We used to detest the idea of arming merchant ships. Our position has been swiftly eroded. Somali pirate attacks continue unabated, and the pirates have proved to be a ruthless bunch. We now believe that the use of private armed escorts, at least, is necessary for ships transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Now, not all who are in the business are gung-ho types who would shoot from the hips. One of those who belong to the opposite mould is James Canning Sr, whose FTS – Maritime Security we gladly recommend to shipowners.

Mr Canning, a bemedaled former US Marine who saw action in Lebanon and Iraq, deplores the fact that the authorities are ‘talking more but acting less.’ In a single week recently, he says, four vessels were attacked and only one got away because it had armed guards on board. ‘Not one national naval vessel responded in time to any of the attacks,’ he points out. ‘Yet the US State Department is against the use of armed security, even though the maritime associations and the UN both agree it is needed. And in contrast to its own policy, the US Coast Guard/ Naval report on Piracy advises to use security and even requires US flagged vessels to use some security in dangerous areas.’

The bureaucrats can go on talking. Mr Canning will do what needs to be done. FTS – Maritime Security has been speaking to various shipping groups and may soon be in action in the Indian Ocean and other pirate-infested zones. The company is offering vessel escort service and top-notched security teams on a yearly contract basis. There are to be no added charges for each voyage, fuel charges being the only variable cost. Onboard security can be provided upon request –  no additional expense for the client.

Mr Canning says they have secured permission to operate escort vessels – former US Navy fast attack boats – from the African coast to the coast of India. This will give FTS – Maritime Security the unique advantage of being on both sides of the Indian Ocean. Talks are under way for setting up a training facility in the IO area. All FTS personnel, regardless of experience and training, will undergo training there to ensure members all have the same level of training and can perform as a team on all missions.

One comforting thought for shipowners: FTS – Maritime Security has laid down very clear ‘rules of engagement’. Mr Canning’s men will be acting only in defense of the ship under protection and their own self-defense. Only defensive actions will be allowed toward any vessel which has shown hostile intent by firing upon the client’s vessel or the escort vessel. ‘We will be operating,’ says Mr Canning, ‘under Maritime Law and the laws of the country the escort vessels are flagged under. FTS will also be following the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers.’

Some will continue to argue against the use of private armed guards against pirates. And to be sure, there are non-lethal options available such as laser guns and water cannons. But the question really is simple. If even the Pope has armed guards (the Pontifical Swiss Guards carry not only swords but also small arms), why can’t shipowners have the same privilege for the protection of their ships and crews? ~Barista Uno

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