Piracy in the Indian Ocean has been greatly reduced in recent years thanks to increased presence of international fleets, and also thanks to private shipping companies using armed-guards aboard their vessels.
Unfortunately, the use of armed-guards is surrounded by a murky legal situation. While international rules and regulations remain undefined, many countries have banned ships from bringing weapons into their ports of call.
This has proven to be a great challenge for private-security firms, as well as the trade companies they protect. To make things even worse, Sri Lanka is now considering shutting down some of its mainland arms warehouses and laying down stricter regulations regarding incoming ships carrying weapons.
Because many other countries completely ban ships that call on their ports from having any weapons, Sri Lanka was a defense sanctuary for private-security firms. Now, with that country threatening to close its doors to these privateers, options are becoming scant.
Unfortunately, no matter how much the shipping industry complains about this decision, it is unlikely to change. Sri Lanka is concerned for its own security: The government fears the on-land weapons caches falling into hands of militants. At the very least, defending and securing the weapons caches are an unwanted burden to the security forces of the country.
Although many companies have resorted to using floating armories to store extra weapons, and unload them when calling on a port with tight restrictions, not all companies are allowed to use such methods. In order to ensure that private-security companies are held to some kind of standard, the United Kingdom has begun forcing companies that want to do security business in the high seas to apply for a license to operate. But such arms licenses do not allow U.K.-based companies to make use of floating armories.
Because U.K. companies account for a significant proportion of those providing protective services to shipping companies, this decision by Sri Lanka could greatly damage the private-security industry, and in turn the international shipping industry.