Men with guns rarely add anything useful. But there is one big exception. It is a simple fact that putting armed guards on merchant ships has stopped the Somali piracy which was menacing world trade. All the collective huff and puff and vast expense of the global navies didn’t stop the piracy. It is a few companies putting ex-marines with rifles onto ships while they transit the dangerous area which has brought the problem under control.
Instead of helping control the piracy the Indian Navy went one better and arrested a mother ship which was a base for the armed guards which had been doing their job. In 2013 the Indian authorities arrested the Seaman Guard Ohio off the Indian coast. Yesterday a court in Tuticorin sent down 25 guards and ten crew members for a five year stretch for possessing illegal weapons.
It is a bizarre and counter-productive decision. India needs world trade as much as or more than most nations. The trade with India is almost all by sea, and almost all has to pass waters infested with pirates. India’s authorities can’t protect the ships they depend on for their well-being. So private companies provide the guards to do their job, and now the authorities who have failed in their duty of keeping their seas safe bang the guards up.
I was glad to hear this news make mainstream UK national radio this morning, the soft Welsh lilt of Ken Peters, of the Mission to Seafarers, telling a no doubt bemused British breakfast audience why this is an outrage. That’s a start, but what we really need is the leaders of the big trading nations, the US, the UK, Germany, China, to stand up and tell the Indians to stop being stupid. Free these men and keep our shipping, and the men who guard it, safe.