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Greece to allow armed guards on cargo ships against piracy

Greece will let its large commercial fleet employ armed guards to ward against a surge in pirate attacks.

Athens: Greece will let its large commercial
fleet employ armed guards to ward against a surge in pirate
attacks, the ministry in charge of security said on Friday,
satisfying a long-standing shipowner demand.

"To improve safe sailing and crew safety aboard Greek
ships crossing seas with increased piracy cases, an initiative
has been taken to draft legislation for the embarkation of
armed individuals on commercial ships," the ministry said.

The legislation will enable the hiring of a minimum of
six guards per ship on six-month contracts that can be
renewed, a ministry source said.

The new arrangement will mainly apply to Greek-flagged
ships but could be extended to vessels sailing through Greek
waters, the source said.

This modification will enable Greek-owned ships flying
flags of convenience -- around 500 vessels according to the
union of Greek captains -- to also be eligible.

Greek authorities had initially resisted shipowner calls
to beef up security, a move opposed by crews fearing the
presence of armed guards will ultimately only result in
pirates switching to heavier weaponry to secure their prize.

"This measure threatens to set off an arms race with the
pirates," said George Tsouris, the head secretary of the Greek
captains` union, who has himself fallen victim to pirates on
his voyages.

"It could also disrupt the chain of command on board," he

But the failure of international efforts to address the
problem has led to a change of policy with Greece now
following the example of Britain, the first European Union
state to arm its merchant vessels.

Many Greek-owned vessels have been seized by pirates in
recent years, resulting in long period of captivity for crews
and heavy insurance and ransom costs for shipowners.

The International Maritime Organisation has recorded 352
piracy attacks between January and September this year.


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