Berlin - Germany may soon authorize shippers to deploy private armed guards to defend vessels against Somali pirates, Berlin officials said Wednesday, adding that international opinion was increasingly in favour of the idea.
One third of German ships are estimated to already be sailing in the western Indian Ocean with guards on board, but the practice is only semi-legal. Killing a pirate in self-defence might lead to the guard being punished under German laws.
Berlin has often said that deploying naval escorts for all ships would be unaffordable.
Hans-Joachim Otto, the government's coordinator of maritime industry policy, confirmed that officials favoured changes in the law which would allow private guards to use lethal force, but said no decision had yet been taken.
'The traffic lights for deployment of security forces have gone from red to amber, but are not at green yet,' he said in an interview. He said Germany should wait for an International Maritime Organization (IMO) vote next month and rather than acting alone.
'It's a world problem and should get a world solution,' he said. 'The world consensus is moving towards private security guards.'
Hans-Peter Uhl, a legislator with Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling bloc, said government parties had 'basically' agreed. Otto's party, the Free Democrats, had earlier raised human-rights objections to using guards who would in a sense be mercenaries.
Shipping companies, which have demanded naval protection in vain, have been angry at a policy stalemate lasting years.
Police trade unions are also hostile to what they consider a 'privatizing' of lethal force.
'It's a function of the state alone,' said Bernhard Witthaut, chairman of the Police Union, in an interview. He called for Germany to set up a marine police unit manned by former German soldiers.
Pirate attacks on ships near the Horn of Africa rose nearly two thirds to 163 in the first half of this year with 21 vessels hijacked.
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