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Reducing the Risk of Vessels being delayed on calls with an armed PASC embarked

Written by Jon Davies 
May 5th 2017
Written by Jon Davies
On 25 April 2016, a meeting was called in London by the Security in Complex Environment Group (SCEG) of Private Armed Security Companies (PASC) to discuss methods of putting a centralised register of authorised firearms for embarked guards online and accessible to both CSOs and vessels, before an armed team is embarked. This meeting engaged PASC from over 20 major providers (accounting for the clear majority of maritime arming business), the UK Government (both FCO and Department for Trade), along with some vessel insurers (P&I, Hull), Lloyds and involved the review of two potential system providers, one of which was backed by the Djibouti government. The meeting itself had the backing of BIMCO who produce the widely used and acclaimed GUARDCON.

One of the critical steps for CSOs is the lawful verification of weapons ownership when it is embarked on their vessels by a PASC. There are obviously three fundamental elements to following the law; the PMSC (owner), the weapon and the End User Certificate. Verification occurs when the unique serial number on the working parts of the rifle (each weapon is identified by a unique serial number which is engraved on the weapon in at least two places; the metal body of the weapon and the metal working parts) is compared with the End User Certificate (which has the name of owner and serial number). The name of the owner must be the same as the PASC for the weapon to be lawful. Sadly, the system is open to abuse and some PASC have “borrowed”, hired or loaned weapons for escort tasks. This abuse may lead to vessels being arrested, detained or delayed. Also, not all EUCs are the same (there is no standard international format), some EUCs list multiple weapons and some countries do not issue them (such as the United Kingdom, but this is supplemented the UK’s Open General Trade Control Licence Maritime Anti-Piracy).

The aim of the SCEG scheme is to enable CSOs and vessels to quickly check online in advance of embarkation that weapons intended for use by an onboard private security team are lawfully owned and used by that PASC (i.e. not illegally shared, borrowed or rented). It is intended that this scheme be backed by multiple Flag States and in the future by ports, not least in areas which vessels are regularly armed. This scheme is aimed at High Risk Area transit vessels in the Indian Ocean making vessel calling ports when they have an armed team embarked easier and is both an attempt to reduce the incidence of unlawful weapons and reduce unauthorised weapons transfers between PASCs.

It is intended that this scheme be free of charge on delivery to CSOs and vessel operator's charges (a few dollars, less than US$10 per weapon, per annum) will be submerged within the (normal) embarkation charges levied by PASCs on ship owners. The scheme will be open to all PASCs worldwide and expectedly supported by the Flag and Port State authorities.