Monday, October 31, 2011

That Ship Has Sailed

The British are making it legal for their civilian ships to apply for a license to carry armed guards to protect them against pirates:

British merchant ships travelling around the Horn of Africa will for the first time be able to carry armed guards to protect them from pirates, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

Some object:

Experts agree that private guards do deter pirates, but their use can cause problems of legal jurisdiction and spark concerns about the use of mercenaries, questions of liability and private militarisation of the seas.

With all due respect, pirates are private militarisation of the seas. That ship, so to speak, has sailed.

Hopefully, the law that provides for licenses addresses liability. And I have few concerns about the potential use of mercenaries compared to the actual problem it is addressing. Although I admit if I'm on a yacht in the Horn area and a merchant ship's mercenary team sinks my boat because they think I'm a pirate, I might change my mind.

However, this doesn't necessarily solve the problem. I think that the law should be broad enough to address a private arms race at sea. Pirates could well escalate from small boats with assault rifles and anti-tank rockets to larger ships with heavier weapons. Merchant ships may well need crew served automatic weapons with the range to really tackle pirate ships.