A new law on maritime piracy was published in the Belgian official gazette on 30 January 2013. This law creates a legal framework for ships sailing under Belgian flag to protect them against the current wave of piracy in certain areas.

Before the law can effectively be applied, a number of issues will have to be dealt with by Royal Decree. This Royal Decree has not been published yet, its publication is expected next month.

The law creates a possibility for ships under Belgian flag to rely on a maritime security company. There has always been a certain reluctance in Belgium against allowing private armed guards on board of Belgian ships. Obviously the new law therefore imposes a number of conditions on the use of maritime security companies.

It is only possible for certain areas of the sea as will be defined by Royal Decree (art. 3). The master or the operator of the ship must comply with all IMO guidelines on piracy.

The agreement between the shipowner or operator on the one hand, and the maritime security company on the other hand will also have to meet certain legal requirements (art. 6).  The agreement will need to have a statement about Belgian law, about the guidelines of the IMO, the use and the origin of weapons on board and information about the crew of the security company on board.

Certain conditions apply also for the maritime security company. For example, they will need to have a permit granted by Royal Decree (art. 3,6 and 12). It is prohibited for these companies to use subcontractors and they will need to have a special liability insurance.

The law also imposes some obligations regarding information and reporting. The shipowner (or operator) will have to report to the government every voyage during which he uses a maritime security company (art. 4). There is also an obligation to report every attack of piracy and every time the guards fire from the ship in the context of piracy (art. 5).

The law creates also clarity about the responsibilities on board. It is for example expressly stated that the security people on board is not considered to be as part of the crew of the ship (art. 8). The maximum number of persons on board may therefore in some cases be exceeded (art. 9).

The responsibilities of the master are not affected by this law (art. 7). The captain is still the highest authority on board and is therefore also the one who decides whether or not a piracy attack should be repelled, after advice of the supervisor of the security crew. He also keeps his authority to arrest people on board of the ship.

The law is a temporary law. It shall apply from 30 January 2013 to 31 December 2014, after which it will be evaluated (art. 30).

For further information contact Peter Van de Vijver and Philippe Van Dijck.

Published in: Legal insights