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There is no doubt that the now widespread use of Private Maritime Security Contractors [PMSCs] – better known to us as armed guards – on ships transiting the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean has been crucial to virtually eradicating the scourge of Somali-based gangs hijacking merchant ships and their crew for vast ransom payments.

Prior to the use of PMSCs, ships relied on ‘best practice’ of fire hoses and loudly played Britney Spears songs to deter an attack from gangs of desperate-looking bandana-attired pirates, wielding smoking AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. And if the pirates did get onboard the ship the crew could always lock themselves in the citadel until they got bored or torched the vessel.

But there has always been unease at deploying armed guards on board ships – not least at how the security companies recruit their personnel from the ranks of armed forces’ retirees and maverick mercenaries.

The IMO and others have issued detailed guidelines to the security companies but the death of two former US Navy SEALs on the Hollywood blockbuster Captain Phillips ship, the Maersk Alabama, in a cabin that the Seychelles police report observed was littered with “drugs and paraphernalia” is bound to bring those concerns to the forefront again.

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