Piracy: Response & Training Officers

As pirate attacks fall away in some regions, alternatives to armed guards are sought.

The Need for Response & Training Officers

Guest Article by: John Twiss MSyI

Lies, damned lies and statistics. There is so much hyperbole in the media at the moment about the threat of pirate attack or the lack of it, be that the ongoing threat in E & W Africa HRA, SEA or the threat from ISIS in the Med that CSOs and Ship management companies are left pondering the “should I, shouldn’t I?” of paying for Private Maritime Security Company (PMSC) provision and in the most part, the hiring of an armed security team.

On the one hand there are the doom merchants with the odd press article and plenty on social media who espouse the line that although there have been no vessels hijacked in a couple of years in the Indian Ocean or Gulf of Aden High Risk Area HRA, the threat is still very real and probing approaches are taking place on a regular basis. As an example, here is a quote from a security professional on the region:

“I fear that your messages will be well received by those who look for weakness in our security, indeed with ISIS more active than ever, I fully expect them to start financing an upsurge in piracy in the HRA with its consequences.”

You also have the Iranian Navy, who seem to thwart an attack or rescue a merchant ship every time their vessels are in the area of the Bab al Mandeb straight, although none of these have been confirmed by independent bodies. Most of the doom merchants are PMSCs, maritime security intelligence companies or individuals who make their living based on a perception of the risk and the mitigation they can provide to that perception.

On the other hand you have the naysayers who say that piracy is dead and buried in the Western Indian Ocean/Gulf of Aden. This quote comes from a Somali Lawyer, in one of the professional maritime groups on LinkedIN:

“…beyond bare assertions there is no evidence to support the idea that Somalia poses a continuing threat of piracy, such that neither the maintenance of the breadth of the HRA and permanent use of armed guards is warranted”.

The naysayers are often to be found amongst the ranks of shipping industry professionals who have opposed the use of armed guards for a variety of sound safety reasons.

Under- or over-hyped? I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Again, the debate on LinkedIN is often a good source for testing the water, as this quote demonstrates:

“Whilst there has been little change in the composition and readiness of pirate networks, both the security dynamics and political parameters onshore in Somalia (which once inspired fear and protected piracy enabling it to take hold and then to flourish) no longer remain. The Somali piracy model was always based on the ability to move a hijacked vessel close to a secured coastline, with on shore militia and the ability to receive cash ransoms and escape inland. In the absence of a safe port, Somali piracy as a model cannot operate. Somali piracy will only return if the current political progress (painfully slow as it is) were to collapse and the AMISOM contingent (which has created space for political dialogue) is withdrawn, that said, there remains over a thousand kilometres of coastline without any formal security presence”.

So what is the answer? Caution is the watchword and the answer lies with more use of unarmed Response and Training Officers (RTO) and targeted use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP). The attack on the Sirius Star in 2008 signalled to the world that piracy was a big problem in the Indian Ocean; for those in the know the problem had been around for a couple of years before the Sirius Star incident and there was a select group of companies and consultants providing in the main unarmed security provision in the region. Provision that relied on skill sets primarily learnt in the hostile environments of Oil & Gas security in West Africa, notably Nigeria. That provision relied on self-reliance, good procedures, an understanding and implementation of Ship Protection Measures (SPM) backed by an understanding of the workings of a merchant vessel and an empathy with the bridge team.

No one is saying that an armed team does not provide the best protection and armed teams have proved themselves time and time again as the ultimate deterrent. What has happened though over the past few years is that the price of armed provision has been driven down to the extent that you have in many cases very inexperienced teams of men with varying degrees of competency; many of the experienced guys who understood the need for SPM in a multi-layered approach have left the industry. Armed teams have become the default solution and notwithstanding there are a great many vessels with a high freeboard and speed that do not need an armed team but are still using them for the lack of or the knowledge of an alternative.

An over reliance on armed teams has led to many of the PCASP at sea today, many whom have only been in the industry a short while with little knowledge or experience to operate as a standalone RTO providing the provision described above.

The use of RTOs who understand the layered approach is the way ahead for cost effective maritime security provision. Provision that embeds an RTO with the crew – the RTO engenders a sense of confidence through his mentoring, training, drills and implementation of best management practice (BMP) procedures. He takes the weight off the bridge team’s shoulders and helps build the capacity for better situational awareness.

Employing an RTO is investing in a crews’ resilience. It also removes the security connotation that can cause so much aggravation for ship management and their vessels with port state control and contracting government administration. The RTO travels on a seaman’s book, is on the watch bill, is a member of the crew and is there for you in times of crisis. As a maritime security option – particularly in regions where PMSCs cannot legally operate with firearms – the advantages are clear.

The views and opinions expressed in guest articles do not necessarily reflect those held by Marsecreview.com.

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3 Replies to “Piracy: Response & Training Officers”

  1. Tim West

    John Twiss has again produced a well structured article, based on sound knowledge and endless experience. Time will tell where the future lies with Armed protection teams, but he has hit the nail on the head regarding the current skill set being employed in the whole in that capacity. The new ISPS Mandatory Security training will, at best raise some industry awareness to the generalised security issues facing todays Seafarers.

  2. Dave Wakelam

    I think this article hits the nail on the head, especially the comment about prices being driven down leading to a drop in standards. I also agree with Tim West’s comment regarding the ISPS Mandatory security training.

  3. Brian Phelan

    Excellent article from John. Like him (and sometimes with him) I cut my security teeth as a sole adviser on vessels in the GoG. There was little room for getting things wrong more than once when it came to knowing ‘the way of a ship’, knowing and implementing SPMs, having local knowledge, analysing intelligence and managing local GSF provision. PCASP have been highly effective in relation to a specific threat in a specific theatre but this makes them ‘one trick ponies’. I intend no slight by that but we won’t see them deployed in the GoG or SE Asia and their impending absence from the Somali theatre will leave a vacuum which, if it isn’t filled by RTOs (a new acronym for me), might just be filled by more piracy.

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