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Private guards on board French and Belgian ships (Maj)

The training of private guards by the Spanish military (credit: B2 / Spanish Ministry of Defense - Sept. 2011)
The training of private guards by the Spanish military (credit: B2 / Spanish Ministry of Defense – September 2011)

(BRUSSELS2) In turn, Belgium and France have confirmed their intention to authorize the presence of private armed guards on board ships flying their flag. Objective: to fight against piracy and attacks by armed gangs, which are particularly prevalent in West Africa.

A request from shipowners

On the French side, the Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, confirmed this – in an interview published today by my colleagues from Marine West France. " We are going to authorize the use of private teams capable of completing the missions carried out by the French Navy. (...) This is a strong request from our shipowners and we have heard it. “But he clarified” This appeal will be supervised. Authorizations and professional approvals will be issued to certify the professionalism of companies and compliance with minimum rules set by decree. »

Dual purpose

The objective is twofold: 1) “ give shipowners a guarantee of securing their crews and their cargoes”. 2) « position themselves on the market on an equal footing with their European counterparts who benefit from this type of device”. The absence of a French system forced the ships to use private Anglo-Saxon companies. The market is largely dominated by British, South African and American companies.

Belgium is more advanced

A law providing for various measures to combat maritime piracy was adopted last January. Several royal decrees defining the modalities were published at the beginning of September. The last (on training) just received the signature of the King and should be published in the coming days. But – as an expert on the matter told B2 – the system is already “ fully operational. While waiting for all the decrees to be published, provisional authorizations for maritime security companies (have been granted) for a limited period ». The Belgian government had indeed proposed to shipowners to take on board military teams. But the cost of these VPDs resting entirely on the shipowners, and its prohibitive cost (2 to 3 times the price of a private team according to our information) made them give up this solution.

A standard that becomes European

At the European level, most countries have already authorized the boarding of armed private guards to protect ships. Several countries have adopted a law to this effect regulating, more or less, the use of private companies: the United Kingdom and Denmark but also Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Germany or Italy, etc. In fact, only the Netherlands is currently refusing this private use, making VPD military teams available to ships that wish it. They take turns to ensure the safety of ships in dangerous areas.

NB: Even Japan, although very reluctant, has also authorized private guards but only on its tankers, crossing risk zones (such as the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden). A provision that came into force at the end of November.

(Update) with details on the provisional application of the Belgian regulatory system.

Comments : we can only regret that faced with an identical common threat (piracy in the Indian Ocean or West Africa), the European Commission did not see fit to propose common legislation, setting at least common standards minima (number of people, training, etc.), the terms of approval (and withdrawal) of private companies, etc. We are faced with a lack of regulation which can prove problematic in a highly competitive sector (maritime transport), and already governed by a set of European and international rules.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “Private guards on board French and Belgian ships (Maj)"

  • Thiebaut

    The Prime Minister stresses that the use of private guards will be supervised.
    It is indeed a question of delegating to private persons part of the sovereign responsibility of the State which has the duty to ensure the protection of its nationals everywhere in the world.
    Among the recruitment criteria for these Civil Guards, has it been considered to require them to belong to the operational reserve of one of the countries of the European Union?
    The operational reservist is linked to an active unit whose moral values ​​and level of training he shares. In addition, if necessary, they can be quickly recalled to activity.
    The minimum cost of an operational reservist for the French State is limited to five days of recall to activity per year.

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