PMSC checklist

Private maritime security companies (PMSCs) exploded in numbers as the Somali threat hit world shipping three to four years ago.

There are plenty who have come very late to the private security cash cow, many who have debatable qualifications that have besmirched the sector as a whole. Many owners have been hoodwinked by companies who have failed to offer professional services.

With so many private maritime security firms touting for business, how does a shipowner sort the wheat from the chaff? Maritime security is still a relatively immature industry. The pieces are still in flux and it will be some time before it settles into anything close to a homogeneous industry with an accepted and acceptable level of service and professionalism.
As the number of companies entering the market continues to grow, it is “inevitable” that there will be “significant variances” in the quality, integrity and professionalism of the services being offered.

Services can range, from a highly professional, vetted, regulated and trained company, to an opportunistic start-up that chooses not to comply with any existing standard and offers low cost maritime security to hard-pressed shipowners. Many weaker security companies now look to undercut the competition by deploying smaller teams. This results in too few and poorly trained guards working hours outside of normal legal safeguards securing multi-million dollar maritime assets.  

BIMCO’s Guardcon standard contract recommends four guards. The average vessel requiring protection requires observation and the facility to prevent an attack from all sides. The master, who is legally responsible under flag state law for the actions onboard his vessel, must be appraised of the tactical threat as it evolves.

The master must have best advice before he grants permission to escalate a response to attack. The security team leader’s place is and should always be at the side of the master. The remaining members of a four-man team, according to standard practice, will be sent port, starboard and to the stern – which is where the threat is greatest or situational awareness is considered to be lacking. If one, two or three guards are used and a vessel comes under attack, the team leader invariably must leave the master’s side to defend the vessel. The master should have the facility to order the guards to stop. This is easy if a team leader is next to the master, but on a very large crude carrier, the team leader could be 200m away.

The watch roster for a four-man team also allows for a sustainable eight-hour shift pattern with a doubling up of armed watch during high threat periods for an extended transit period. ln contrast, a three or two man team increases the workload on the team. lt can maintain a round-the-clock watch roster for only a short period before becoming overly fatigued. In this scenario the ship's crew must be responsible at times to alert the security team. This subverts the very reason why trained guards are onboard.  

Over the past few years there has been an increasing move towards the introduction of standards in the maritime security industry, something welcomed by those, keen to improve the overall reputation of this still nascent industry. Although we are still not at the point yet where there is an accepted international standard, ISO 280007 represents real progress and potential.

The standard offers a transparent benchmark for shipping companies and importantly, provides a stamp of approval. If the ultimate aim is to draw upon this standard and channel it through international and national law then this may well be a robust foundation for the normalisation and standardisation of armed guarding practices globally.

Owners seeking private maritime security firms should use a checklist of what they need to be asking, something vital in today’s shark-infested sea of unscrupulous security offerings.  When a shipowner or manager wants to appoint a security firm they must check that the firm owns the weapons to be used in transit, if not they are illegal and the liability then risks being passed to the owner. Owners should also check a security firm’s insurance documentation, as well as its standard operating procedures for rules of engagement and rules for the use of force. Owners or managers should also demand proof that the security team personnel are qualified and experienced. This is important for many reasons, including insurance. The shipowner must also ask for testimonials from previous or current clients.

There is no doubt legislation and ISOs for the vast majority of the Private Maritime Security Companies to follow is welcomed and should be embraced as it make the companies look all grown up and in line with what P&I clubs, insurance entities, governing bodies and the like expect

In short, owners are advised to scrutinise with extreme care any PMSC.

Source: Maritime CEO

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