Cosco Shipping will spend about US$12 million on armed guards and other anti-piracy measures this year to protect its ships and crews against the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
The move signifies a change in attitude by both mainland and Hong Kong shipowners, who in recent months have shown a greater willingness to use armed force against threats when sailing through pirate-infested waters, reported the South China Morning Post.
Pacific Basin Shipping, Wah Kwong Maritime Transport and Valles Steamship are among the leading Hong Kong owners that have expressed the view that armed guards have and would be used on board if necessary.
Shanghai-listed Cosco Shipping, which owns around 80 ships - 20 registered in Hong Kong and 60 on the mainland and elsewhere - said the budget included the cost of bullet-proof vests for all crew and on-board equipment to both deter attacks and prevent pirates from taking control of vessels if they do board.
Guo Jin, Cosco Shipping's chief operating officer, said if the firm's ships are unable to take alternative routes, such as via the Cape of Good Hope, and had to travel through high-risk areas, "then we will take some measures to defend ourselves. Our ships are relatively small, they are not so fast - about 15 knots - so we have to employ armed security."