Libertarian Alliance and The Landed Underclass have been wondering, as have I, about this recent upsurge in piracy, or at least in the recent upsurge in publicity of piracy. More specifically, they have been wondering why merchant shipping is not armed.
As you may or may not know, I am an advocate of gun rights, I cannot see the sense (well, I can, but that’s another story) in forbidding the law-abiding from owning the means to defend themselves when history has shown time and again that the criminal element can and will procure weapons.
After most of two evenings spent in front of the laptop, the most useful information I have been able to find is on two forums, here and here, and this article. There is some debate on whether carrying arms on board merchant shipping is actually prohibited under Maritime Law, and I have been so far unable to find a maritime equivalent to the sometimes-useful UK Statute Law Database. I have skimmed through the UN Convention on the Law Of The Sea, and I cannot find anything mentioning weapons on merchant shipping, save a section in Article 19 Section 2, which defines the use and practice of weapons (not the holding of weapons themselves) as forfeiting the right of Innocent Passage (basically the right to travel through a country’s territorial waters so long as you don’t make a nuisance of yourself). Everything at the Admiralty Law Guide seems to revolve around liability (which makes sense for ships carrying cargo).
What does seem to be the case though, is that armed merchant ships would not be allowed to dock at ports in countries where it is illegal for civilians to bear arms (such as this lovely birthplace of freedom) and ships that were discovered to be carrying weapons by customs would be a) severely held up, and b) fined and their crew prosecuted. I have also read (but cannot find anything to back it up) that most ports do not allow armed ships to dock.
There are also the shipping companies and the crew themselves, shipping companies are reluctant to arm their crews, not only because of the problems outlined above, but because they fear increased violence from the pirates and would rather pay the ransom (or let the insurers pay the ransom) than risk losing their entire ship and crew. Some opinions semed to be that crews would concur, however recent events seem to belie this.
Having seen all this, I can only wonder… obviously the world’s navies cannot be everywhere at once, and yet world trade and economic prosperity depends on the sea. Does it seem wise that ships full of cargo are sitting ducks far away from assistance? Not to me, anyway. Maybe the world’s ports could allow a weapons locker that was sealed while in port? Maybe, maybe not.
I was hoping to be able to end this post with a diatribe about the UN denying sailors the means to defend themselves, but apart from rumours on forums I cannot find any convention or regulation that forbids it (although if such a thing does exist a link would be appreciated) so a very disappointed and bemused Wh00ps will just have to end with an ellipsis instead…