Two security officers on board the container ship Belgica were arrested and charged, together with the ship’s captain, of possessing illegal weapons on board the vessel after the ship’s arrival in Mombasa, ports.co.za reports.
The weapons consisted of a Remington sniper rifle, several AK47 rifles, two Glock automatic pistols and 600 rounds of ammunition. The weapons and ammunition were discovered while the 2,648-TEU ship was being discharged in port. Captain Bernd Waschitzek, a German, and his security personnel, Sven Bauermann and Jozef Michialik were arrested February 3 and subsequently released on bail by the Kenyan authorities after making a declaration that the weapons were purely for anti-piracy defence. They have also appaeared in ourt.
Meanwhile, there is outrage in India over the killing of two fishermen who were shot and killed by armed security guards on board an Italian crude oil tanker, the Enrica Lexie off the Kollam coast in Kerala recently. Ports.co.za notes authorities are rightfully upset over the loss of life, but are apparently forgetful of the occasion when their own navy fired upon a Thai-registered fishing vessel, the Ekawat Nava 5 which was in the hands of pirates but which was also carrying the original Yemeni crew. While some of the pirates escaped in a skiff the Indian Navy frigate continued firing on the fishing vessel, which was badly damaged and subsequently sank. “Bodies of those killed were left in the water and there the story may have ended but for one of those twists of fate,” ports.co.za says.
“Against all the odds, one of the Thai fishermen survived for more than a week, floating in the ocean until picked up by a passing vessel. After he was taken ashore and placed in hospital the man recovered his senses and was able to tell the tale which would otherwise have never been heard.”
According to available reports the latest incident also did not become known until after some of the surviving Indian fishermen returned to their village. “The sad incident highlights again what others have warned against, that undisciplined or untrained security placed onboard merchant ships are not the appropriate personnel to deal with suspected pirate attacks on ships, and that more of these incidents are likely to occur unless proper controls are introduced.
“Already there is a certain antipathy between the naval forces operating on anti-piracy patrols, which generally exercises admirable control, and the armed guards found on a mounting number of ships. Among the groups of armed guards are trained ex-military personnel but there are also a number of others who lack such professional training. Until some form of qualification and control is brought into use with having armed guards on board ships, the chances are that more unwanted loss of life will result.”
Meanwhile, South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance party says the country’s police minister must intervene to reverse a South African Police Service (SAPS) instruction that all permits for vessel protection must now be sent directly to the Central Firearms Registry (CFR) in Pretoria, which DA police spokeswoman Dianne Kohler Barnard calls “effectively defunct.”
She says until three weeks ago any firearms aboard a ship were collected by the local Port Authority police, and held until the vessel was about to depart our shores, when they were returned. As piracy in the Mozambican Channel and East African shores is now endemic, most captains ensure their crew is armed. “This new instruction has the potential to seriously damage the commercial viability of South Africa’s ports, as until a permit is granted by the CFR, a vessel may not enter our ports.”
Instead of burdening ships with red tape and undermining the commercial viability of our ports, the Minister of Police must intervene and ensure that this decision is reversed, she says. “The Ports Authority police have thus far efficiently managed the weapon collection process. It is therefore hard to explain why the CFR must now be involved, given that the current system is working, and the potential impact that this decision will have on the ability of ships to enter our ports.
“Section 27 of the Port Rules clearly states that all weapons and explosives on board a vessel, irrespective of whether or not they are intended for import or transit, should be locked up in a secure place and disarmed. Only if the weapons or explosives are to be imported into or transported through the Republic does section 73 of the Firearms Control Act apply.
“There is therefore no basis in law for permits to be issued for weapons, carried on vessels, that are not going to be brought into the country. It makes little sense to place the commercial viability of our ports, and the jobs of the people who work there, in jeopardy by altering a system that is working.”