News 09 Feb, 2011

South Africa - Arms and Ammunition on Board Merchant Vessels

Durban correspondents P&I Associates have advised the Club of problems being encountered by vessels entering South African ports with firearms and ammunition onboard. They write as follows:

“Due to the upsurge in piracy activity in the Indian Ocean region, there has been an increase in the number of merchant vessels that are carrying security guards, guns and ammunition. Often, the security guards disembark the vessel after the vessel has transited the “hotspot” area off East Africa but the guns and ammunition remain on board, only to be removed at final destination.

The issue of guns and ammunition remaining on board vessels is creating problems for owners and this week, in South Africa, two masters were arrested and charged under the South African Firearm Control Act.

The South African Police require that 21 days before a vessel arrives at a South African port that an application must be made to the relevant authority for a permit. This application must be duly accompanied by a number of documents. The application must be made on the South African Police (SAP 520) form.  

  • Copy of the applicant’s passport on which the photo and passports details are reflected
  • Copy of the legal licence, permit, authorisation or any other documentary proof confirming lawful possession of the firearm
  • Documentary proof of knowledge of safe use and handling of a firearm, i.e training certificate
  • Written authorisation, which permits the export of the firearm from the country of origin
  • Equipment list, firearm description and serial numbers and number of ammunition
  • Documentation giving proof of last port of call and destination

Once the permit has been granted and the vessel berths in South Africa, the master can make arrangements for the guns and ammunition to be removed from the vessel and taken to a police locker for safekeeping and then these guns and ammunition will be returned to the vessel one hour before departure.

If the requirements are not met, it is now very clear that the South African Police will arrest the master and charge him with an offence and non-conformance under section 120 and section 73 of the Firearm Control Act, Act 6 of 2000.  

We attach a letter received from the South African Police setting out their requirements. We are currently checking to see whether these requirements derive from regulations attached to the Act and if so, were these regulations gazetted and therefore brought into force under South African law.

In the meantime shipowners should be aware that in order for a vessel to enter a South African port with guns and ammunition on board, the vessel must have a permit from the South African Police. If there are guns and ammunition but no South African permit; then the master will be arrested and charged resulting in delays to the vessel. The master will be charged and fined and may be imprisoned depending on the severity of the offence. The fines vary from R50,000 to over R100,000 and the master will be prosecuted and will have a criminal record.”

Members requiring further guidance should contact the Loss Prevention Department.