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FLOATING ARMOURIES: The ships full of guns for hire against pirates

PortandTerminal.com, November 16, 2019

LONDON, ENGLAND – While pirate attacks on large container ships have dropped sharply over the past several years, they remain an ever-constant threat in certain maritime hotspots. It is these pirate attacks that fuel the demand for floating armouries, or Vessel Based Armouries as they are known in the business.

This November alone, PortandTerminal.com has reported on two pirate attacks off of the West Coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea. In the first attack, armed pirates attacked a cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria and kidnapped 10 of the Turkish vessel’s crew members. In the second attack off of Africa’s West Coast this month, pirates kidnapped four crew from a Greek tanker off of Togo. And just last week pirates attacked an Italy-flagged offshore supply vessel in the southern Gulf of Mexico, injuring two crew members.

So even if overall, pirate attacks are not as common as they were a decade or so ago, you can see why a ship’s owner and its crew would be a tad skittish when sailing through dangerous waters.

That’s where Vessel Based Armouries come into the picture.

Vessel Based Armouries

Vessel Based Armouries are ships used to store military-grade weapons such as this MNG Maritime ship, MNG Resolution

A “Vessel Based Armoury” (VBA) is a ship that loiters semi-permanently in international waters, acting as a hotel and base for private security guards hired to protect ships from pirates.

VBA’s hang about the areas where the demand is for their services and military-grade weapons. Typically they will be stationed in waters off Sudan, Sri Lanka or the United Arab Emirates, waiting for their customers—merchant ships in need of protection—to pass by.

When a ship passing through dangerous waters feels the need for extra protection they contract the services of companies such as MNG Maritime, a British company that has been providing maritime protection services and Vessel Based Armouries since 2013.

MNG Maritime operates in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Malacca Strait, and South East Asia

Contracted guards will then hop aboard a client’s vessel with their guns, and ride it through the piracy “high risk area” (HRA).

Once the ship has passed back into safe waters the guards disembark to another armoury. Then they fly home or jump aboard the next ship going the other way. This arrangement keeps guns out at sea, avoiding bothersome and inconsistent national laws. Few ports in the Persian Gulf, for example, allow ships carrying weapons to enter.

 Transfer Craft such as this one are used to move guards from the Vessel Based Armoury to the client’s vessel Photo: MNG Maritime
In 2014, The UK government said that it had granted licences for UK-registered security companies to use 31 floating armouries.

Armoury operators market their services online. Some vessels feature wi-fi, television rooms and gyms to keep guards happy, along with safes to store weapons. Employees of the companies operating Vessel Based Armouries are typically experienced, ex-military maritime security officers.

No official register of floating armouries exists, so it is impossible to count them reliably. But at least 15-20 lurk in and around the Indian Ocean, according to one seasoned guard. He reckons thousands of military-grade weapons are stored aboard the vessels.

Do Vessel Based Armouries work?

At the peak of Somali piracy in 2012, shipowners would pay about $45,000 per trip for armed guards. Insurers often insisted they have them, reckoning that this would reduce the risks of them having to pay out millions in ransoms if a ship were hijacked.

Are they effective? Since armed guards first started protecting ships against Somali pirates more than a decade ago, no ship with them aboard has been successfully hijacked. (SOURCE: New York Times). Those results speak for themself.

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