A special high-level segment of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), convened by IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu to discuss policy matters related to arms on board ships in the piracy high risk area, has requested a working group of the MSC to develop interim guidance for private maritime security companies (PMSCs).
The MSC is meeting for its 90th session at IMO headquarters from May 16 to 25, with some 900 delegates registered from IMO member states and observers from international and non-governmental organizations.
The instruction to the working group to develop the guidance for PMSCs followed a debate on arms onboard ships during the high-level segment, held over the first day and a half of the committee’s session, which saw interventions from a number of ministers, secretaries of state and other senior government representatives as well as the UN assistant secretary-general for legal affairs.
In his address to the high-level segment Sekmizu said: “The carriage of firearms on board merchant ships is a complex legal issue with member states taking diverse positions. The committee has determined that the carriage of armed personnel is a matter for flag states to authorize, however it has also accepted that their carriage has legal implications for coastal and port states, particularly with respect to the carriage, embarkation and disembarkation of firearms and security equipment in areas under the jurisdiction of such port or coastal states.”
He went on to emphasize that carriage of arms was a high-priority issue for the shipping industry, and said: “While recognizing the reality of the situation in which private security guards are employed and the diverse positions of governments, there is a need to consider how the international community should deal with the issue of private security guards and, in particular, the need to arrive at practical solutions to the issue.”
The high-level segment agreed that the use of PMSC on board ships was an exceptional measure to be used only in exceptional circumstances in the high risk area, and should not become institutionalized. However, guidance was needed to assist policy development at the national level and facilitate greater harmonization of policies in international shipping related to the issue of arms on board. Such guidance would not constitute a recommendation or an endorsement of the general use of privately contracted armed security personnel.
The high-level segment endorsed the view that the carriage of armed personnel aboard ships for enhancing their protection in the high risk area should be left to flag states to decide, once a thorough risk-assessment exercise had been carried out and following consultations with the shipowners concerned.