Ships sailing under a British flag will be able to carry armed guards to protect them from pirates, the prime minister has announced.
David Cameron says he wants to combat the risks to shipping off the coast of Somalia, where 49 of the world’s 53 hijackings last year took place.
No ship carrying armed security has yet been hijacked, the government claims.
Up to 200 vessels flying the red ensign – the British merchant navy flag – regularly sail close to Somalia.
Officials estimate that about 100 of those would immediately apply for permission to have armed guards.
It is thought many British-registered ships already carry armed guards, taking advantage of a grey area in the law.
Allowing ships to carry armed guards may fall foul of laws in other countries, though. Egypt recently announced that armed guards would not be permitted on ships sailing through the Suez canal.
Meanwhile, the Italian shipowners’ association, Confitarma, has welcomed renewed promises of military support, following the recapture of the supramax newbuilding Montecristo by UK and US special forces after the vessel was hijacked by Somali pirates this week.
Confitarma President Paolo d’Amico said 10 teams of six military personnel would be available for Italian-registered vessels. The final obstacle was to secure the agreements of ports and states in the region for the transit of the personnel and their weaponry, enabling them to join and leave vessels