Wednesday 21 September 2011

Article: The Growing Business of Armed Guards on International Ships (to Counter Piracy)

We often wonder, when reading of news stories involving piracy, who are the people at the forefront of dealing with this problem day to day. I mean if you mention any of the places we commonly associate with piracy to a 'normal' marine professional / surveyor they would baulk at the offer of a trip there or a project involving sorting something out there. 

However, one company that springs to mind is Gray Page. They specialise in maritime investigations, crisis management and providing plans and intelligence in handling such situations. Check out their website for further information (linked above).

One of the issues they are presently warning about is the fact that there is an increasing need to vet companies offering armed guard (private security services) services to vessels. This is a burgeoning market at the moment and it appears that some think that a cautious approach needs to be taken to those rushing to enter the market.  

Gray Page advised that the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee’s (MSC) recently approved interim guidance on the employment of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) to combat piracy underlines the requirement for independent vetting of private armed maritime security providers (AMSP).

The MSC guidance, issued in May, incorporates recommendations for flag States confirming that it is the responsibility of individual flag States whether to ordain the carriage of security personnel and their firearms on board ships sailing under their flags. Further interim guidance, for shipowners, ship operators and shipmasters, seeks to address the difficulties faced in selecting an appropriate provider of armed security services.

James Wilkes, managing director, Gray Page, commented: “The IMO should be commended for setting these guidelines focused, as they are, on ensuring that the provision on board of armed maritime security teams is managed safely and lawfully.”

“For a shipowner, employing the services of an armed maritime security provider is an exceptionally serious proposition, as the logical consequence of putting men with arms on board a ship is, fundamentally, to sanction the potential use of lethal force to defend the crew and vessel (albeit in extreme and proscribed circumstances). Any decision of such importance should be supported by comprehensive and objective due diligence.”

Gray Page has launched an ‘Armed Maritime Security Provider’ Vetting Programme to provide shipowners with a reliable and independent means of vetting prospective providers of armed maritime security services. The programme helps shipowners objectively and comprehensively evaluate prospective providers against professional, legal and ethics-based criteria encompassing corporate probity, financial substance, regulatory and legislative compliance, commercial experience, contractual integrity, operational and logistical capability, weapons licensing and accountability, and the selection, recruitment and training of security personnel.

About one in ten vessels off the Somali coast already carry armed guards. The IMO claims there were 489 reports of piracy and armed robbery against ships in 2010 - up more than 20% on 2009. So far this year more than 200 cases have been reported.

Update October 2011 - We are told that the North of England P&I Club (a member of the International Group of P&I Clubs) has partnered with Gray Page to provide armed guard vetting services to all its members. 


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