Who Are You?
With shipping facing a threat like no other off Somalia it seems we have been abandoned with only a private unregulated army of former soldiers and marines, gap year students and nightclub bouncers, to turn too.
As around 23,000 vessels transit the piracy zone each year against pirates, more shipowners and operators have turned to the private security industry and armed guards on their vessels.
Up to now armed guards have been a very effective deterrent, and no “armed” vesssels have yet been successfully boarded and hijacked. That kind of statistic shouts loudly, but it has also meant that has more owners place armed guards onboard then there is a need to dig a little deeper into the ethics and backgrounds of those providing the service. Just who are the companies providing the services? Who are the people they are placing onboard?
Quoted in Lloyd’s List, Peter Cook, founder of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) said, “There are a whole range of entrepreneurs out there looking for short-term gain”.
“These short-term operators are nothing more than a man with a laptop and a BlackBerry, working from a coffee shop. Reputable owners can’t compete and there’s no way shipowners can differentiate.”
These concerns about potential “cowboys” led Cook, partially funded by the Marshall Islands flag registry, and around 20 major maritime security companies to establish an industry association.
Cook is representing the Marshall Islands as a maritime security adviser at some of the meetings scheduled at this week’s Maritime Security Committee at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), London. For the first time, the committee will discuss establishing a code of practice for private maritime security providers, and the message to the IMO is “regulate or regret”, Cook said.
There’s a “big black hole of guidelines”, says Steven Jones, another SAMI founder. Many are companies that have “bolted on” a maritime component to their land-based private security business, deploying men on the “circuit” from Iraq and Afghanistan. Shipowners and operators need to know who’s who, Jones argues, with standards and guidelines set rather than allowing the sector to morph into “a devil child outside the scope of everyone”.
“At the moment you can be given a polo shirt with a logo on it and told you can go and shoot pirates,” says Jones. “For every operative from the Royal Marines with a pristine service record… there’s another person whose background you just don’t know about. “I’ve heard of one guy [hired] who was on his gap year, even nightclub bouncers. Companies can get away with it.”
Many men are “spat out of the military system somewhere” with unknown histories, he says. “A lot of the quality companies out there get fed up when they lose their contract by being undercut by a man at a coffee shop with a mobile phone.”
The time for proper oversight, management and governance has arrived and as the IMO Maritime Safety Committee begins its historic 89th session, we hope that change is about to be delivered.