* New guidelines needed for guards on merchant ships-IMO
* Naval patrols still crucial for anti-piracy fight
* Somali pirates make millions through hijacks on high seas
By Peter Griffiths
LONDON, May 17 Armed guards employed on merchant
ships to repel attacks by pirates should be subject to new
standards to ensure they abide by international law while on the
high seas, a United Nations agency said on Thursday.
The International Maritime Organization, whose role is to
improve the safety of global shipping, said it wanted a new set
of global guidelines to be drawn up to help countries and
shipping countries decide whether and how to deploy armed
"International standards or regimes should be established,"
IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu told reporters.
"That regime should not be made compulsory, but provide an
international framework on which the flag state and the
(shipping) companies may decide to employ arms on board.
"This is not a permanent solution and arms on board will not
be institutionalised. These are exceptional circumstances and we
hope these are temporary measures," he said after an anti-piracy
conference at the IMO's headquarters overlooking the River
Thames in London.
Shipping companies are increasingly reliant on private
guards to deter pirates armed with machine guns and rocket
launchers who are prepared to take hostages and demand ransoms
worth millions of dollars each year, particularly in the Arabian
Sea and Indian Ocean.
Naval patrols by NATO, the European Union and others have
failed to stop attacks by Somali pirates, prompting ship owners
to look for different ways to protect their cargoes and crew.
Opponents of armed guards aboard merchant ships say their
presence can escalate violence. There are also concerns about
the guards' training and accountability, as well as uncertainty
over their legal position if they kill suspected pirates.
The IMO said it needed to hold more talks before publishing
guidelines on private guards. Many of the guards are former
military personnel employed by UK companies.
"The measures that will be adopted ... are not above the
law, they will all be in accordance with international and
national law," said Rosalie Balkin, IMO assistant
secretary-general and its director of legal affairs.
The difficulty of protecting ships was highlighted in
February when Italian marines on a merchant vessel were accused
of shooting dead two Indian fishermen they suspected of being
pirates. India detained the marines, prompting a diplomatic row.
Alternatives to armed guards include trying to outrun
pirates and using water hoses, barbed wire or non-lethal
The threat was underlined earlier this month when Somali
pirates hijacked a Greek-owned oil tanker carrying nearly one
million barrels of oil in the Arabian Sea.
Days later, European helicopter gunships attacked a pirate
base on the Somali coast, destroying five speedboats in the
first attack by EU forces on its coastline.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn)