Global maritime security services provider, Securewest International, has called on the leading maritime regulatory bodies and, if necessary, governments to implement an international maritime security services ‘gold standard’ in a bid to halt the spread of unauthorized and inexperienced private security companies who may be carrying out dangerous or unlawful practices in the name of maritime security, often using Security Officers with little or no formal maritime training.
Commenting following his involvement in a recent BBC Scotland debate on the subject of piracy with guests The Honourable Gwyneth Dunwoody MP (Chair of the UK government’s Transport Committee) and Captain Pottengal Mukundan of the International Maritime Bureau, Securewest International’s vice president Paul Singer said that it is crucial for there to be a clear minimum guideline standard for security companies who operate in the maritime sector, and that this should be a matter of urgency in order to safeguard both the sovereignty of the countries in the worst effected areas and safety of other maritime crew workers.
“Three-quarters of the globe is covered in water that is widely recognised to be very sparsely policed says Singer. “We applaud Gwyneth Dunwoody and the UK government’s Transport Committee stance and help in raising the profile of the piracy issue, and in identifying that policing resources across the oceans of the world are massively overstretched. The knock on effect of this is a worrying influx of in experienced start-up companies looking to make fast money from issues such as piracy and terror alerts. For the sake of the lives of all crew (British and foreign) its vital that anyone involved in providing maritime security services, or legitimately supporting a government in its attempts to cleanse problems in their waters, is properly checked to establish that the advice and actions they offer are not causing more harm than good.
The issue at hand is also how to successfully monitor those private agencies who offer themselves as a solution to the problem of piracy, often for over-inflated prices, and who are left to operate unchecked.
“Securewest International is a private security company, not a private military company, and we have over 18 years experience behind us. There is a big difference between the two and if the there were some form of standard for both private security and private military companies to meet then shipping companies and governments would have greater confidence in their use and deployment, ultimately leading to much improved security in the seas around the world, and help to drive pirates back to shore."
The Transport Committee’s recent report states that ‘the growth in piracy over the past decade represents an appalling amount of violence against the maritime community. It is completely unacceptable. We must be clear about what piracy involves: kidnapping, theft, assault, rape, wounding, murder. There is nothing remotely 'romantic' about the perpetrators of these appalling crimes, or their detestable activity. The Government needs to take the upward trend of violent attacks seriously, and to take action to reverse it.’
“The important questions we have to ask are what is being done about it and what help and guidance can be given to shipping companies who have been largely left by themselves to seek protection from intruders? There is no standard for them to check security companies against, and ultimately they could even be unwittingly letting terrorists or pirate reconnaissance groups on board.
“Following the release of the committee’s report, we have formally offered the UK government assistance with any initiatives or discussions designed to counter the threat to vessels at sea. What we are looking for is best practice and what we want to see is a body like the IMO create a register of approved maritime security services providers which governmental, shipping and port authorities can rely upon to deal with situations involving piracy and the provision of services at sea.
“In addition, there should be an internationally agreed set of standards and service delivery which must be met by anyone offering maritime security services to vessels or maritime facilities. This would include set standards of training; rules of engagement; use of deadly force; use of non-lethal weapons and their particular rules of engagement; reporting procedures; and standards of vetting of Security Officers and their administration support”, Singer continues.
“A good example of the dangers that the current unregulated systems throws up is in the Malacca Straits where reports suggest some private military security companies appear to have taken advantage of the apparent weakness of Malaysia's governance over its territorial waters, claiming that they were licensed to carry out armed escorts in the country's waters when in fact no Malaysian authority or agency had given such approval.
“Whilst the current problems with pirates persist and future problems with terrorism grow, demand for security support will increase but uncertainty over costs, levels of service, and lack of confidence are hindering their use by the majority of ship owners. You can pay a high price for a poor service or, as many companies do, get by without help to save costs and find that they face a huge ransom demand when crew are taken by armed intruders.“
As far as Securewest International is concerned, one thing is certain. The issue of regulation needs to be urgently addressed in order to produce a cohesive, efficient and effective action plan which would both address the role of private security and protect a host country's integrity and sovereignty.
Singer concludes; “Securewest International has spent years recruiting professionals from the armed forces and building up its strong reputation in the field of maritime security, and operates on behalf of many of the world’s best known shipping companies. However, much of that hard earned reputation can be tarnished by almost vigilante style elements who pop up without the necessary experience to deal with the myriad of maritime security issues that
can arise, including regulatory compliance, only to disappear off into the sunset when it all goes horribly wrong.”