According to the Economist in 2013 ransom payments from shipowners to pirates reached about $53 million, yet more impressive are the findings of the World Bank that piracy costs the global economy $18 billion a year. It is imperative for shipowners to protect their investment when steaming through pirate infested areas by employing armed security guards on board their vessels to deter pirates. On the 31st May 2012 the Cypriot House of Representatives approved and enforced the Protection of Cyprus Flag Ships from Acts of Piracy and other Unlawful Acts Law 77(I) 2012 (hereinafter “the Law”), which came into force on the 15th June 2012.
What does the law provide?
The Law in essence establishes a framework to permit the employment and use of private armed security guards on board vessels flying the Cypriot flag and also allows them to use firearms in order to deter anyone from committing any unlawful act against the vessel.
It is defined as any illegal act of violence or detention, or any act of depredation committed for private ends by any person on board a private vessel directed against another vessel or persons on board while on the high seas or within a country’s territorial sea. Guilty of piracy can be a person who knowingly participates in the operation of a vessel when he is aware that the vessel is used for pirate activities, or someone who incites or facilitates an act of piracy.
A list of the type of firearms that can be used on board Cypriot vessels can be found in Schedule 2 of the Law along with a list of firearms which are prohibited. For obvious reasons prohibited firearms are military missiles and launchers, firearms disguised as objects, penetrating or explosive ammunition and ammunition with expanding projectiles.
High risk area
The definition of a high risk area is sufficiently broad in order to encapsulate both the regimes of the high seas and the territorial sea of a state where the vessel is steaming. There is also a specific list of areas that are considered to be high risk areas and a pirate attack should be expected and these include East Africa, Northwest Indian Ocean, West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
This is defined as an act or suspicion for an act or circumstance which threatens the security of the vessel or can cause damage to the vessel, persons or cargo on board the vessel. The Law defines as such acts, the seizure, immobilisation, detention, depredation, looting and kidnapping or hostage taking. Unlawful act is also an act of violence against any person on board or the damaging of the ship or cargo. Within the definition is also the placing of a devise or substance which can cause damage to the vessel or the cargo or anyone on board. Also any act of theft whether this is the vessel itself or anything permanently installed or portable from the vessel or personal belongings or money belonging to those on board the vessel is considered an unlawful act. The mere threat of violence or any form of intimidation to commit any of the above-mentioned is again considered to be an unlawful act.
Private Ship Security Companies
These are defined in the Law as the companies that have been approved and certified by the Department of Merchant Shipping of Cyprus to arrange for the boarding of armed security guards on board a Cypriot vessel.
An authorised representative can be a citizen or a resident of Cyprus within the meaning of Income Tax Laws of 2002 to Law (No.2) of 2011. It can also be a partnership or a company incorporated in Cyprus provided it conducts its business operations in Cyprus and employs permanent personnel in Cyprus. They authorised representative is only required when the Private Ship Security Company is a company whose registered office, central administration or principal place of business is in another Member State. The authorised representative will never be held liable for the acts or omissions of the Private Ship Security Company.
Rights and obligations of master and operator of the vessel
The rights and obligations of both the master and the operator of the vessel are provided in Part II of the Law. Some of the obligations are to implement necessary measures to prevent unlawful acts, implement additional measures when sailing in high risk areas, report immediately to the Competent Authorities any attempt of unlawful act and arrest persons committing or attempting to commit unlawful acts.
How can a Private Ship Security Company acquire approval to provide security services?
In order for a private maritime security company to be considered as a Private Ship Security Company, in accordance with Cyprus law, and provide security services on board Cypriot vessels it must first go through an application process and be licensed by the Department of Merchant Shipping as provided for in Article 21 of the Law.
An application with the Department of Merchant Shipping must be made by the authorised representative or legal person and must include all relevant information which is stated in Schedule 6 of the Law. If the Department of Merchant Shipping is satisfied by the application and the documents submitted, a certificate will be issued attesting that the Private Ship Security Company is allowed to implement security measures on board vessels and that it can deploy armed security guards on board vessels whose flag allows for their employment.
Piracy is without any doubt an international problem which needs to be immediately resolved. The most effective way to ensure that pirates do not manage to come on board the vessel is the employment of armed security guards. The cost of employing such security guards appears to be trivial taking into consideration the benefits derived by preventing a pirate attack such as ransom money, delays, possible injury or death of crew and cargo damage.