INSA seeks armed guards on its ships to deter pirates

"We have sent letters to the government asking for naval armed guards or retired navy personnel to be deployed on our ships to fight pirates. We are also okay to deploying private guards as some ships of other countries do but the government must first communicate its view to us," INSA's CEO, Anil Devli, told PTI here today.

However, having Navy or retired naval personnel will give Indian shipowners a higher degree of comfort, though "we are open to using private guards as well," Devli said.

Last month, INSA had written a letter to the government on this issue and followed it up with another last week, he said.

"We have been told that the government is considering this matter and we hope a decision will be taken soon," Devli said.

If no decision is taken soon, shipowners would be forced to avoid the Gulf of Aden (where Somali pirates are running amuck) and take to other longer routes such as the Cape of Good Hope, Devli said.

"This will, however, have a tremendous economic impact as costs will zoom and transport-time also increases," he said.

War risk insurance premiums have also shot up by up to nearly 400 per cent for vessels sailing in the danger zone due to increased incidents of piracy, Devli said.

The expenses of having armed guards on board the ships will be borne by the shipowners but first "we must have the government's view on this," he said.
INSA at present has 39 members and represents 90 per cent of India's fleet.

Piracy, which was earlier restricted to the Gulf of Aden and close to the Somali coast, has now spread to as far south as the Cape of Good Hope and eastwards towards Lakshadweep in India, he said.

Recently, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard foiled piracy attempts off the Lakshadweep coast, an indication that even areas close to the Indian coast are susceptible to pirate attacks.

Devli said since piracy became rampant in the Gulf of Aden, about 33 vessels have been hijacked and 711 sea-farers held captive.

In the first two months of 2011 (till February 28), 61 vessels have been attacked and 13 hijacked, Devli said, adding 243 crew are being held captive while seven have been killed.

Asked about the Shipping Ministry's response to INSA's interactions with it on the issue, Devli said the Shipping Minister has been "very co-operative and understands our concerns."

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