Armed guards on ships in the Indian Ocean have permission to fire first to fend off Somali pirates, under new guidance
issued to UK-flagged ships.
Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham said the new advice was clearer than earlier versions and was intended to give
security teams instructions on when they can act.
Mr Bellingham made his remarks in a Commons debate on Somalia, called to discuss a report on the country by the Foreign
Affairs Select Committee.
He told MPs: “The starting point must be our current common and statute law – which is pretty clear on what you can and cannot do.
“We make it clear it is illegal to use force for retaliation or revenge.
“If a security attachment believes a threat is imminent, it is not necessary for them to wait for the aggressor to strike
the first blow before using reasonable and precautionary force to defend themselves.
“It’s that of a graduated response.”
Mr Bellingham said if a boat was spotted but was not obviously engaged in an act of piracy, it would be illegal to use force
against it – though this would not forbid firing any warning shots.