In turn, the pros and cons for the two former parties will be stressed out. Thereafter,some of the pitfalls which may present themselves if proper care is not taken when contracting what has come to be known as Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP), will be examined. Prior to any discussion, it is necessary to acknowledge that the use of PCASP should not be considered as an alternative to Best Management Practices (BMP) and other protective measures.
For those using or intending to use PCASP, frankly, having armed guards onboard has yielded, up to now, 100% success. No vessel with armed personnel embarked has ever been hijacked and this has caused the surge in using armed guards. Armed guards work as an additional layer-of-defense together with the passive Ship Protection Measures. Placing PCASP allows particularly vulnerable (low and slow) vessels to be secured. As a result, ship owners receive premium Insurance reductions. Aside these formalities, peace of mind for crew, master, charterer and owners alike can be met - given that a Quality Provider has been selected.
On the other hand, having armed guards on board can be logistically complex, as additional declarations, inspections and customs paperwork are required. There may also be a difficulty to adhere to Port and Flag State regulations. It is worth noting here that not all Flag Administrations allow the use of armed guards, with Greece and Cyprus being fine examples. There has been a burst of fear regarding possible escalation of violence. To our experience this is rarely the case. Most attacks are aborted after a couple of well aimed warning shots. It must be pointed out that there are incompetent companies which have personnel not trained on the use firearms. Proper vetting is essential. Moreover, in case of an accident, using PCASP may increase liability exposure – and I would like to stress out the importance of a bona fide provider with comprehensive insurance cover. If an accident occurs there is also potential impact to the company image and/or reputation.
For those using unarmed security personnel, there are fewer restrictions on team boarding and potential port state/customs issues. An unarmed deployment is a far less logistically complicated task. It has been noted that there is a boost in the morale of the crew when any team joins the vessel prior to the HRA. However experience shows that the morale drops again when the crew realizes that the team is unarmed. Back to the immediate threat, independent of the nature of the security team, the pirates are cautious as they suspect that the security team may be armed and that there are arms on the vessel. The presence of an unarmed team can deter attacks BUT can NOT deter a determined attack.
On the contrary, as the pirates’ skills increase, the vessel’s vulnerability also rises. Pirates now seek to spot the unarmed vessels. Lately, pirates’ determination and desperation have increased as more vessels successfully deter attacks. This is indeed a byproduct of the widespread use of armed guards. Finally, there is the unfortunate case of a determined attack without military intervention on a vulnerable vessel resulting in the use of citadel. While the crew and the unarmed security team are in the citadel and the Pirates attempt to gain entry, the vessel may be badly damaged or even worse set ablaze, as we have recently witnessed in the case of M/T Brillante Virtuoso.
After considering the former factors, and in the case the shipping company considers the use of armed guards, due diligence process to select a provider, is key.A new company is not necessarily bad and an established company is not necessarily good. There are plenty of “cowboys”, large and small. The Maritime Safety Committee at its 89th session in May approved the interim guidance to shipowners, ship operators and shipmasters on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the High Risk Area. The Circular (MSC.1 Circ 1405 ) which received its first revision in September, provides a good guide to assist your selection of a PCASP. All Maritime Security companies should be able to quickly provide you the due diligence information suggested within.Additionally, there are areas which warrant greater attention.
The first of these is Insurance. You must ensure that the provider is covered for both 3rd party and professional indemnity, with the industry standard cover being $5m. There have been stories of quotations being presented as policies, so certificates should be checked. Moreover check that the type of security service you have contracting for is specifically mentioned in the policy wording. There are many marine policies designed for off-shore contracting which do not specifically exclude firearms, thus not specifically include them, leaving a grey area in case of an incident. Under such off-the-shelf marine policies the underwriter may try to avoid their liability claiming they are not aware of the extent of the risk.
Therefore, the policy should be robustly worded and clearly include clauses regarding the use and carriage of firearms. It is also important both from a duty of care and elimination of vessel liability perspectives that the PCASP provider has sufficient accident and medical cover for its personnel . Irrespective of any waiver they may sign for your company, in event of serious accident you may still find yourself billed, if this is not in place. Speaking of insurance, you would need to ensure with your P&I Club that the placement of armed guards onboard does not prejudice your Cover. Usually they will need to review the Contract, Insurance Cover, SOP and RUF of your MARSEC provider of choice.
The second area covers ‘Inappropriate Weaponry’. Consider the range at which a security team will be able to definitively identify a threat, Shotguns and pistols are unlikely to provide the range required for the security team to safely engage a target with confirmed hostile intent. Likewise the utility of extreme long range weapons can be questioned as a target should only be engaged if an actual threat to life is confirmed. This is likely to be difficult to impossible at ranges over 300-400m. Lack of proper licenses and documentation of the equipment may result to Master arrest and vessel delays. Each Port state has different restrictions and requirements and you must ensure your provider of choice adheres to those requirements, for example Omani ports do not permit full automatic weapons to be landed.
The third area to be considered is poorly trained and/or vetted personnel. An armed team should still add value beyond holding firearms. Vessel hardening, crew training, passage risk assessment, supervision of bridge watches should still be part of team's duties. It should be mentioned once more that arms are an additional layer of defense, not a replacement of vigilance and passive Ship Protection Measures. The guards comprising the team should have a solid background in the Military, Police or Security sectors and they should hold seaman's books and STCW95 Certificates.
In some cases these will be requested by your Flag Administration like in the case of Malta. A clean criminal record as well as records of medical, physical, and mental fitness of personnel (including drug and alcohol testing) are a must. As the quality of professional training given to PCASP is of extreme importance, the shipowner should verify that the PMSC have adequate training procedures in place. The records of that training should give confidence that the PCASP have been provided with appropriate knowledge and skills through initial and refresher training. For detailed requirements you can check paragraph 2.4 in the MSC.1/1405 rev 1 Circular.
Finally, owners should suspect that something is wrong when they see a very low price. Each armed security mission is a small military operation and entails high costs. Very low prices actually mean that a provider is cutting corners. Maritime Security is not a commodity and PMSCs can not be compared based on price only. Unsuitable insurance, improper and illegal weapons, poorly trained personnel, lack of procedures and adherence to port regulations may result to a lower price but may lead to complications, vessel delays, arrests and liability claims. So the price may be lower but at what actual cost? In our field quality is important. Would you entrust your ship and crew to a team of cowboys running around with loose and loaded weapons?
In conclusion, it is clear that the efforts of the military alone are not sufficient to guarantee the security of your crew, vessel and cargo. Ultimately, if the threat continues to grow and pirates become more skilled, determined & organized shipowners and charterers will be foolhardy not to take measures to ensure their cargo security. No quantity of naval assets or escort vessels can secure the volume of shipping that passes high risk waters.
Simply, there are not enough naval vessels in the world. This is a geopolitical problem which must be fixed on land but there is not currently the international will to do so. Until this happens companies with vulnerable vessels face a stark choice; roll the dice and take a chance or place armed guards onboard and ensure the commercial viability of their service.
Panos G Moraitis
Aspida Maritime Security