Armed Action

With the growth of pirate attacks, it is increasingly being seen that the most pragmatic solution to protect vulnerable vessels has been the deployment of armed security guards.

This has prompted flag States to submit papers to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) calling for support to establish an association of independent maritime security providers that would set standards and be subject to a code of conduct and vetting.

It is now commonplace for teams of armed guards (usually about 4 per ship) to be placed onboard ships to deter pirates – and their increasing prevalence has naturally prompted calls for greater regulation of companies offering security services to shipowners.

The Bahamas and the Marshall Islands are understood to have jointly submitted a paper for discussion at the upcoming Maritime Safety Committee (MSC)meeting in May, calling on the committee to support establishment of an association of independent maritime security providers that would set standards and be subject to a code of conduct and vetting.

It is understood that other leading registries including Panama, Liberia and Singapore support the proposal.

It seems there has also been a concerning increase in the number of tankers wanting to put armed guards onboard. The potential for disaster and tragedy is increasing on an almost daily basis – as there is no way of knowing the quality of the security providers. The analogy of a highly regulated industry in shipping coming up against a totally unregulated industry is that of gear cogs slipping against a flat plate. There is no current way of meshing the two industries.

The aim is to bring in a minimum standard of training for security personnel, while security companies should comply with a recognised code of conduct and there should be agreements covering rules of engagement. Under the plan, when a flag administration is approached by an owner, the owner would be referred to the association for advice on the use of the appropriate level of security and which companies can provide it.

The paper submitted to the MSC calls for consideration to be given to recognising an established maritime security services industry association to which a flag state might choose to refer vessel operators seeking maritime security advice and services.

Among the requirements it proposes for such an association to receive recognition by the MSC are:
• An association must recognise the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC) introduced last year by the Swiss Government.
• It should set and maintain clear minimum standards of acceptable maritime security service and professionalism and equipment, technology and hardware provision through an established code of conduct and appropriate rules for the use of armed force.
• It should vet each potential member and their operatives.
• It should provide the framework for training, certification, competence and recruitment.

An additional paper has been submitted by the Cook Islands covering the ICoC and the minimum standards these prescribe.

As a part of these positive developments the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) is in the process of rolling out – and will be formally launched in May in London to coincide with MSC89. See for more details.

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