Written statement to Parliament

The use of private armed guards on board UK registered ships under exceptional circumstances to defend against piracy

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Interim guidance to shipping companies on the use of armed guards released.

The rise in the number of incidents involving pirates in certain parts of the world has highlighted the need to ensure UK-flagged vessels are able to adequately protect themselves against such threats. Evidence shows that ships with armed guards are less likely to be attacked and taken for ransom, and the House will be aware that the Prime Minister confirmed last month that the government now recognises the use of private armed guards as an option to protect UK registered ships and their crews from acts of piracy. This applies in exceptional circumstances as defined below:

  • when the ship is transiting the high seas throughout the high risk area (an area bounded by Suez and the Straights of Hormuz to the North, 10°S and 78°E)
  • the latest ‘best management practices’ is being followed fully but, on its own, is not deemed by the shipping company and the ship’s master as sufficient to protect against acts of piracy
  • the use of armed guards is assessed to reduce the risk to the lives and well being of those onboard the ship

I am therefore today (6 December 2011), publishing interim guidance to shipping companies on the use of armed guards onboard UK flagged ships. This guidance covers, amongst other things, the factors to be included in the risk assessment, advice on selecting a private security company, and a requirement for the shipping company to produce a counter-piracy plan and submit a copy to my department.

A private security company (PSC) employed to put armed guards onboard UK ships will require authorisation from the Home Office for possession of any prohibited firearms as defined in the Firearms Act 1968 (as amended). Checks will be carried out by the Home Office and police into the PSC and its personnel before an authorisation is granted.

The guidance to shipping companies, and the Home Office process for authorising the possession of prohibited firearms, are both interim and will be reviewed within 12 months so that they reflect continuing national and international work to ensure high standards in the provision of armed guards in the maritime domain.