IMO Guidance Calls for Certified Private Maritime Security Companies

This is interim guidance from the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee that applies to privately contracted armed security personnel on vessels transiting off the east coast of Africa.

New interim guidance adopted by the International Maritime Organization's Maritime Safety Committee calls for companies supplying armed security personnel to seek certification with national and international standards, once those are established. The IMO committee decided ISO is the organization best suited to develop an international standard.

The committee met May 16-25 in London, and IMO posted details of its guidance May 31. The guidance applies to vessels transiting what IMO called "the high risk area off the east coast of Africa."

During their meeting, committee members discussed the 544 acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships that were reported to IMO in 2011, which represented an 11 percent increase from 489 reported the previous year. The areas most affected in both years were East Africa and the Far East, in particular the South China Sea, followed by the Indian Ocean, West Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. (East Africa alone was responsible for an increase from 172 incidents in 2010 to 223 in 2011.)

"The deployment of motherships by Somali pirates and the increased range of their operation contributed to the rise in the number of incidents occurring in the Arabian Sea increased to 28 in 2011, up from 16 in 2010," according to IMO. "However, the number of incidents in the Indian Ocean decreased from 77 to 63 in 2011. Despite the high number of Somalia-based piracy attacks, the pirates' success rate has been significantly reduced. In 2011, out of 286 attacks, 33 resulted in the ship being hijacked (11.5%), while in 2010 Somali pirates attacked 172 ships in 2010 and hijacked 50 of them (29%)." There were seven crew members killed during 2011 incidents, up from two the prior year, but crew members taken hostage declined significantly, from 1,027 in 2010 to 569 during 2011.

The committee also adopted a resolution recommending operational measures to increase the safety of large passenger cruise ships, acting in response the Costa Concordia grounding, and adopted some amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

Expected to come into force on Jan. 1, 2014, the amendments include a mandatory requirement for either on-board stability computers or shore-based support to assist a ship's master to return to port safely after a flooding casualty, as well as calling for operational testing of free-fall lifeboats to be performed with only the operating crew on board or by simulated launching.

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