THE Mission to Seafarers has welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister this week that ships will be permitted to carry armed guards to protect crew members from pirates.
The Mission, an Anglican agency that works in 250 ports with seafarers of all nationalities and faiths, has been campaigning for such a move since February, after having received reports from its chaplains “of the huge levels of fear and stress being experienced by seafarers”, its Secretary General, the Revd Tom Heffer, said on Tuesday (Comment, 1 April).
“The most precious ‘cargo’ on board any vessel is its crew, and in simple employment and human-rights terms, they must be given protection in direct proportion to the hazard they face.”
The Government plans to allow ships sailing under the British flag to carry armed guards, under licence from the Home Secretary.
The Mission to Seafarers chaplain in Vlissingen, in the Netherlands, the Revd Remco Robinson, recently had to counsel a crew who had been forced to remain locked in their ship for several days because of the piracy threat in the Gulf of Aden. The anxiety was so overwhelming that one crew member took his own life.
Mr Heffer said that he understood that some people might have qualms about armed guards on ships, but emphasised that the Mission was not advocating “an indiscriminate use of high-powered weaponry in the Indian Ocean”, but that the world had a “duty of care” to sailors.
“The point of deploying armed guards is to discourage and deter attack by violent criminals and to protect human life. Pirate hostages are subjected to mental and physical abuse and torture, and they have also been murdered. As the UK Government has pointed out, no ship protected by armed guards on board has been successfully hijacked.”
Much of the piracy has the “hallmarks of organised crime, and has to be dealt with on this basis”.