Good Cop, Bad Cop

The difficult question of whether to use armed guards on ships is being aired often and at great length at the moment.

While solutions like group transits, the IRTC and BMPs have had an effect, their influence is waning as pirates move further afield, and as their attacks increase in frequency and ferocity, and as their tactics evolve.

At the moment, the whole Gulf of Aden piracy issue feels almost old fashioned and quaint – the move out into the Indian Ocean, the move onto motherships, and the seemingly systematic use of violence and torture have changed the security seascape dramatically.

The fact remains, aside from the sterling efforts to protect World Food Aid shipping, the success of the naval force has been patchy at best. There have been some wonderful victories across a range of high profile incidents, but these have been tempered with a number of embarrassments. There is also the slow, begrudging realisation on all sides that perhaps having so many of the worlds navies tied up playing hide and seek with hoards of teenage Somalis isn’t the best way to spend the last of the cash in the Government’s coffers.

So let’s get a reality check here, what are the options? Option 1 is to do nothing. With lives, businesses and world trade being threatened it is clear that something must be done. Option 2 send more naval assets- well, given the bang for our buck that the current ones are providing it doesn’t seem that this is a long term solution.

A debate which brings us squarely back to the debate on armed guards. Lloyd’s List has taken a rather black and white standpoint– they see that there are only, “soft and hard” options. Their Bill Barratry column has painted the navies as the good cops, while the private security providers are the bad cop.

Now this may well be true as things stand today, perhaps it is possible to see these very different means to the same end as running contrary to each other. But we need to find a means of harnessing the manpower and the firepower of the private providers. If we can find a stream of vetted, quality providers then it seems that all side of the debate win (aside from the pirates of course). Which is what we are all striving for, to narrow the gap between these (bi)polar opposites – the private Hutch to the navy Starsky.

The Lloyd’s List analogy goes on, they see the bad cop as impetuous; the good cop more considered. With pressure building, they see that “bad cop” can all too often ends up making things worse.

If you shoot someone, they will shoot you back, runs the rather simplistic argument…which assumes that the dear sweet pirates were never ever going to get violent until provoked. The RPG and AK47 shell holes in the side of many an unarmed vessel wheelhouse seems to paint a different picture.

The question is whether the bad cop will win out, rushing in, guns a-blazing? Or will the good cop stand firm? So, will it be the good cop or bad cop leading the industry forward?  Or is there another alternative?

In creating a standard, and verified, bona fide, rigorous and unified quality control mechanism – then we can control the “bad cop” elements within private security. We can monitor, engage and work together to ensure that while force may well be necessary, it will be measured and appropriate. Not simply mindless morons with machine guns – this is about driving real quality into the private security business, about rewarding and recognising quality providers and providing much needed reassurance to the shipping industry, while giving the navies of the world a chance to reassess their roles. If at the same time we put the fear of god into the pirates, then so much the better.

This is in essence what we are striving to achieve with SAMI, The Security Association of the Maritime Industry. We are currently in the process of rolling the association out, but with the support of many of the best security providers in the business, and with strong engagement with a number of flag States and industry organisations it looks like we are taking great strides to provide the third pillar of maritime security, effective and controlled force.

To find out more about SAMI email

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