Industry minister Trond Giske’s suggestion to allow private ships to be equipped with armed guards to protect Norwegians from Somali pirate attacks has been met with a lukewarm reception, as responses to the official consultation on the idea were revealed.
Giske, a representative of the Labour Party, began a consultation on the issue in March after a number of high profile cases of pirates threatening Norwegian boats. A majority of respondents and organizations consulted have reportedly been negative to the idea in principal, or have pointed out a number of problems with the details of the proposal.
A number of ships run by Norwegians but registered in different countries have already taken up arms. Several shipping companies have called for the government to do more, with Jacob Stolt-Nielsen, the 79 year-old owner of the Stolt-Nielsen shipping empire, calling for pirates to be executed. Most recently, the government sent surveillance aircraft to the area to aid NATO anti-piracy operations.
‘No way out’
Director General of Military Prosecutions, Arne Willy Dahl, described the basis for the proposals as a regrettable continuation of the ongoing privatization of force and thinning out of the state’s monopoly on power, particularly in conflict areas. Nonetheless, his submission to the consultation, reported in newspaper VG, said that “there does not seem to be any way out” of doing this. “It is better to give regulations than to risk an uncontrolled development,” he stated.
Dahl also foresees a number of problems with the use of private security firms. He believes that it must be made clear that they are governed by Norwegian law as they operate on the vessels. Dahl also pointed to the fact that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea would compel the ships to offer assistance in the event of a pirate ship beginning to sink after an exchange of fire. They must also give medical treatment to any injured pirates. The Director General also asked questions on how Norwegian ships would deal with surrendering pirates in terms of bringing them to an appropriate legal system.
‘Too poorly drafted’
The defense department, who are believed to have had serious objections to the arming of private actors, said in their consultation statement that they could not “put forward a clear conclusion on whether such arming should be allowed or not” because the principles of the proposals from the industry department had been “too poorly drafted.” According to VG, the foreign ministry is also against the idea. Giske’s own industry department has raised issues with the proposal, pointing to the fact that there is no international legal regulation on the issue of armed security.
The Association of Sailors and the Norwegian Union of Marine Engineers are also against the plan because they believe it will increase the risk of death or injury for sailors. They have previously demanded state military defense of Norwegian vessels.
On the other hand, the Maritime Forum of Norway, the Norwegian Maritime Directorate and the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association have now become supportive of the idea, after initially greeting the suggestion with a lukewarm response. They believe that armed guards used by other vessels have so far not led to a heightening of tensions in and around the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.