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UK to allow armed merchant ships

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

London, July 8, IRNA -- The UK is preparing to give formal legal backing to the use of private armed guards on British merchant vessels to protect against piracy.

During World War I and II, British merchant vessels were routinely armed, but since then the legal position has been unclear, with current government guidelines saying it 'strongly discourages' the practice and any ship owner employing armed guards could be in breach of the law.

The change in the government's position was indicated by Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham saying companies should be free to decide on their own security.

Ideally Royal Marines would be posted on all UK ships, but currently resources did not allow that, Bellingham said when answering questions from the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Friday.

The decision comes as piracy in the Indian Ocean, particularly off the coast of Somalia, has become a growing problem in recent years, with many companies forced to pay large ransoms to secure the release of hostages and cargo.

Bellingham said a review was currently taking place and he had written to Home Secretary Theresa May to discuss the changes that would be needed to firearms legislation.

If the British government goes ahead with issuing permits to any companies wishing to carry weapons, it will be one of the first countries to have statutory legislation on the issue.

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