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27 February 2013
Following questions raised as to whether the federal authorities would allow private security forces onboard non-military ships to protect the Belgian shipping industry against piracy (for further details please see "First piracy prosecution - but right to bear arms remains controversial"), the legislature has responded with the Law of January 16 2013, which establishes measures concerning the fight against maritime piracy. Under certain conditions, a Belgian-flagged ship will now be allowed to rely on maritime security companies to protect the vessel against piracy.
The appointment of a maritime security company will be allowed only for the sea areas delimited by Suez and the Strait of Hormuz in the north(1) and under the following conditions:
Agents of maritime security companies have extensive powers. For example, they are allowed to apprehend persons who are on the ship without the captain's permission (Article 19) and to guard persons whom the captain has decided to retain (Article 22). Under certain conditions and in cases of absolute necessity, they are allowed to use handcuffs (Article 21).
However, the companies are also bound by strict obligations, such as the obligation to file reports of every mission and to report all incidents to the authorities appointed by royal decree.
The operational manager of the maritime security company executes his or her security assignment in accordance with the directives and orders of the master of the vessel (Article 17). The operational manager must inform the master of all irregularities and suspicious circumstances and cannot act without the captain's prior permission, except in the most urgent circumstances.
For ships flying under the Belgian flag, this new legislation is a step in the right direction. However, there is still work to be done, considering that:
(1) 10˚ S and 78˚ E; Article 1, Royal Decree of February 11 2013.
(2) That is, the latest best planning and operational practices for operators and masters of vessels for passive protection against piracy in certain sea areas, established by the representative international professional associations from the maritime sector and in the guidelines of the International Maritime Organisation.
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