The use of armed security personnel should not be considered as an alternative to Best Management Practices
S4S: Could you provide some background information regarding security companies and piracy?
PGM : Over the last 2 years, we have seen a rapid growth in the number of companies taking security guards on board their vessels. Some recent statistics by the Indian flag administration, suggest that 35 per cent of ships transiting the High Risk Area of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, contract armed guards for protection against pirates. The more the vessels that use armed teams, the greater the risk for those that do not. This has been spurred by the development of Piracy into a mature criminal enterprise with training and desperate pirates lured by the promise of the equivalent of a year’s wages for a single success in hijacking. Whilst NATO, EUNAVFOR and other military agencies have done well to reduce the threat within the IRTC, the frequent use of mother vessel by pirates has simply displaced the problem further from military assistance and aid. This, combined with the greater proficiency in boarding tactics, has increased the use of armed guards on board vessels. This has both pros and cons. Not only for the companies that use armed teams but also for those that use unarmed security or none at all.
S4S: What are these pros and cons of using armed teams on board?
PGM : Simply put, having armed security on board is very successful. No ship was ever been hijacked while having an armed team on board, up till now. A team of armed guards allows defense of the vessel, if passive ship protection measures fail. We need to keep those measures either way. Then, you get peace of mind, the crew, the master, the operator. You may get reductions and this comes to your insurance premiums from your underwriters. Armed teams, allow us to secure low and slow, high vulnerable vessels. Concerning the cons, it can be logistically complex. You need additional declarations, paperwork, inspections. There may be a difficulty in adhering flag and port regulations. Not all flag administrations allow the use of armed guards. Having an armed team on board may lead to an escalation of violence. From our experience, this is not the case or rarely is the case. When the vessel is properly hardened and the security team along with the watches perform their duties and we have an attack, usually a couple of well-placed warning shots are enough to avoid an attack. Also, there are cowboys. There are incompetent teams out there and these teams with weapons don’t make fine bed fellows. It can be dangerous. Proper vetting of the security company that you will contract is critical. It may increase liability exposure and may lead to potential damage of your image or reputation, in case an accident happens of course.
S4S: Considering an alternative, what are the pros and cons of unarmed teams?
PGM : There are fewer restrictions by the flag administrations etc. when you use unarmed guards. The crew will feel better and the pirates are more cautious when they realize that there is a security team on board. However, due to the fact that there are more armed teams deployed on vessels, pirates are looking for unarmed vessels. They will avoid confrontation with armed teams and try to find an easier target. Finally, the presence of unarmed teams will increase the determination and desperation of pirates.
S4S: What is your guidance to those considering the use of armed guards?
PGM : First of all, the use of armed security personnel is not and should not be considered as an alternative to Best Management Practices and other protective measures. For the selection of a provider due diligence is important. A new company is not necessarily bad and an old company is not necessarily good. There are plenty of cowboys out there. There are various considerations about weapons. Illegal or inappropriate weapons, lack of proper license and documentation may result to master arrest or vessel delays. Each port state has different restrictions and requirements and you must ensure your provider of choice adheres to those requirements. Also, very low prices usually mean that the provider is cutting corners. Quality is important. Finally, I’d say that an armed team should still add value beyond fire arms.
Panos G Moraitis is Managing Director at Aspida Maritime Security
The above interview is adapted from Panos G Moraitis’ presentation at 2nd Safety4Sea Forum
You can view Panos G Moraitis’ presentation video during the 2ndSafety4Sea Forum