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Shipping industry urges caution on use of armed guards on Red Sea vessels

Shipping industry urges caution on use of armed guards on Red Sea vessels © Reuters

By Jonathan Saul

LONDON (Reuters) – Shipping companies should use caution when deploying private armed guards onboard vessels sailing through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden because of the risk of escalation amid growing attacks on ships, an industry advisory said on Friday.

Yemen’s Houthis have been attacking vessels in Red Sea shipping lanes in recent weeks and firing drones and missiles at Israel, saying they aim to support Palestinians as Islamist group Hamas and Israel wage war in Gaza.

In an advisory issued on Friday by the shipping industry’s leading associations, companies were urged to “complete a thorough risk assessment when considering the use of armed guards”.

“Caution should be taken when managing their employment and rules of engagement should consider the risk of escalation,” the advisory said.

The wave of attacks on commercial ships has prompted some shipping companies to pause sailings through the Red Sea in recent days.

British maritime security company Ambrey said this week that there had been an “exchange of fire” between armed guards onboard a vessel and armed assailants who that was attacked by a speedboat with armed assailants.

Private armed guards have been deployed for years onboard commercial ships sailing through those waters and helped curb Somali piracy attacks over a decade ago, shipping sources said.

The Marshall Islands shipping registry – one of the world’s top flags – said in a separate note on Thursday that vessels were advised “reassess rules for the use of force with their private maritime security company”.

“A clear distinction should be made between suspected attackers with small arms and military forces with more advanced weaponry,” the advisory said, adding that engagement with military forces was not advised as “it may result in significant escalation”.

The industry advisory said ships that switched off their AIS tracking transponders to avoid detection could also complicate rescue efforts if they ran into trouble.

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