In the first killing of its kind, private security contractors shot dead a Somali pirate in a clash that left two skiffs riddled with bullet holes, officials said Wednesday.
The killing raises questions over who has jurisdiction over a growing army of armed guards on merchant ships flying flags from many nations.
There's currently no regulation of private security on board ships, no guidelines about who is responsible in case of an attack, and no industrywide standards, said piracy expert Roger Middleton from the British think tank Chatham House.
"There's no guarantee of the quality of individuals you are going to get," said Middleton. "If you're a shipping company, that could be legally concerning. It's also concerning to everyone if you have individuals with guns and not much oversight out on the seas," The Associated Press reports.
The Panamanian-flagged MV Almezaan was 60 miles (97km) south of the pirate port of Haradheere, en route to Mogadishu, when it was attacked twice by a gang of at least seven pirates in a pair of fast skiffs. The cargo ship was hijacked twice last year while making the same journey.
This time a small team of private security guards fired shots to repel the first attack but when the gang came in for a second approach the guards aimed to kill. One pirate was hit numerous times with small-arms fire and the skiffs were riddled with bullets, Times Online reports.
In the attack on the MV Almezaan, a patrolling Spanish warship deployed a helicopter that fired warning shots to stop the pirates as they fled the area. Spanish troops seized six individuals, recovered one body and destroyed three pirate vessels.
"The body has been transferred to Navarra," EU NAVFOR said in a statement on its website, referring to the Spanish frigate. "An investigation indicated that the individual had died from small caliber gunshot wounds," it added.
The MV Almezaan was en route to the Somali capital Mogadishu, the statement said. Kenyan maritime official Andrew Mwangura confirmed the incident by telephone from the port city of Mombasa.
A fleet of foreign navies are patrolling the region's waters, operating convoys and offering safe transit corridors. But they have found themselves increasingly stretched as the pirates roam further out into the Indian Ocean, Reuters informs.