Weapons on Board: Worth the Risk?

Jan 12th 10
By Janine Ketterer

Today’s yachts are globetrotting during the dawn of a new age of piracy. When Somali pirates can obtain weapons easier than shoes, guests and crew need protection. But is brandishing weapons and arming crew really the answer?

At the 2009 Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, a seminar on Piracy, Firearms and the Law provoked a lively discussion.

“Piracy is a terrorist attack and you have the right to defend yourself,” said Will Ferrugia of Global Sea Security, which offers marine escorts and trains mariners in firearm operations, concealed weapons and personal safety. “There are various solutions to protect yourself and your vessel from these instances,” he continued.

Global Sea Security maintains that people have an intrinsic right to defend themselves and they believe every vessel should have lethal and nonlethal systems on board to ensure the best possible chance in dangerous situations.

But in carrying weapons, there are subsequent issues involving flag and port states, training and insurance.

Since flag states govern the yacht, if carrying firearms is illegal in your flag state – say your vessel is flagged out of the UK – it is not legal to carry firearms on board either. However, you also must obey the laws of the ports in which the vessel cruises, as one captain found out in 2009 when he was jailed in Mexico. Officials boarded his vessel to search for drugs and found several firearms that belonged to the owner. The captain was arrested for “introducing guns to Mexico.” The captain thought he had followed the proper procedure as he did declare the weapons to Customs, but he did not obtain a permit from the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Economy before he entered Mexico. He spent four months in prison.

Capt. Herb Magney, who used to carry a gun and knows how to use them, is not an advocate for firearms on board yachts. “In general, when you come to an area and you declare your guns, you either have to lock them up or give them to the local officials; chances of getting them back tend to be slim, and then you are looked at suspiciously for bringing guns into a new country.”

Maritime lawyer Michael Moore, also present at the seminar, stated, “Your vessel will be in so much entanglement if you do not understand the principles and laws [of carrying or using weapons on board].”

Veteran captain Ted Sputh said, “It’s very simple, I am an advocate of guns and trained people to use them on board yachts. [However] the overriding factor is we travel into too many different countries with too many different laws concerning firearms. It is too dangerous legally to have weapons aboard. I do not and have not carried weapons on board for about fifteen years. Given terrorism, criminals and piracy, nations should make vessels exempt from local laws. Permits should be issued with proper training. [But,] this is unlike to happen, I think.”

Another issue is insurance. Many insurance companies will not cover intentional acts of breaking the law, meaning if it is illegal for you to carry a gun, something happens and firearms are found on board, you’re out of luck with insurance.

But will firearms truly help against a pirate attack? According to Ferrugia, there is documented evidence that proves if pirates know you have weapons, they will not bother you. However, how will the pirates know if you are packing heat? If they do board and crew are not properly trained with the weapons, the situation could quickly escalate.

“It’s a matter of deciding what your intent is. Is it to scare pirates? A big flare is going to do that more than a few bullets. Also, are you willing to kill someone? Chances are you’re going to run into pirates with guns and they’re going to have nothing to lose. So are you going to have big enough caliber guns to disable their engine from two hundred meters? And what happens when you run out of ammo? Now all you’ve done is pissed off the assailants more,” says Magney.

What happens if the weapons fall into the wrong hands on board? “The owners of M/Y Lucky Seven are out of yachting after what happened on their boat,” Magney cautioned, recalling the story of a disturbed stew who obtained the firearm on board and threatened the lives of her fellow crewmembers.

More and more captains and owners are looking to nonlethal weapons to protect themselves. However, Moore cautioned that nonlethal weapons could get you in just as much trouble as lethal weapons. For instance, in the UK a Taser is considered a firearm so you must be certain of your flag state’s laws before introducing any weapons, lethal or not, onto the yacht.

In terms of nonlethal weapons, Ferrugia suggested several options such as audible weapons, visual defenses and Mr. Itchy, a substance that will create an itching sensation that will overpower a person, just to name a few. There is also the option of a shadow boat or temporary security personnel who can join the boat for the duration of a transit in a high-risk zone.

Capt. Magney recommends using your flares. “A ball of fire will deter someone more. Shoot one up, then out. It will indicate to people you’re in distress as well and anyone can shoot a flare gun. Plus, they’re legal.”

There are many websites that will keep you up-to-date on high-risk zones around the world. ICS.com, GlobalSeaSecurity.com and Maritimenews.com are all good resources.

This is a different world that we are traveling around; one of the Somali pirates even has a Facebook page. The weapons of our past may not be the best suited to combat these modern-day pirates, but if you do choose to use them, “Remember the old saying,” says Magney. “If you pull a gun, you’re on your own.”

 

Related Topics:

Taken Hostage: How to Survive

High-Tech Security: Wise Precaution or Overkill?

It’s 10 O’clock…Do You Know Where Your Tender Is?

IMO to Assist in Anti-Piracy Campaign

Should Captains Carry Guns?



Forums:

Anti-Paparazzi Shield

A Modern Age of Piracy

 






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10 Comments
  • I think we can all agree that near civilisation we shouldn't need guns, but away from the rule of law weapons give you an option. Not when faced by Somalis with an RPG (unless you have six RPGs, in which case, respect) but with low level crime (I have threatened a fishing boat that got within 30 feet at 4 am after chasing me around the Banda sea) or in the case of public order (Imagine a crew of four on a fifty footer finding a sinking boat off Haiti with 30 people on board, You have to rescue them but how desperate are they, you and your crew should remain safe as well). The usual caveats apply, training essential, reference to Haiti refers to the situation before the quake, hope we have all donated.
    Posted by fivestarsolution 26/01/2010 18:23:40

  • Here we go again. The old guns aboard argument.
    It seems to me that most of the comments misses the essential point (which was mentioned in the article): Where are we going to find crew members willing to take up armed struggle for the boss? Could we ask that of civilians at all? Isn´t that going to put a severe limit on our crew choises? I seriously dubt that I am going to get on with a deckhand, who thinks he is Rambo.
    I spend time in the Police and the MP, and have thus been carrying my fair share of weapons, from concealed handguns to M16. Been in loads of very difficult situations, without ever firing in anger (thank God!)Forget this stupid idea that arming civilians will cut down on serious crime. All one has to do is casting a glance on statistics coming out of the US, Brazil, South Africa, and then compare to contries where there is a strict gun control. It really is a no-brainer. Finally do not get too worked up, there are 20.000 passages through the Suez each year, and about 200 "incidents", about a 1% chance. And that is in the by far most dangerous area of the world.
    Happy sailing!
    Posted by SBC 20/01/2010 08:32:26

  • Well Anonymous , first I must say that your Momma gave you a mighty common name ... seems everyone is named Anonymous these days. And I can read just fine. What I read is that Dockwalk wrote an article on yachts and guns quoting SENIOR RAMBO YACHT SKIPPERS with a gold bar clad yachty pictured, crossing his heart with a handgun and failed to mention the "Seamaster" story. Its possible that since it took place in 2001 none of the Dockwalk staff are old enough to have heard of it. Re read the Seamaster account Anonymous..educate yourself.
    " Blake sprang from the cabin wielding a rifle. He shot one of the assailants in the hand and was then was fatally shot in the back by assailant Ricardo Colares Tavares. " READ IT !!! guns escalate violence and will get you or your loyal crew killed.
    Posted by junior_1 17/01/2010 14:43:51

  • Junior,
    Did you even read this piece? I'm quite sure Dockwalk is not advocating gun use at all, in fact, it seems more people quoted say guns are bad than good...
    Posted by Anonymous 15/01/2010 19:10:09

  • If I were cruising around the Gulf of Aden, I would hope to be armed like Rambo! Watch rotors would be EXTRA vigilant, and any threat would be identified and threatened before they even attempted to board. If you were to open fire with live weapons, chances are they won't risk it and will wait for the next target to come over the horizon. There is no way I would risk myself or the crew to be put in a hostage situation, where our goverments policy is to refuse ransoms. Spare a thought for the 60 year old British couple that have been held hostage since October.

    There's are obvious legal concerns over weapons onboard, and it would be pointless having them onboard whilst doing the usual South of France "Milk Run," however if you cruising past Somalia or any other high risk areas, why the hell not!
    Posted by stockydale 12/01/2010 21:48:22

  • Crew carrying guns is a problem one be being the laws and also its not their job.If a guest wants security hire the right and experianced people for the job,but I would say if a crew member wants to carry some for of protection for himself in a hazardous area (pirite zone) then do so at your own risk.
    Posted by Miki Brettschneider 12/01/2010 19:29:49

  • The passage about LUCKY SEVEN is not true. It was not the stew, the person threatened their own life and the owners did not get out of yachting over what happened. The captain did spend about 48 hours in jail for not declaring the weapons.
    Posted by captcary 13/01/2010 20:43:38

  • Ship and Yacht Broker, Nice to read an intelligent response. Just listen to these guys like Captain Sputh recommending that yachts proceed heavily armed. This guy probably buys his kids handguns for Christmas.
    Never pull a gun or you will most certainly raise the level of violence and get people killed. Simply review the tragic history of Sir Peter Blake.
    Dockwalk may be an American publication serving the American gun culture but in doing so they only nurture prejudice and radicalize foreign opinion toward American crew. Soon ports will have special quarentine zones to moor fully armed American flag yachts in order to protect the locals from the perceived gun threat present when they visit town.
    Posted by junior_1 15/01/2010 12:05:31

  • There is a new generation of yachtie, former millitary certified in the maritime sector. Hired guns trained in layered defence techniques and personal protection.
    There are also super yachts being geared up for charter by arms enthusiasts into pirate waters, with the intention of inticing pirates so as to engage them with there fancy weapons.
    How ever if having either of these options onboard or along side isn't possible and your thinking about self armourment and fighting back then consider this, is my hull steel are my weapons fully automatic and if I injure a couple of pirates and they give up trying to board you and fire an rpg at your boat do I have the right firefighting equipment to put out a burning metal fire as water and conventional methods aggrevate the fire.
    Posted by Ash_4 12/01/2010 23:48:39

  • Having lived in Somalia for a year when I was in the military and now owning a maritime security consultant company I can give you a 1000 reasons not to carry firearms and provoke the Somalians or many other clans throughout the world for that reason. Rambo does not exist. They are heavily armed and trained with a host of weapons including RPG's and a whole stockpile of large caliber weapons. They have little to nothing to lose.
    Posted by Ship and Yacht Broker 14/01/2010 19:48:30

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