Cameron authorises armed guards on merchant ships

Somalian piracy called a "stain on our world" by Prime Minister

British-flagged merchant ships will soon be allowed to carry armed guards to counter the threat from Somalian piracy, the Prime Minister announced on Sunday.

David Cameron said firearms laws would be changed within a month to allow private companies to place armed mercenaries on their ships, but only as they pass through problem areas.

Merchant ships are subject to the laws of their flag state, and there are estimated to be around 200 British-flagged ships regularly sailing close to Somalia.

Pick up the December 2011 issue of MBY (out November 3) for a special report on piracy

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“Frankly, the extent of the hijack and ransom of ships round the Horn of Africa is a complete stain on our world,” David Cameron told the BBC.

“The fact that a bunch of pirates in Somalia are managing to hold to ransom the rest of the world and our trading system is a complete insult and the rest of the world needs to come together with much more vigour.”

The practice of placing armed guards on ships is likely to prove controversial – some countries whose waters these ships traverse ban the carrying of arms.

And piracy experts have warned that using an armed deterrent will lead to an escalation in violence and more deaths.

So far this year, there have been 208 acts of piracy in the waters around Somalia, and 24 hijackings. Fifteen people have been killed as a result of these actions.

But the success rate of the pirates has slumped. Of the 199 attacks in the first nine months of 2011, there were just 24 successful hijackings, compared to 126 attacks in 2010 and 35 hijackings – a drop in success rate from 28% to 12%.

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