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Remote Control Report: Floating Armouries - implications and risks

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17 December 2014

Lack of regulation and oversight of floating armouries used to store weapons for Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs), need for international action

12 UK companies storing weapons on floating armouries registered to black listed states, report finds

A new report, commissioned by the Remote Control project, has found that there is a serious lack of regulation and oversight in the operation and use of floating armouries, increasingly used by Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) to store and transfer weapons for use in maritime security.

Floating Armouries: Implications and risks, researched by the Omega Research Foundation, has found that floating armouries, moored in international waters, operate in a ‘legal grey area’ resulting in a severe lack of legal oversight and, in some cases, are subject only to the regulations of the state in which the vessel is registered. The report found that 12 of the 31 vessels listed as being used as armouries for weapons licensed by the UK are registered to black listed states. These black listed states – such as Mongolia – are known to have worryingly low regulatory standards on seagoing vessels. The rapid growth in PMSCs (used to protect ships against piracy) in recent years, coupled with the growing trend for these PMSCs to store weapons in floating armouries, has resulted in the international response struggling to keep pace with adequate regulatory or oversight mechanisms.

Key findings from the report:

  • There is no centrally managed, publically available register of floating armouries, meaning it is  difficult to ascertain the exact number of armouries in operation and evaluate the challenges they pose
  • Some of the ‘flag states’ such as Mongolia that floating armouries are registered to are known to have an inadequate framework for regulating the safety and security of vessels. 12 UK companies are currently using vessels registered to black listed states.
  • The lack of standards relating to the operation of floating armouries means there is concern that weapons stored on floating armouries may go to a different user/end-user than stipulated in the original licence application.
  • There is a lack of information on the number of weapons and quantity of ammunition stored on floating armouries, making it difficult to estimate the amount in circulation, maintain oversight and ensure there is no diversion.
  • None of the vessels currently used as floating armouries have been purpose built for that function meaning that vessels may not have adequate safe and secure storage for arms and ammunition. There is currently no international body that evaluates the construction of floating armouries, raising concern over the security, storage and disposal of weapons

Omega Research Foundation concludes that coordinated international action is required to address the worrying lack of regulation regarding the operation and use of floating armouries and calls on individual governments and relevant multi-lateral bodies to take action to address immediate issues. It recommends that the UK Government immediately revokes permission for UK companies to store weapons on floating armouries flagged to black listed countries.

Omega Research Foundation, says:

The security risks posed by floating armouries are very real yet there is still a lack of information on the number, size and location of these armouries as well as a lack of coherent international standards governing the operation of such vessels.”

Caroline Donnellan, Manager of the Remote Control project, says:

This report reveals major gaps in the management and conduct of floating armouries. It is particularly worrying to note the lack of information, regulation and oversight surrounding these activities as well as the inadequate assessment of safety and security issues relating to the vessels being used.  The report highlights the need for urgent action to address the overall operation of floating armouries."


Esther Kersley
+44 (0)207 549 0298
07545 994 658

Editor’s notes:

The Remote Control project is a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by the Oxford Research Group. Remote Control examines changes in military engagement, in particular the use of drones, special forces, private military companies and cyber warfare. The project acts as a facilitator for the exchange of information and commissions and publicises work undertaken in the area, aiming to examine the long-term effects of remote warfare.

The Omega Research Foundation is an independent UK-based research organisation. It is dedicated to providing rigorous, objective, evidence-based research on the manufacture, trade in, and use of, military, security and police (MSP) technologies.

*Floating armouries are vessels used to store weapons, ammunition, and related equipment such as body armour and night vision goggles for use by Private Maritime Security Companies. They also provide other logistics support including accommodation, food and medical supplies storage for PMSCs engaged in vessel protection. They are typically commercially owned vessels, often anchored in international waters.

The Flag state is the country that a vessel is registered to. This does not need to be the same state that the company owning the vessel or running the armoury is registered in. When in international waters it is the laws and regulations of the flag state that apply (although PMSCs may also be bound by other requirements such as licence requirements from their country of registration).

Black listed states refer to the performance of flag states, evaluated by the Paris MOU, a body comprising of 27 participating maritime administrations, who publish an annual list assigning each flag state a white, grey or black classification. The other significant Port State Control authorities are the Tokyo MOU and the US Coast Guard Port State Information Exchange which also produce performance lists.

The Remote Control project is a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by Oxford Research Group. The project examines changes in military engagement, in particular the use of drones, special forces, private military companies and cyber warfare.

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