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pirates in boat
Despite international efforts, piracy off Somalia's coast is increasingImage: AP

Fighting piracy

August 19, 2011

The German government is planning legislation to allow private security firms to protect German ships against attacks by Somali pirates. However the idea would have serious legal ramifications.


The move to equip private security guards with weapons and post them on German ships comes as pirate attacks on trading vessels off the Somali coast have increased by two thirds in the first half of this year and German shipping companies have had to pay millions of euros in ransom to Somali pirates.

The German government finds itself unable to provide enough soldiers and policemen to protect German vessels sailing along one of the world's busiest trading routes.

"I don't think it's possible to man every German ship with soldiers or policemen because we need them for other tasks elsewhere," said Hans-Peter Uhl, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"We have important military missions to fulfill, and after the abolition of the draft in Germany we may have fewer security forces available," he added

The plan, however, has raised concerns among experts and the political opposition here, as it requires a change in German gun laws.

German soldiers arresting pirates
Up to now, anti-piracy missions have been carried out by military forcesImage: DW

Uhl is currently drafting legislation that would ease Germany's strict gun laws, necessary because the guards would need to be heavily armed with large-caliber weapons and be able to use lethal force - something banned by current law.

Resistance to plan

But there has been criticism of the proposal, even from some conservatives.

"The fight against piracy is and must remain a duty carried out by the government," Uwe Schünemann, the interior minister of Lower Saxony and a CDU member, told the Financial Times Deutschland.

Left-leaning groups have slammed the proposal, including the opposition Green Party, which claimed that the use of weapons meant for war by what they called private mercenaries will only lead to more deaths in the struggle against piracy. The Greens said there had been a political consensus for years that kept weapons of war out of the hands of private individuals.

Germany's police union also voiced concerns, saying trained officers were better able to handle firearms and fight criminality than private security firms.

"This is just a quick-fix solution aimed at pushing justified concerns into the background," said Bernhard Witthaut, the union's chief. "Placing machine guns into the hands of civilians is a clear violation of a very fundamental principle of the German law system."

German warship
Crtitics say the changes would violate German lawImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Proper training

Witthaut suggested that retired former soldiers be officially hired by the German police to protect the ships. But Uhl has rejected the idea, claiming that the government will ensure the private forces are properly trained and will be required to acquire a state license.

"They must know the laws and show their ability to take responsible and balanced action while carrying arms," he said.

Uhl plans to submit his draft bill to the German parliament this fall, saying that the need for better protection against piracy is increasing by the day.

In spite of the European Union's Atalanta anti-piracy mission, which is under German control from August to December, attacks by Somali pirates have increased by two-thirds to 163 in the first half of 2011.

Pirates have captured 21 trading vessels during that period. German shipping companies are especially vulnerable since 1,700 ships from this country make the passage around the Horn of Africa every year.

Author: Uwe Hessler (jam)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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