The Indian Government is mulling over the idea of having armed escorts on merchant ships akin to those appointed in airlines in the wake of an increase in the number of attacks by Somali pirates.
The decision is under consideration after Indian ship owners sought the government's permission to have guards on ships as a defensive mechanism.
The hijacking of ships near the coast of Somalia has cost the shipping industry millions of dollars. Pirates have continued to attack foreign ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, defying an armada of warships trying to protect the key maritime route.
Armed and trained personnel on board would be much more effective than naval ships sending commandos as the merchant vessels would have already been boarded by pirates. These guards will escort and maintain control of vessels to prevent hijacking or acts of terrorism.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has also clarified its stance on the use of private armed security guards to defend merchant ships against attacks by Somali pirates. The International Maritime Organisation guidelines stipulate that the decision to appoint armed escorts will be taken by individual government.
"India is considering providing armed guards on merchant ships and in this regard Director General (Shipping) will have to seek approval from the Indian Government," said a well-placed government source when asked if armed guards could be allowed on merchant ship.
The source added: "Indian Navy will support the proposal to have ship marshals on board merchant vessels in consultation with the Ministry of Defence."
On Saturday night, Somali pirates attacked an Indian Navy warship in the Arabian Sea, believing it to be a merchant ship, before being captured by marine commandos. In the biggest ever haul in anti-piracy operations; the INS Kalpeni arrested 61 pirates from a pirate mother ship Vega 5, 600 nautical miles off the country's west coast.
Somali pirates have hijacked a total of 174 merchant vessels from January 14, 2008, till March 11, 2011. According to the Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau, a total of 217 vessels were attacked last year, resulting in 47 hijackings. by Praful Kumar Singh (ANI)