Protection of Cyprus Ships against Acts of Piracy and other Unlawful Acts

Pirate attacks threaten maritime safety with the risk, in particular, the prosperity of seafarers and the safety of navigation and commerce. These criminal acts can result in the loss of life, bodily injury or hijacked of seafarers, significant financial losses in trade, shipping and ship owners, increase in insurance premiums and security costs.

Piracy on the high seas has become a frequent phenomenon over the last two years and especially off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and in the western Indian Ocean. The spectacular rise of piracy has highlighted the international law applicable to tackle maritime piracy and the role of international institutions in that effort, such as at the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) May 2012 meeting it was clear that the legal standards to be applied remain a matter for individual countries.

In accordance with the above mentioned, The Protection of Cyprus Ships Against Acts of Piracy and Other Unlawful Acts Law of 2012 (Law 77(I)/2012), hereinafter “the Law”, has been published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cyprus, No. 4339, Supplement I(I), of 15 June 2012 and is now in force. The Law has been designed to enhance the security of ships flying the Cyprus flag (Cyprus ships) while in the sea, including, among other things, the establishment of the required legal framework for the authorization of the use, in a controlled manner by private contracted unarmed and armed security personnel on board in Cyprus ships while sailing through high risk areas such as the North West Indian Ocean or along the West coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea and it is a combination of preventive measures taken to protect the ship, all passengers and cargo from threats of criminal acts and includes the protection of the ship / port and transhipment operations from ship to ship .

The scope of the Law extends beyond acts or attempted acts of piracy and includes a broad definition of “unlawful acts” against a ship or attempts to violate the security of the ship such as, unlawful possession, unlawful act that has resulted in the abduction of control, squatters, immobilization, the retention, the depredations, the destruction of the ship or causing damage to the ship or to the cargo, grabbing or hostage-taking of the ship or those on board.

Most importantly the Law allows the ship owner or ship operator of a Cyprus registered vessel to obtain the services of a private ship security company (armed or not) when sailing through high-risk areas. Furthermore, the Law provides the structure and procedure by which a company may be granted authorization by the Ministry of Communications and Works through the Department of Merchant Shipping, to provide armed or unarmed security personnel to Cyprus registered vessels.

The procedure provided by the Law for granting of the authorization is as follows:

The competent authority may and has the power to issue a certificate in legal entity incorporated or registered as a legal personality: (a) in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Cyprus and having its registered office in Cyprus or, (b) in accordance with the legislation of any other EU Member State and having its registered office, central administration or his principal establishment in a Member State, if sets and undertakes to maintain, during the entire validity of the certificate, an authorized representative in the Republic of Cyprus in accordance with the provisions of Article 23 of the Law or, (c) in accordance with the legislation of any other State, upon authorization by the Minister, if the company agrees to establish and undertakes to maintain, during the entire validity of the certificate, an authorized representative in the Republic of Cyprus in accordance with the provisions of Article 23 of this Law.

It should also be noted that the Law is based on and incorporates the recommendations and guidelines developed by IMO so far in relation with the use of private armed contract security personnel on ships navigating in high risk areas. Moreover, the Law takes into account the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and, in particular, with the rights of the State as a port and a coastal state in the internal waters, territorial sea and contiguous zone. In connection with the above, the Law addresses a variety of issues relating to the position of the unarmed or armed private security personnel while on board, their embarkation and disembarkation, as well as the movement and storage on board of their firearms, their ammunition and of other security-related equipment. It also addresses issues of civil liability of the operator of the Cyprus vessel and of its shipboard personnel vis-à-vis the private ship security company and its employees and vice versa.

Furthermore, some of the Law’s other provisions include:

(a)  the right of the shipboard personnel for self-defence;

(b)  the right of the shipboard personnel to arrest and detain those attempting to commit or those who have committed an unlawful act against the ship and to seize their arms and equipment, when they are found on board the ship;

(c)   the submission by the operator of the Cyprus ship of an application requesting the issuing of a certificate to the ship which will allow the boarding of private ship security guards for the implementation of security measures and the use by them of firearms or other security-related equipment whilst within high-risk areas;

(d)  the submission by a private ship security company of an application requesting the issue of a certificate attesting that the applicant is allowed to provide the services of unarmed or armed security personnel it employs to Cyprus ships

(e)   the conditions regarding the issuing, suspension and cancellation of the certificates;

(f)    the obligations of the master, the shipboard personnel, the operator of the Cyprus ship, in case of boarding of privately contracted unarmed or armed security personnel for the purpose of providing protection to the ship;

(g)  the obligations of the private ship security company and of its employees, in case of boarding of unarmed or armed private ship security guards for the purpose of providing protection to the ship; and

(h)   Prohibitions and criminal offences.

Further detailed information on the implementation of the provision of the Protection of Cyprus Ships Against Acts of Piracy and Other Unlawful Acts Law of 2012 will be provided through subsequent Circulars.

Our firm advises and assists private ship security companies in obtaining the relevant certificate allowing them to provide maritime security services on board Cyprus ships.