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Officials Reject Call for Armed Guards on Finnish Vessels

Finnish officials have rejected calls to place armed guards aboard Finnish cargo ships. Both the Foreign Ministry and police officials have turned down a proposal by the Finnish Shipowners' Association to use soldiers or armed guards to protect ships in waters off the coast of Somalia. The International Maritime Organisation, the IMO, has urged owners to upgrade security in the face of the growing problem of piracy.

Ranskalainen laivastosotilas ja merirosvo
Ranskalainen laivastosotilas saataa yhtä ranskalaisfregatti Nivosen pidättämistä merirosvoista maihin Kenian Mombasassa 22. huhtikuuta. Image: EPA / STR

The IMO recently sent a letter to member states and other partners demanding improvements in security arrangements aboard ships at sea. According to the organization, the situation has significantly worsened this year and the warships sent by various countries to patrol the area have not had the impact on piracy that was hoped.

Insurers and private security firms have undertaken to solve the problem themselves. Currently in Britain, steps are underway to establish a private marine corps with its own warship and a force of 150 men. The international security giant G4S is offering owners the services of a special force of British ex-soldiers. According to the company, this special unit has had an average of 40 assignments a month over the past few years.

Finnish security companies are interested in similar operations, at least in theory, even though so far there have not been requests, according to Petri Miettinen of the security services provider Turvatiimi.

"So far none has been received, but when the first request comes in, it will be analysed and an opinion will be sought from the authorities. After that, thought will be given to how it could be carried out in practice," explains Miettinen.

This experienced security professional concedes that a new type of maritime security service would place new demands on training in the field, even though the safety of property and people is the core of the business.

"This would be most like a bodyguard service, but of course the working environment would be different and the scope of responsibility would have to be discussed with insurance companies," says Petri Miettinen.

Red light from Foreign Ministry

The Finnish cabinet has not warmed to the idea of stationing soldiers or armed guards onboard ships. Kaija Suvanto, who heads the Foreign Ministry's Unit of EU and Treaty Law, is clear about rejecting the initiative by the Shipowners' Association.

"Finnish legislation does not make it possible for the use of soldiers to protect vessels," says Suvanto.

She is not much more positive about the use of the private sector.

"The countries of European flag-carriers reject arrangements of this sort. The thinking is that the threat of violence to crews would increase if violence is met with violence."

Kaija Suvanto does add that the deterioration of maritime security has been noted and that a decision has been made to bring up the issue in discussions on cooperation among various ministries.

"It has been decided among the various ministries to study the issue, but no concrete proposals or action have been made," the Head of the Foreign Ministry's Unit of EU and Treaty Law told YLE.

Ships operating under the Finnish flag are always subject to Finnish law. The operations of private security companies are under the supervision of the police in Finland. Police authorities also take a dim view of armed security guards aboard ships. National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero says that the use of firearms aboard vessels would be quite problematic.

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