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.


  1. Since when did a Government/Corporation or Companies actions to limit their own liability, reduce their exposure to responsibility and Duty of Care have anything to do with the welfare, safety or security of the people that are involved -Crew/Stevadores, Port Workers etc... This is a simple "Cover our Backs" exercise that gives them a "Tick in the Box" conmfirmation for their Public Liability requirements. If they cared about their Merchant mariners, they would be doing far more and possibly some aspect of the areas you have mentioned, but they are not, they never will and nothing will change that.

  2. and shame the Government!!!