* Arming ships is alternative to avoiding Indian Ocean
* Piracy costs global economy $7-12 bln a year
LONDON, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has changed its policy on private armed guards, and now accepts operators must be able to defend their ships against rising pirate attacks, the chamber said on Tuesday.
The ICS, which represents around 80 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, has so far discouraged its members from the use of private armed guards on its vessels.
“ICS has had to acknowledge that the decision to engage armed guards, whether military or private, is a decision to be made by the ship operator after due consideration of all of the risks, and subject to the approval of the vessel’s flag state and insurers,” the Chairman of the London-based ICS, Spyros M Polemis said in a statement.
Polemis said the decision had been made during a meeting in London last week because “many shipping companies have concluded that arming ships is a necessary alternative to avoiding the Indian Ocean completely, which would have a hugely damaging impact on the movement of world trade.”
Somali pirates currently hold around 40 ships and 700 crew members as hostage.
“ICS members have also identified a vital need for the military to disable the hijacked ‘motherships’ which the pirates are now using to launch attacks throughout much of the Indian Ocean,” the association said, adding it estimates piracy to cost the global economy between $7-12 billion a year.
Somali pirates have begun using on high seas large captured ships as ‘motherships’, which contain several smaller attack vessels to enter merchant ships.
“If increasing numbers of ships decide to divert around the Cape of Good Hope, this will almost certainly have a major impact on inventories and costs throughout the whole supply chain and, most particularly, on the cost of oil,” the association said. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Analysis on Somali piracy: [ID:nLDE7181SL] Factbox on ships held by Somali pirates: [ID:nLDE71D0R0] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^> (Reporting by Henning Gloystein; editing by James Jukwey)