number of vessel companies, in order to cut expenses, prefer to rely on cheaper alternatives, employing illegal forces which have no licence to carry weapons and often do not have any kind of experience on board of vessels.
Time will tell whether the anti piracy measure employed by the UK government would be effective enough to stop piracy in proximity of the Horn of Africa . Surely, this move is likely to address the piracy issue in the very short term, but way far from the root of the problem, whose cause should be connected to the socio/economic and political instability in Somalia. In the meantime, the shipping industry has called for the creation of an international body under the UN which could deal with piracy and tackle the problem in the most effective way, stopping a bunch of criminals from putting crews’ lives at risk and damaging the worldwide economy.