Last week, USNI Blog covered the shooting death of a pirate by private security guards protecting a Panama Flag cargo ship in the post ‘Pirate Walks The Plank; Legal Scholars Baffled‘.

Private security contractors killed a Somali pirate Wednesday–and no one seems to know how to react.

Roger Middleton from the British think tank Chatham House commented that there’s currently no regulation of private security on board ships, no guidelines about who is responsible in case of an attack, and no industrywide standards. So what’s next?Link

Today via Fairplay Shipping News comes an answer to the ‘what’s next?’ question and I am not surprised:

Pirate suspects released

EU NAVFOR has told Fairplay that it has freed six pirate suspects detained after a deadly gunfight because there was no chance of conviction.

A pirate suspect was shot dead by guards during the attempted hijacking of Panama-flagged, 2,886dwt general cargo ship Almezaan off Somalia on 23 March. It was the first known slaying by such guards on a ship since the piracy crisis began.

Six others suspected of involvement in the attack were later detained by a team from EU NAVFOR’s Spanish warship Navarra. Spain began talks with Kenya and the Seychelles yesterday to negotiate a hand-over of the six pirate suspects for trial.

But EU NAVFOR spokesman Commander John Harbour told Fairplay today that the anti-piracy force had freed the suspects after 24 hours of intense investigation.

“We made the decision not to prosecute as the master refused to testify, and there was no case against the pirates,” he said.

The guard accused of shooting the suspect who died also refused to talk to authorities, Harbour added.

The six suspects who were freed had one of their skiffs returned and were provided with fuel to return to shore. – Fairplay

Here is what I think is relevant:

  • A shipping company went through the trouble and expense to protect their ship with armed guards.
  • It is possible to arrange for arms to be placed onboard commercial vessels for use by private security forces.
  • Their investment contributed to the successful defense of their ship.
  • The defense of the ship resulted in the death of a pirate.
  • Navel forces in the area arrived too late to assist the vessel under attack.
  • The surviving pirates were caught and quickly released.
  • The vessel crew and contractors refused to testify, probably out of fear of legal action against them as a result of the death of the pirate.

To me, this is a simple issue. The cargo ships are the ‘high value targets’. To properly protect them requires placing defenses between the ships and the pirates. The best way to do that is to have the defenders onboard, not just over the horizon. In fact, I am starting to wonder if the naval forces are providing a false sense of security. For the moment at least they seem to be doing their best anti-pirate operations when pirates have the misfortune to attack them directly.

Note: Be sure to check out the conversation in the comments section of the previous post linked above.

Armed Merchant Ship Crews Will Not Escalate The Pirate Problem

Posted by FFry in Maritime Security, Piracy
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  • At my interpretation, the firer is own responsable. The private guards havent a official mission (as the military or warship – see montego bay agreement) and they are “normal” citizens. The real question is : which law is applicable ? which court ?

    see :

  • Thanks for the comment Gross.

    This made me think. Lots of people are asking ‘who is responsible?’ How about we turn this around by asking ‘Are you responsible?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then what is the problem? After all, this incident appears to be done and closed.

    I have an issue about the comment that the security contractor was just a ‘normal citizen’. The real issue is not what he did. The issue is that he was put in a position by pirates who attacked the vessel he was hired to protect. Anyway, if he should not have acted, who should have? The only other people around were the ship’s crew. Had they not acted they might now be prisoners of pirates with a couple months of captivity ahead of them. Those who are tasked to act were all too far away to aid.

  • Chuck Hill

    Was the pirate armed?
    Was the contractor acting in self defense or in defense of others?
    Would a reasonable person have felt endangered by the actions of the pirates?

  • Was the pirate armed?
    – I am not sure this is a relevant question. I would think a pirate is a pirate regardless of whether he was armed or not. If I was defending the ship against a pirate attack, I think I would aim for the guy driving the boat. there are a number of good reasons why to do this, including that others might not be as skilled in driving the boat. Also, this forces those left to make a conscience decision of whether or not to continue the attack.

    Was the contractor acting in self defense or in defense of others?
    – He was being paid to defend the ship.

    Would a reasonable person have felt endangered by the actions of the pirates?
    – Given that the vessel was traveling in an area known to have pirates actively attempting to take vessels, I would think that every seasonable person traveling through the region feels endangered just being there.
    – The ship felt endangered enough to send out a distress call requesting assistance. That assistance, while arriving too late to assist the ship, did capture pirates.