I am often asked if owners of superyachts have armed bodyguards on board. The answer is, for most popular destinations, bodyguards, yes, big guys with arms the size of your legs. Weapons are another thing. Guns on yachts are a big no, even if the flag state of the yacht permits them. Captains have been arrested and thrown into jail for having guns on board. At the very least the guns will be seized.
Security professionals may have access to weapons and may carry guns in the country where the yacht is berthed, with a special license arranged through a local specialist. Anyone packing iron has to be vetted and background checked. Bringing guns into a port is not allowed or at the very least declared. For example, firearms must be declared on arrival to any port in Italy and non-declaration means imprisonment.
There is no global standard for the possession of firearms. All yachts passing through the Suez have to surrender weapons and pick them up on the way out. In some areas, even flak jackets are frowned upon. Mexico – don’t even think about it. Fiji, Cayman, the Maldives are all places where possession of firearms can get you into some serious trouble.
In the Gulf of Aden, a neat solution exists. A tug boat in international waters stores weapons. Professional security guards wait on a nearby yacht and travel with a superyacht to a safe area where another tug boat picks up the guards and weapons. On the way back the process is reversed. All in international waters.
As a minimum, firearms on board must be registered, with proof of ownership. Ammunition likewise has to be counted for. This is more than a simple admin job. It can be a question of life or death in some cases or render an insurance claim invalid.
Pirates are risk-averse. One look at the guards on deck with AR-15s or AK-47s is enough to deter them. All the latest technology fades in comparison.
‘Forget LRADS,’ said a captain of a 60-meter yacht that travels through the Gulf of Aden twice a year. ‘The pirates just put on headphones. As for drones, by the time you have seen the pirates they are under your nose. An AK-47 is something else.’
Running foul of national authorities can land yachts and ships in serious trouble. Armed bodyguards were held for six months when the yacht they were travelling on was stopped in Indian waters.