Floating Armouries: Implications and Risks. December 2014.
There is a worrying lack of regulation regarding the operation and use of floating armouries. There needs to be coordinated international action, something that has to date been lacking, resulting in piecemeal and disjointed government responses. The current situation where some armouriesare registered in their home country, registered voluntarily with the IMO and/or SAMI and adhere to the (voluntary) ISO standards whilst others do not, is insufficient to deal with the issues raised by the proliferation of floating armouries. There is nothing to prevent any vessel being turned into an armoury in international waters, and if the flag state is a country with limited (or no) controls over the storing and transfer of military equipment then such vessels may operate with no oversight what-so-ever. Such vessels allow companies whose operators may not be licensed to use or transfer weapons and ammunition, to act with impunity. The growth of floating armouries and lack of oversight for such vessels is a worrying development.
A further issue is the lack of transparency over the number of weapons and quantity of ammunition that may be stored or moved between them. There is an urgent need for international agreement between states on a minimum set of standards for such armouries. Flag states, where such vessels are registered, should incorporate a ‘benchmark’ set of requirements over storage, security and record keeping for weapons on board vessels that all operators should be required to meet. Given the range of companies operating in the PMSC sector, the complex jurisdictional issues relating to company registration and the large quantities of small arms and light weapons licensed for use by such companies, targeting the armouries themselves, and the states under whose flag they sail seems to be the most expedient way of ensuring that some type of oversight is exercised in the short term. The rise of such a significant number of PMSCs and the persistent threat to commercial shipping means that floating armouries are likely to continue to be a feature of the modern response to maritime security threats. Whilst such vessels may have originally been deployed to the Indian Ocean, their mobility means that they are easily re-deployable around the globe. An international response is required from the International Maritime Organisation, or another body, with the task of monitoring all floating armouries and the companies that operate and use them.