Friday, February 26, 2010

Tug and Towage Security

The security for a tug and towage operation is unique to the maritime security industry. this is the type of operation that really emphasizes the there is no "One Size Fits All" in the security field. Usually this type of transit travels at a very low speed (5 - 7 knots) and the towed asset is far behind (500 - 700 meters) making it a very high risk transit operation.

Recently, a tug was hijacked in the South China Sea, and yesterday located in the Southern Philippines. This gives added awareness that the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean regions are not the only high risk areas.
ISSG Holdings, Ltd. knows the challenges faced by tug operators and is prepared to offer solutions for tug and towage transits.

Weather good for Piracy Now

Today's weather charts prove good conditions for piracy in the Indian Ocean:


It appears that the average wind speed is only about 10 knots and there is no real weather, with the exception of rain in the area of Kenya.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Token Security

Is there a balance between security and the business bottom line? Of course there is, it is the basis of risk management. That being said, there is a problem that can arise when those that are obviously less capable in the security domain begin to decide to prioritize the bottom line to such a point that the security controls that people expect to be in place can no longer be trusted.
Consider this—currently there is a certain government that believes that sitting a person in front of a basic video presentation will prepare that individual for the challenges associated with operating in pirate-infested waters. Frankly, the idea is ridiculous.
First, consider the level of training. When we look to train an individual to handle a difficult task or a dangerous situation, we do so under controlled situations where the individual’s knowledge and skills are brought up to a level through careful instruction. It may begin with a video of a situation that they may encounter, but it gradually progresses to a point where the individual can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of a trained and capable instructor, that he or she not only has the knowledge and skills to perform the tasks demanded, but also the physical and mental attributes that are also part of the individual’s ability to protect themselves.
Second, the individual does not learn about themselves sitting in front of the television. He or she learns from experience that stresses their limits so that they understand how they are going to react under difficult conditions. This is a key element in the anti-piracy realm. Will the individual react in terms of fight or flight if attacked? Will they freeze or respond? The individual’s comprehension of how they are likely to respond under these kinds of conditions is key to being able to implement a plan or maintain good and discipline under the difficult conditions of an attack or boarding.
Third, most combat veterans will inform you that many functions are basic muscle memory that comes from the rigours of repetitive training where the individual is required to perform correct tasks well many times so that they can respond nearly automatically during those critical first moments of an engagement. Again, watching videos will not do this. This requires training that requires the individual to both understand what needs to be done and then to go and do it.
The issue here is really one of due diligence and potentially negligence. Consider this, a seafarer has a reasonable expectation that they will be prepared and equipped appropriately in situations where they are going face certain hazards—be these immersion suits, breathing apparatus, or other equipment. Second, there is no need to identify whether or not the seafarer is affected by the actions of their officers or colleagues on board a vessel—we have not seen a seafarer get hijacked, just the ships. The seafarers are part of that package or entity. Finally, can it be argued that having an individual sit for a couple of hours and watch a video is adequate preparation to say that all reasonable steps have been taken to reduce the risk of harm?
Consider this, when we train an individual in their firefighting drills, we expect them to perform the drills. If they cannot perform the drills, we do not pass them. We practice the evacuation of the ship through lifeboat drills. If the individuals fail to reach the boats in time, we repeat the drill until they can. We practice first aid on mannequins or models, not simply read a book or watch TV about it. So, what is the basis for arguing that anti-piracy drills falls outside of this?
It is time to call a spade a spade. If the government involved wants to broadcast to the world that it is leading by example in anti-piracy training, it must do better. This is not to take away from the INTERTANKO best practices or their application, only in how a certain government is using those practices as a crutch that can be considered little more than a media exercise. This is not a new issue in maritime security—but the lessons learned as a result of three crew members that recently died before their return could be affected, should be a stark reminder to those making those decisions that they are in the real world, not the studio. This practice is unfair to the seafarer and the shipping community by giving them a false sense of security, as they are the individuals and organizations that suffer the impact associated with this risk.

Gulf of Aden Armed Vessel Escorts

Piracy has adapted to the naval presence in the Gulf of Aden, and of course has spread widely throughout the Indian Ocean. Although it is a great help to have Naval forces in the IRTC, and the organization of convoys through the area, it is obvious that this system is problematic. The naval forces themselves have admitted that they can respond to incidents, but that individual ships must take responsibility for their own welfare and protection.

Some private security companies have entered into cooperative arrangements with the Yemen Coast Guard and Navy to offer armed services. There are a few issues with this concept. The "Jawa Report"
outlines the corruption issues in this regard. In addition, a vessel must travel outside the IRTC area to gain this security, which enhances risk instead of maximizing risk mitigation.

There is no 'cookie cutter' approach to piracy and protection of merchant vessels. Each individual vessel is a separate entity when on the water. Each vessel should have its own vessel / transit specific risk assessment conducted before the transit, and only then can sound decision making be conducted in regards to the appropriate level of protection for that vessel. Even with the published "Best Management Practices" by international shipping organizations, due diligence most go further.

It appears that some have become complacent with the naval convoys in the IRTC, even to the point of not following basic anti piracy practices. With latest hijackings, it shows that even with the largest vessel, with the tallest free board, you still must plan and execute proper precautions during high risk transits.

ISSG has adapted to the current tactics and methods of piracy by enhancing our service to offer 'one on one,' armed vessel escorts. We have been able to accomplish this at a cost that is very affordable to the maritime industry through a special multiple transit structure, and can conduct these escorts throughout the gulf of Aden.

By conducting a one on one armed vessel escorts, with on firearms on board the merchant vessel, The liability to the shipping company is significantly reduced, and the vessel Master of the protected ship has no accountability for the actions taken by the escort vessel. We are prepared for any type of attack that the pirates may conduct, covering all sides of the vessel. The goal is to keep the pirates away from the merchant vessel in the first place. We believe in a multi-layered defense strategy, and the merchant vessel should still prepare itself according to Best Management Practices.

For pre contracting transits, according to a shipping companies needs, even the smaller shipping companies can take part in cost effective protection.

Complete protection needs complete planning and proper execution.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Explanation Warranted

Shipping companies have a certain expectation that if they are operating legitimately in the territorial waters of another nation, they will be afforded reasonable protection. Generally, the merchant shipping community receives this protection through law enforcement, coast guard or naval assets that are tasked to ensure that the waters they are operating in are reasonably clear of hostile or criminal elements.

The Yemeni Coast Guard has received significant support from the USA, and potentially other nations. This aid was provided, in the form of patrol vessels and funding, to reduce the risks associated with piracy, terrorism and from other criminal elements. Now there are reports that a private group of companies will, through an arrangement, charge vessels for an escort through Yemeni territorial waters with these vessels and the Yemeni Coast Guard / Navy being involved.

Those who work in the shipping industry should be seeing some red flags at this point.

Why should a shipping company enter into a contract (for any sum) for a service that they should rightfully insist upon? While a direct escort may not be possible, there is an element of potential double dipping that needs to be clarified at this point.

At the same time, there needs to be a clear understanding of the instructions given to these companies and escorting vessels. The claims are that they are using active coast guard personnel. If so, who has the primary authority over their use? Is the shipping company at risk of losing its escort when another situation arises? Is the situation such that the forces there are willing to forego the reasons for which they were given the vessels in return for generating profit for a private entity and covering some of its own operating costs?

There needs to be an accounting for the use of public funds in this case. Did the previous or current administrations understand that those assets could be used by the private sector for profit? And, if so, how much of the money is being recovered back to the public purse from those private entities—if any. The people in the USA deserve no less.

At the same time, the various administrations that are providing public funds in support of the Yemeni Coast Guard may want to seek some kinds of assurance that their funds are being put to good use and that the arrangements do not undermine their own strategic interests in the area. And if they do, perhaps a message should be passed on to the private sector companies that are supporting this arrangement that they are operating against the intents of their governments?

From a professional standpoint, one must be careful not to jump to conclusions. It is also important to understand that things may not be completely as they appear and that all parties have a right to be heard in order to ensure people can make informed decisions.

On the other hand, you have to ask yourself if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck and behaves like a duck…at what point can you just call it a duck and be done with it?
Our tax dollars at work?

In either case, the situation in Yemen warrants an explanation.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Using Military Forces for Vessel Escorts

Escalating the Issue: Military Forces and Ship Escorts;

Risk management involves balancing the efforts associated with protecting an organization against loss with the potential for those losses to occur, if left untreated. What needs to be understood, however, is that security risk is only one kind of risk faced by a shipping company—we cannot forget operational, legal and other kinds of risks. The contracting of military forces changes this balance significantly.

When we look at the use of military forces being paid by private interests to provide these kinds of services, we are entering a minefield of issues. Before we explore some of those, it should be clear there may well be cases where the military, its government and the private sector have come to legitimate arrangements regarding cost sharing. What also needs to be clear is that, like many other risk management activities, companies should be exercising their due diligence before falling prey to the hype and pictures of flashy patrol vessels.
The first question that should be asked is whether or not this approach is actually legal. This has three parts. First, does this ship’s flag state condone this sort of arrangement? If not, then you run risks associated with being identified less favorably for targeting purposes, increased inspections and how the flag state generally views your company. The second element involves the nation involved. Does the government of the military involved have knowledge of and endorse the activity, or are you dealing with a situation where a senior official is using his or her influence to use government resources for personal gain? The third aspect is whether or not the use of an armed escort vessel is significantly different (from a legal perspective) than having the armed personnel on your ship. If your company cannot put armed personnel on board because the flag state does not agree with the concept of armed defense, will it view the hiring of a warship as an attempt to bypass its own controls and ability to administer its laws on your vessel? This will be a question for legal departments and, for the unfortunate, the courts to decide.

The second element is more pertinent to military forces on board vessels and near conflict zones. Remember, pirates are in it for the money. When you bring military forces on board, the question is not just whether or not you are a target for pirates but whether or not those forces are a target for their own various adversaries—be they terrorists or other militaries. This means that you have a new range of threats and vulnerabilities to consider, including how you treat approaching smaller vessels and so forth. For example, in the case of a potential suicide attack against a vessel, do you want your crew buried in the bowels of the ship or nearer to avenues where they can get to the deck and other areas to begin fire fighting or escape a burning vessel? This kind of scenario calls into question whether or not your security is truly risk based from an all-hazards approach or simply addressing current issues.

These kinds of questions are the kinds of questions that need to be going through the Company Security Officer’s mind when looking at these kinds of issues. It is not that it is likely, but security has to look at the broad range of possibilities and probabilities to ensure that management is well served.

Finally, you need to wonder about the priorities of the military. What happens if the military forces are recalled by their nation in order to defend it? Will the forces remain on board the vessel or will you be diverted in order to drop them off? If they are on another vessel, can they be re-tasked in order to deal with search and rescue, enforcement or other activities? These kinds of issues should also be clarified in any discussions and should be clearly documented both in terms of what assurances the company has and who is responsible for any costs associated with that action, up to an including the vessel being taken by pirates when the defenders leave.

Another issue, particularly with vessels operating outside of their territorial waters, is whether or not the vessel (and its crew) can be treated the same way as a warship or an coast guard vessel. It is, after all, now a government vessel being operated for commercial purposes—opening a whole ream of legal grey zones that the company would do well to have clarified.

All things being equal, there should be a level of effort made by the company to ensure that it is well protected legally when entering into these kinds of arrangements. While there are reputable companies providing security services (and potentially even these kinds of arrangements), there are others that will simply latch onto any opportunity to make a dollar.

This does not even begin to address the challenges associated with the issue of sovereignty or rights of innocent passage (including the restrictions). If the warship remains within its own territorial waters, we have more than enough indication to show that the pirates know how to shift locations to where the escorting vessels do not operate. At the same time, if they exit territorial waters and enter the waters of another nation, there could be issues (depending upon the international agreements with the neighbors and the levels of tensions between them) with a warship or patrol craft suddenly entering into that nation’s sovereign territory. If the forces are on board the vessel, then the matter is even worse. On one hand, the flag state may have issues with allowing foreign military personnel on board the vessel. At the other end of the spectrum, the vessel may be expelled from the waters under certain conditions for violating the conditions associated with innocent passage or may be subject to a range of enforcement activities.
None of these are conducive to conducting business when your business involves moving persons or goods from one location to another efficiently.

In short, know what you are getting into and ensure that you have verified any claims being made regarding the appropriateness of the service with the governments involved.

Guest Post by; Allan McDougall
Evolutionary Security Management

Todays Weather for Pirates!

Today I have looked at the wind charts and weather conditions for the Pirates and it can not get much better than this.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

UAV's in Maritime Security

One reader has asked about the use of UAV's (Unmanned Ariel Vehicles) being used by merchant marine companies to combat piracy, and if we knew of any companies using them.

UAV's can be a great asset when transiting known hostile waters. However, there are a few issues associated with their use. First of all, before you would purchase and deploy a UAV, you would have to weigh the cost benefit ratio of the unit. In addition, the availability and functionality of the unit.

There are very good UAV's available on the commercial market, and there are UAV's that would offer no real benefit for maritime applications. Fist you must find a UAV that can be deployed and recovered on a moving vessel. There are basically two types. First, there is the fixed wing UAV and the helicopter model. there are companies offering both types that can be deployed from a moving vessel, however, recovery of the unit may be a challenge.

Of course the recovery of a helicopter type unit may be fairly easy to recover as compared to fixed wing, it is possible to recover a fixed wing UAV via net capture if necessary.

The cost of a UAV that is capable: Flight time, streaming video, endurance, day / night capabilities etc. ranges from about $115,000 to $385,000 per set. I say per set as they usually come in a set of two, complete with command and control. Should you lose one in the water, you can imagine the heavy replacement cost. On land, these units are much more acceptable. As you can see by the cost, one UAV system is worth about 4 - 12 armed transits through teh GOA

The next issue is functionality. In this we mean what will the UAV actually do for me, weighed against the training needed to  operate the UAV effectively. These are not units to purchase at the local remote controlled airplane store and operate with your kids. These are sophisticated pieces of equipment, supported by advanced computer systems.

I currently do not know of any merchant vessels employing the UAV systems, and for security companies to deploy them would basically be cost prohibitive in an effort to maintain competitiveness in the maritime security market.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Contracting Maritime Security

It’s not just the pirates that you need to look out for. Consider this; the goal of your shipping industry is the movement of persons and goods to an intended destination on time, in the right condition, and for a reasonable cost. While the threat associated with piracy is reasonably clear, there are some side issues that ship owners and operators should be aware of. This is the first of three that we want to make sure that ship owners are aware of before they find themselves in challenging positions.

The first shark in the water is the unethical broker. The unethical broker is little more than an opportunist who causes damage to both parties in the contracting process. For the client, this begins with an exorbitant fee on top of the contract—sometimes as high as 25% of the gross. For the ship operator, this means that on a $100K contract for ship security, it can lose $25K just on this one step. Security companies, like shipping companies, are in this as a business. This means that the security company will make one of two decisions—reduce the costs associated with delivering the same level of service or increase the price. The former represents less value in the contract and less assurance that the ship can be protected appropriately. The second is a financial pressure that can be ill-afforded in the shipping industry.

This kind of practice might be considered reasonable if it was honest. It is not. Many represent themselves as actual security companies that are delivering the services directly.

The first way that these unethical brokers operate is to gather a number of bids from security companies and then inflate them all with a “service fee” or “professional fee” –sometimes as high as 25% of the gross value of the contract. In short, the bid that you receive may be inflated significantly from what you should be paying. The second part of this is that the unethical broker may actually be presenting bids from several different companies, deliberately manipulating the bid to put them all into the same price range. The end result, you pay a lot more than you need to.

The second way is for the broker to disguise himself as a security service provider. This is one of those half-truths. In these cases, the unethical broker will offer a low-ball cost and will then cast about into the security provider community to see if anyone is willing to pick up the contract. Of course, the individual communicates that the contract is worth so much after his or her cut is removed—offering the remainder to the company. The end result is that the client receives significantly less value for his or her dollars.

So what can a company do about this? There are some easy steps that you can follow:
• First, require that the total cost be broken down into itemized costs;
• Second, require that any work that is not being done by the person you are dealing with is clearly identified and require the ability to meet directly with any subcontractors; and
• Third, require that bids clearly and concisely communicate the total costs to you—or at least clearly list those items that might be considered “additional” costs.
These simple steps are intended to ensure that you are receiving value for your dollars. Credible security companies are willing to be reasonably transparent about what they are billing you for. If they are vague or evasive, take a cue from their investigations manual and demand a straight answer to the question.

There are, of course, times when a good broker is invaluable. This value generally falls into two categories. First, the broker can save a great deal of time in the search and vetting processes. Good brokers treat unethical security companies the same way that security companies treat unethical brokers—they stay far apart. Second, the good broker can also provide an indication of price ranges and other information that can keep a company from either being pillaged by a security company or accepting a bid that is “too good to be true” and likely to fail. The key here is to understand that they are both in the market and to make sure you take a few steps to protect your own organization from the unethical ones.

This is a Guest Post by: Allan McDougal,
Of, Evolutionary Security Management, Inc.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Superficial Maritime Security

In any security field, security either needs to be conducted correctly, or not at all. The maritime security field is no different. every type of security operation has its own expertise, whether it be VIP security, compound security, convoy escorts through cities etc. Maritime security also has its own uniqueness. The largest issue we run into is providers that conduct what we call 'superficial' maritime security.

The example I will use is the Gulf of Aden transit escort. First of all, there is no one size fits all to maritime security, as each vessel is unique on the water. Vessels vary in size, speed and maneuverability, therefore each specific transit should have its own vessel / transit specific risk assessment, so that the security for that transit is based on sound security doctrine and all the appropriate considerations taken into account.

One of the most misleading issues to shipping companies, is the establishment of the IRTC. Of course the IRTC is a good plan and is patrolled by naval forces, however, the known piracy area is much longer than the IRTC area covers. Unfortunately, some security providers are using the IRTC as their coverage area when advising shipping companies of cost for transit security, whether it is on board security or escort.

In the example above, most escorts or on board security offered by security companies in the area follow the yellow line, usually within the territorial waters of Yemen and usually not even for the duration of the IRTC. However, due to the knowledge of the piracy area beginning inside the Red Sea and extending to at least to the mid point of Oman (port Duqm), the area covered by security companies should extend at least to these points.

Even with either escort, or on board security, vessels should remain transiting within the IRTC for the most complete mitigation of risk. the last thing a ship needs when transiting is to disembark a security team in Nishtun, Yemen and get attacked off the coast of Salalah, Oman. If this type of coverage is what is offered as a solution for your transit security, I would pose the question whether this is a security company you are talking to, or merely and "agent" for the Yemen Coast Guard or Navy who is just taking advantage of the piracy problem to earn off of everyone else. A real security provider will have their own capabilities, methodology and risk assessment ability, and would properly consult on the transit coverage area.