Guards on ships ‘will not replace the Royal Navy’

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THE Royal Navy will not be replaced by the move to allow armed guards to protect British ships from pirates, the government has said.

MPs and defence experts fear a change in the law to allow armed mercenaries to protect British commercial shipping off the coast of Somalia could mean fewer navy ships will be needed to patrol piracy hot-spots in the future.

But armed forces minister Nick Harvey told MPs: ‘This move is in no way intended to be a substitute for action by the Royal Navy. It is an additional measure.’

Mr Harvey added that armed guards are needed on commercial ships because: ‘No matter what degree of resource navies from around the world put into the counter-piracy effort, it would not be possible for there always to be a naval presence on hand when a ship is attacked.’

He added: ‘No ships that have had any sort of security or that have followed best practice have been pirated.’

Former First Sea Lord, Lord West, welcomed Mr Harvey’s assurances, but said he was ‘concerned’ about who will be doing armed patrols on ships.

He said: ‘The government needs to make sure these people are properly qualified and respect the rules of engagement.’

Mr Harvey said the Home Office, the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office are working on the change to the law.

He added: ‘Necessary safeguards will have to be implemented.’