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Sié Chéou-Kang CenterPrivate Security Monitor

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (at podium) addresses the launch of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s action plan against piracy in London, United Kingdom. The plan will be implemented leading up to the September 2011 World Maritime Day on the theme “Piracy: Orchestrating the Response”.

Global Efforts

International Maritime Organization

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping. IMO has promoted the adoption of some 50 conventions and protocols and adopted several hundred recommendations dealing with maritime safety and security. Although recommendations—whether in the form of codes or otherwise—are not usually binding on Governments, they provide guidance in framing national regulations and requirements.

IMO works through a number of specialist committees and sub-committees. Each of these bodies is composed of representatives of member states. Pertinent is the Intersessional Maritime Security and Piracy Working Group of the Maritime Safety Committee, which has approved Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) circulars on the use of private security personnel on board ships. Information on this and other IMO work-product can be found below or on the IMO website.

IMO Guidance on the Use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel On-Board Ships

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1408

Author: IMO
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This document is titled "Interim recommendations for port and coastal States regarding the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the High Risk Area." The recommendations were adopted in response to the growing use of privately contracted armed security personnel to counter Somali-based piracy, and specifically recommend governments to adopt policies and procedures for ship owners related to the embarkation, disembarkation and carriage of private security personnel and of firearms and security-related equipment for use by private guards. 

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1339

Author: IMO
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With the issuance of this circular, the Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO distributed the revised “Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy,” or “BMP4” which is attached as an annex. BMP4 is intended to assist ships to avoid, deter or delay piracy attacks in high risk areas. Sections 8.14 and 8.15 concern private maritime security contractors; it states that the use of unarmed or armed private guards is a matter for individual ship operators following their own voyage risk assessment and the national laws of the flag state.

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1335

Author: IMO
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This circular is an update of the best management practices to avoid, deter or delay acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. It is devised by maritime industry organizations on a voluntary basis and supported and encouraged by the contracting parties on account of the urgent need to combat attacks off the coast of Somalia. In it, the use of additional private security guards is at the discretion of the company but the use of armed guards is not recommended.

IMO Joint MSC and Facilitation Committee (FAL) Questionnaire and Responses

Author: IMO
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This questionnaire was issued by the IMO to collect information on the relevant national legislation, policies, and procedures of port and coastal states related to privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships. Responses were to be received by 30 November 2011, but continue to be submitted into 2013.

Countries responding are: 

Australia; Brazil; Denmark; France; Hong Kong; India; Israel; JordanMadagascar; Mauritius; P

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1333

Author: IMO
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This IMO document is titled "Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships: Recommendations to Governments for preventing and suppressing piracy and armed robbery against ships." Among other recommendations, it states that the use of unarmed security personnel is a matter for individual ship owners, companies, and ship operators to decide. It warns, however, that the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships may lead to an escalation of violence. It leaves the carriage of such personnel and their weapons is subject to flag state legislation and policies and is a matter for flag states to determine in consultation with ship owners, companies, and ship operators, if and under which conditions this will be allowed.

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1334

Author: IMO
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The circular lists a comprehensive series of measures that can be taken onboard ships under any circumstances to prevent attacks or, when they occur, to minimize the risks to the crew and ship. In section 62 and 63, the use of armed and unarmed security personnel is discussed; their use is a matter for flag states to determine in consultation with ship owners, operators and companies, though all legal requirements of flag, port and coastal states should be met.

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1406/Rev.1

Author: IMO
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This circular is titled "Revised interim recommendations for flag States regarding the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the High Risk Area." It provides considerations for states on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel if and when a flag state determines that such a measure would be appropriate and lawful. Flag states are encouraged to have in place a policy on whether or not the use of private armed guards will be authorized and, if so, under which conditions.

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1405/Rev.2

Author: IMO
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Revised at the Committee meeting of 25 May 2012, this guidance assists ship owners, ship operators and ship masters considering the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships to provide additional protection against piracy. Topics addressed include selection, vetting and training of private security personnel; command and control of the onboard security team; rules for the use of force; and incident reporting. 

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1443 Interim Guidance to Private Maritime Security Companies Providing Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel on Board Ships in the High Risk Area

Author: IMO
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This document sets out the IMO's guidance for the use of maritime security companies in high risk areas, specifically Somalia. The Guidance draws much of its material from the Liberian created guidance of 2011, and is issued in conjunction with amended guidelines for the minimum competencies and abilities a PMSC on board a ship is expected to have.

Country Responses to the IMO Questionnaire on Maritime Regulations

Romania: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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Romania requires ships to report on the presence of firearms and private security personnel entering or leaving ports, and authorization for the use of firearms and private security by flag states. Ships must also report security-related equipment, types of firearms and munitions, and information on the number of private security personnel on board. Firearms and security-related items may be disembarked with the permission of the National Police.

Oman: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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The Sultanate of Oman requires that security companies submit a request for entrance including detailed documentation of personnel data and firearms.  It is forbidden to unload weapons, ammunition or equipment without prior notification of customs authorities and officers from the Security Services and Safety Agency must be in attendance.

Somalia: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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Somalia requires flag state authorization for private guards entering its waters and also notification to the port authority of any weapons or security guards on board. A list of armed guards and their legality must be submitted when ships enter territorial waters of Somalia. 

Denmark: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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In the Denmark government response to the IMO questionnaire on private maritime security, their limited regulations for private armed security are outlined. While Denmark regulates firearms aboard ships, as of the report they have no specific reporting requirements for private security guards aboard ships. 

United States: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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The United States regulates armed guards and firearms traveling into its territory through several laws and agencies. Private security guards must be registered by the U.S. office of the company prior to arrival. Firearms must be disclosed and registered with the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. 

Mauritius: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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Mauritius requires extensive information from ships entering its waters on private security guards on board. Flag state authorization from a regulatory body, security personnel list, security company details, and an inventory of weapons. These details are required one month in advance for the Police and 48 hours ahead for the Port Authority. 

India: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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India requires ships to disclose all firearms, personnel, security equipment, and private security guards prior to entering their territorial waters. Firearms must remain on board ship at all times and are locked under a customs seal while in port. Security guards must follow the 2012 guidelines issued by the maritime authority of India. 

Israel: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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Israel does not require flag state authorization for the use of private armed security aboard ships, nor notification of the presence of security guards aboard ships. It does regulate firearms and weapons in transit, vessels must notify the port when at least 100 nautical miles from the coast and cannot offload weapons from the ship while in port.

Egypt: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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The Maritime Transport Sector (MTS) of Egypt provides information on Suez Canal and its ports requirements related to privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships. MTS requires shipping agencies to report the arms and ammunitions existing onboard and deliver the arms in a locked box to the Port Security to be checked. The shipmaster and the crew of the vessel violating the provision shall be subject to prosecution in accordance with its domestic law, no. 394/1954, and be detained. 

Jordan: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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Jordan at present does not require flag state authorization for armed security aboard ships. It does require ships to submit the identities of persons responsible for security 48 hours in advance of arrival. Firearms and other weapons are regulated and must be disclosed, though arms may be removed from the vessel under strict rules. 

United Kingdom: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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The United Kingdom requires details of firearms and ammunition carried as ships stores and the establishment of flag state authority regarding the use of private security firearms, ammunition, and associated equipment.  The response indicates that the UK desires to have an additional record of all firearms embarked or disembarked from vessels, thus providing an audit trail for the movement of firearms within counter-piracy activities.

Madagascar: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Private Maritime Security

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Madagascar established a Center for Support of Maritime Operations which is responsible for authorizing all weapons, arms, and private guarding activities in its territorial waters. Vessels entering into Madagascar waters must contact the center for authorization of security related activities. 

Australia: Response to the IMO Questionnaire on Maritime Private Security

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In their response to the IMO Questionnaire, Australia describes the reporting requirements for private armed security on board ships. Notably, Australia leaves many of the regulations to individual agencies, and may only require security guards to hold a relevant visa for entry into ports. 

World Customs Organization Questionnaire on Firearms aboard Ships

The World Customs Organization is an independent body from the United Nations, but it actively participates in IMO and other UN meetings in addition to operating as an intergovernmental body itself. In 2012, the WCO issued a questionnaire to its member countries on their policies towards the regulation of firearms for armed guards aboard ships.


World Customs Organization: Questionnaire and Responses on Customs Requirements Concerning the Control of Firearms and Ammunition on Board Ships for Use by Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel

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At the Council Sessions in June 2011 the Observer for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) raised the issue of the increasing threat to the maritime part of the supply chain of piracy and armed robbery, particularly off the coast of Somalia. In response to this threat, a number of States are considering the use of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) on board their ships which is raising complex legal issues. The IMO requested the Customs community to provide details of Customs-related aspects of the carriage, embarkation and disembarkation of firearms and security equipment. The WCO Secretariat subsequently submitted a short questionnaire to Customs administrations with the hope that the replies will assist the IMO in developing further guidance for its Members. This document features the questions and responses to date from members.