News 01 Apr, 2011

South Africa - Arms and Ammunition on Board Merchant Vessels - Updated

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. The application must be made on the South African Police (SAP 520) form and be accompanied by the following documentation:

  • Full details of the vessel.
  • Copy of the vessel’s ISPS and Safety Certificates.
  • Full details of the vessel’s local agent.
  • A dangerous goods declaration, (if applicable).
  • Documentation providing proof of the last port of call, next port of call and the final destination for the weapons and ammunition.
  • Details of the firearms and ammunition on board including a full description (e.g. make, type, model and serial numbers).
  • Copy of foreign firearms licence from the country of export.
  • Copy of foreign firearm and ammunition export permit.
  • Letter from the owner/agents explaining why the weapons are required onboard and the reason for the short notice of the permit application.
  • Copies of the passports of the vessel’s Master and the security personnel authorised to use the weapons.
  • Letter of authorisation for the security personnel to use the weapons.

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.