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Shipping: Firearms

Volume 474: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what her policy is on merchant ships carrying firearms to guard against raids by pirates; and if she will make a statement. (197770)

The Government do not encourage the carriage of firearms on board UK registered merchant ships. Only in exceptional circumstances will the Government condone the use of armed guard protection on board such ships. For example, certain shipments of nuclear material and certain VIP passenger movements have received armed guard protection. In these exceptional circumstances, ship owners should ensure that the guards are properly trained in the effective use of firearms in order to minimise accidents.

In line with their policy of discouraging the carriage of firearms on board UK registered merchant ships, the Government have not set rules of engagement for armed guards at sea. Any company providing an armed guard protection service to a UK registered merchant ship is fully accountable under UK law and the laws of any state in whose territorial and internal waters the firearms are carried.

While the Government do not encourage the carriage of firearms on board UK registered merchant ships, there are legal provisions governing their carriage. Firearms are controlled under the Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) and these provisions were explained in Merchant Shipping Notice 1704 published in January 1998. Permits to carry firearms on ships are issued by the police under guidance issued by the Home Office. Where firearms are carried on board UK registered merchant ships the ship security plan should detail how and where they are stored and state the procedures for accessing them.