Armaments on Merchant Vessels calling at South African Ports

April 2011

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There were until recently indications that in Durban there would be some flexibility in the regulations that currently require a 21 day period to obtain a permit to allow weapons to be on a vessel in a South African port . This was agreed by the South African Police Services (SAPS) after representation was made to them. However, the matter has now been taken up on a National level and all permits are being controlled and issued by SAPS in Pretoria. This office is now enforcing the full regulations (as set out in the Fire Arms Control Act, 60 of 2000) and the right of the regional offices of the SAPS to issue permits has been revoked with immediate effect.

A recent meeting to discuss the issue was attended by the head of Durban port security, the senior officer of SAPS responsible for ports together with representatives of SA Customs, the South African Association of Ships Operators and Agents (SAASOA) and the Protection Vessel International (PVI) (one of the larger service providers supplying armed guards on vessels transiting the East coast of Africa and Northern sector of the Indian Ocean). It was agreed at the meeting that the 21 day ruling for permits was not practical as vessels were often fixed on charters well within that time frame. Notwithstanding this agreement, the matter has been referred to SAPS in Pretoria which has indicated that the 21 day ruling applies without exception.

The next step is for SAASOA to make personal representation to the SAPS in Pretoria and a meeting is to be set up as a matter of urgency.

As things stand the whole process is now being plagued by bureaucracy and a total lack of understanding of the situation, the reason behind the need to place armed guards on merchant vessels and the fact that the 21 day permit time is totally impractical with the ever changing nature of ship fixtures.

To sum up, the current ruling is that the 21 day notice period for permits stands and the SAP 520 application form (see below) has to be completed in all cases. In addition the following documentation has to be submitted by the agent or representative of the owner/operator of the vessel:


1. Copy of foreign firearm license (country of export);
2. Copy of foreign firearm and ammunition export permit (we might just have the weapons export permit);
3. Motivational letter from owners/agent as to why the weapons are required and reason for short notice to our local SAPS for the application for a permit;
4. Copies of passport of the Master of the vessel and security personnel authorised to use the weapons;
5. Letter of authorisation for the personnel to utilise the weapons;
6. Previous ports of call, next port of call (after Durban) and end destination for the weapons;
7. Dangerous cargo declaration;
8. Details of vessel's local agent;
9. Quantity and description of ammunition and firearms (I think we have the weapons details);
10. Full details of vessel;
11. A copy of the vessel's international security/safety certificate.


With thanks to P&I Associates (Pty) Ltd, Durban, for supplying this information.