Who protects Italian merchant ships from pirates?

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

In recent years there has been a resurgence of the piracy phenomenon in the Gulf of Guinea, in the western part of Africa. In the Horn of Africa, pirate attacks began in 2005, to peak in 2012, after which the phenomenon in that area began to wane.

Merchant ships are often the subject of attempts to board boats loaded with armed people (often also with RPG-7 rocket launchers), determined to seize the cargo and the crew to ask the shipowner for a ransom.

For years now, shipowners have been carrying armed civilian personnel to ensure the safety of crews and the cargo carried.

As regards the national situation, Claudio Verzola, head of external relations of the AISS (Italian Association of Subsidiary Security), informs us that the extension of the transitory regime provided for by article 30, paragraph 5 of Legislative Decree no. 5 of 107, converted by Law no. 2011 of 130, concerning the professional training requirements required for security guards for the performance of maritime anti-piracy services.

Let's go in order. In 2011, given the high frequency of attacks, the shipowners began to seek protection from the Navy, which replied that if it had not had sufficient staff, the shipowners would have had to use civilian armed personnel. With the provisions of Legislative Decree 107 of 2011, Parliament seems to acknowledge this eventuality and the rules are issued with which it is possible to turn to a surveillance institute that provides maritime security services.

Legislative Decree 107 introduces "the dual protection system", which allows shipowners to protect ships and crews through the use of Italian naval riflemen and in the alternative, in the event of their unavailability, private security guards, by decree. Anti-piracy.

But the first problems already arise: in order to be able to operate on ships with anti-piracy duties, vigilantes must carry out special courses at the qualified structures of the Navy and the Harbor Master's Office, with a final exam to be taken in Rome.

The aforementioned training courses, already provided for by Ministerial Decree 159 of 2009, were banned by the Navy and the Harbor Master's Office only once in 2016. However, due to the strict rules regarding the access of civilian personnel to their centers of training, the courses were impractical for the professional associations of the private security institutes. It is therefore necessary to proceed in derogation pursuant to art. 5, paragraph 5 of Legislative Decree 107.

In this way, the authorized Surveillance Institutions were able to start providing this type of service only in November 2012, after the publication by the Chief of Police of the Implementing Circular of Ministerial Decree 266 of 2012.

If therefore the Ministerial Decree 266 represents the guide that professionals must follow, immediately the rules contained in it have shown limits, also in relation to the objective lack of experience that was had when it entered into force.

In the following seven years (in 2015 the Navy interrupts the protection operations), therefore, we proceeded without training courses, using (as required by the derogating rule) ex-military with at least six months of experience in missions abroad in operational departments, with results according to Vincenzo Pergolizzi, managing director of Metro Security Express - one of the very few Italian security institutes capable of providing maritime security services employing, to offer an excellent service, mainly former special forces operators - very flattering.

It should be noted that Italian civilian personnel, in the anti-piracy surveillance function, are obliged to operate, by current provisions, only on board ships flying the national flag.

The Decree n. 139 on 7 November 2019, concerning the regulation for the use of security guards on board merchant ships flying the Italian flag that transit in international waters at risk of piracy, simplifies several procedures but reintroduces the obligation of training courses for anti-piracy surveillance limiting the extension to 30 June 2020.

Also worthy of note is the logistical complexity given by the obligation to attend the courses for the staff employed, who in compliance with Ministerial Decree 154 of 1999, must carry out a training period divided into three phases: the 1st one provided by the Supervisory Institute ; the 2nd from the Port Authority at La Spezia and the 3rd from the Navy in Brindisi.

However, on December 31, 2019, the supervisors who have completed at least 90 boarding days, even if not consecutive, are exempted from attending courses and can directly access the final exam.

The problem is that, on the part of the Ministry, there is no indication of the subjects subject to final verification, in addition the emergency COVID-19 prevented the examining commissions from forming.

So, arrived at this point at the solicitation of the actors concerned, the Ministry of Interior replied as follows: it is represented that the term provided by Art. 5 of Legislative Decree no. 107 of 2011, governing the use of security guards in anti-piracy services on board merchant ships flying the Italian flag, as last reviewed by Legislative Decree no. 162 of 30 December 2019, converted with Law no. 8/2020, had extended to 30 June the transitional regime for the use of security guards not yet in possession of the necessary qualification.

However, at present, the aforementioned deadline of 30 June has not been extended, so that the security guards, who have not taken steps to acquire the aforementioned authorization (who knows how they could get it, Editor's note) to carry out anti-piracy services, cannot be authorized to carry out this activity.

It is clear from what has just been written that, at present, our merchant ships will sail in pirate-infested waters without adequate protection.

Photo: EU Naval Force - Somalia