New Delhi, March 15 (IANS) If the shipping ministry has its way, Indian cargo vessels venturing out to pirate-infested waters will carry armed guards to protect themselves, Navy sources said here Tuesday.
The sources, who are in the know of the government’s thinking on the piracy menace, said that with several Indian sailors becoming victims of hijacking of merchant vessels by the sea brigands, the shipping ministry made the proposal, which is under consideration of the ministries of defence, law and shipping.
The idea behind the armed guards is to replicate the sky marshal deployed on commercial airliners to prevent hijacking, the sources said, adding that a request in this regard came from ship-owners.
However, under current international laws of the seas and under India’s own laws, carrying fire arms on board cargo vessels is a strict no-no. But in the recent months, some of the sea-faring nations such as Malta and Yemen are reported to have permitted such use of weapons by armed guards on board cargo vessels.
The navy has backed the shipping ministry’s idea of letting the civilian cargo ships to employ armed guards while sailing, so as to improve safety of the ships and its crew and to act as a deterrent to pirates.
Sources said the government would frame the necessary legal framework to allow merchant ships to have armed guards and their rules of engagement in consultation with the navy.
The proposal comes in the wake of recent experiences of cargo vessels that carried armed guards on board, thwarting pirate attacks on their own without any help from the navies of the world operating in the Gulf of Aden, they said.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) too have clarified on its stand on the issue and its guidelines stipulated that the decision to appoint armed escorts on cargo ships would be taken by individual governments.
Sources said the government was also working on having a law in place to try the pirates, who are captured by the navy and the coast guard. Since there was no separate law dealing with piracy, the pirates caught by the two maritime forces are being tried under the existing criminal laws such as the Indian Penal Code, they added.
Pirate attacks and hijacking of ships and sailors have cost several millions of American dollars to the shipping industry worldwide. The sea brigands continue to attacks cargo ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea despite the presence of over 35 warships from 18 navies in the region, specially for anti-piracy operations.
India has been engaged in the anti-piracy efforts since October 2008 in the Gulf of Aden and November 2010 off Lakshadweep.
In the last three months, India has sunk three ‘mother-ships’ of pirates and captured nearly 100 Somali pirates in these operations.
On Saturday night, Indian warships INS Kalpeni fought a gun battle at sea against a pirate mother ship and sunk it, apart from capturing 61 pirates and rescuing 13 sailors, who were the original crew of the mother ship, identified as Vega-5 cargo vessel.
Somali pirates have hijacked 174 merchant vessels since Jan 14, 2008 to March 11 this year. According to the Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau, a total of 217 vessels were attacked last year, resulting in 47 hijacking.