Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coming Home to Roost

This is a guest post:

There is always a bit of risk with off-the-cuff humor. Of course, we will try to refrain from asking for a picture of Skipper from Gilligan's Island the next time an issue with a Captain comes up (In Response to this ) and we'll certainly not hold it against the whole industry if you have some problems missing bridges (just lept into the way--did it?) or staying awake at the helm like one ship master recently in the Baltic. We'll keep it professional,all we ask is the same courtesy.

The first issue here is who is responsible. That is pretty simple. The flag state is responsible for administering law on board the vessel. The Master is responsible for seeing that the ship follows the law, companies are responsible for ensuring that their practices comply with the law and individuals are responsible for adhering to the law.

What has happened, however, is that the maritime industry has been allowed to cut some corners. Anybody heard of the Mongolian Coast Guard?--well, they apparently have a ship in the Red Sea. This is the issue of flags of convenience.

Countries have been able to set themselves out as flags of convenience. This means that a ship can be registered in that country with only a basic corporate presence tied to that nation--and it is often used because companies are attempting to save in terms of taxes and the efforts associated with regulatory burdens.

What is also noteworthy is that some of these countries which have amassed rather large fleets (as opposed to others which have solid maritime safety, security, pollution control and other programs which have smaller fleets) have rather small navies, coast guards or inspectorates. In fact, some of them have organizations that could be put to shame (in terms of numbers) by a first year criminology class.

So, for the first issue, a suggestion might be that the IMO put in place measures that require nations that are going to allow their flag to be used to demonstrate (credibly...not just a note) that they have the ability to administer law on board the vessel. If not, then they should list that flag as being incomplete in this regard and less trustworthy as opposed to other flags that do put the effort in.

The second issue involves who is responsible on board the vessel. This is something that is a bit of a surprise as most companies were working on the assumption that the Master is. Now, I can understand how he or she might be a bit concerned about the whole idea of suddenly being in charge of an incident...but this is the new reality in many parts of the world and it gets handled like everything else. First you see it. Then you get educated or trained about it Then you get some experience about it. Then it is all about learning as you go. It's not rocket science but there has to be somebody in charge of the situation on board the vessel and the last time I checked it was still the Master.

That being said, the Master is not defenseless. In many countries, where a company's directors and executives make decisions that cause employees to come into conflict with the law, they are also held responsible. So, if the shipping company responsible for the Master's decisions and ship operations puts the master in this position...there's one source. At the same time, private security companies need to be able to demonstrate that they have an adequate corporate structure in place to ensure appropriate and consistent quality and supervision. Otherwise, there are some issues there. That being said, the trails upward are pretty straight forward.

The third issue involves the use of the military.This has been one of the larger errors, in my own personal view. Military forces are trained to project power and neutralize the enemy. This is not about neutralizing pirates. At the same time, the protection of the vessel is not a law enforcement pattern issue in that law enforcement deals with imposing the will of the state to ensure compliance with law, maintenance of public order and the like. What this is about is protecting the ship's personnel, assets (including cargo) and operations in such a way that it can carry on with the best possible opportunity to arrive where it wants to go on time, in acceptable condition, and for reasonable cost.

IAMSP has, for over a year now, been vetting those companies that have come forward to it. That vetting process, based on Quality Assurance requirements, maritime circulars (including, but not limited to MSC 1405), and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers. This structure has been established using the internationally recognized standards developed by ISO--meaning that it can have a properly global perspective as opposed to one standards association--and also involves the concept of continuous improvement--companies receive assistance in terms of continuously improving their performance over a couple of years in the program.

There has been a level of back-biting against private security in the media, even out of some assumedly respectable blogs, that warrants a response after this incident--involving serving naval personnel, not private security. From the IAMSP perspective, our member companies that have achieved provisional recognition can show that they meet standards on par with other professional communities (we used the legal, medical and engineering as the basis for ours). We have a number (over ten) more companies that are well underway in the vetting process.

These incidents are unfortunate, indeed tragic for at least two families involved. The professional approach to this is to work through finding out the facts and not turning it into a political quagmire. After the facts are figured out, then the next step is to do the right thing, correct the deficiencies and learn from it so that we don't see it again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Italian Navy Kill Fisherman - Not Pirates

Investigation is continuing into a possible case of mistaken identity off of the west Coast of INDIA. On 15 February 2012 (1747), reports indicated that the Italian Navy had thwarted pirate attacks against the Enrica Lexie. In that report, the riflemen of the San Marco Batallion acting as a Vessel Protection Detail, engaged what was interpreted to be a threat from pirates around 1230 local time. The article from AGLit is available HERE
Concurrently, the HINDU times reported that "Two fishermen were shot dead in the high seas"(Article available HERE )  off of AMBALAPUHZA on Wednesday evening after having been mistaken for pirates. In both media reports, the name of the vessel (Enrica Lexi) was specifically and clearly identified and it has been indicated that the events were reported to the Coast Guard.

There are significant differences in the reported events. While Italian media are being rather consistent in terms of indicating that soldiers followed procedures for opening fire three times to dissuade the pirates and, after the third volley, the pirates left. The Hindu Times, however, indicated that the vessel was hit by a shower of bullets that lasted about two minutes and, in order to escape the gun fire, they sailed away from the vicinity of the vessel.

Of particular note is that the fishing vessel is reporting that it was within INDIA's territorial waters at the time of the firing. The Indian Coast Guard has indicated that fishing vessels will often come close to merchant vessels in order to prevent them from damaging their nets.

While the loss of life in this case would appear to be both regrettable and difficult to explain until a full investigation has taken place, it serves to illustrate that the use of military forces on board vessels does not preclude events of this nature. This should be clearly understood, particularly given certain groups within the shipping community that are demanding the use of military personnel on board their vessels in lieu of private security personnel.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Somalia-Piracy-Under Reporting Incidents

An article was published recently by Bloomberg which can be found HERE ,and below the article we have posted some thoughts:
Private armed guards placed on merchant vessels to protect them against Somali pirates are under-reporting attacks, according to the European Union naval force patrol-ling in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Security teams are concealing de-tails even though industry practice is to alert armed forces about any attacks or pirate sightings, Simon Church, EU Navfor's industry liaison officer, said Wednesday at a piracy forum in London.
"Security teams are shaping this on-board decision-making for reasons of liability, because of the action they may have taken to defend ships against attack," said Church, who works at a counter-piracy base in Northwood, England.
The number of armed guards stationed on ships travelling through the region jumped this year as pirate attacks soared to a record and countries including the U.K. changed laws to allow weapons on board. Somali pirates cost the shipping industry and governments as much as $6.9 billion last year, according to a One Earth Future Foundation report.
As many as half of all ships sailing through the region now use armed guards, the foundation said at the forum. That's up from 25 per cent earlier this year, and companies providing security earn $530.6 mil-lion annually, it estimated. A total of 42,450 vessels pass through the region annually, it says.
Church cited a "disconnect" between the number of attacks expected last year, based on military intelligence assessments of pirates' strength, and levels in 2009 and 2010. A "plausible argument" can be made that the increase in armed guards was the cause, he said.
Somali pirate attacks rose to 237 in 2011 from 219 in the previous year, according to figures from the London-based International Mari-time Bureau. No legal framework exists to establish how armed guards should interact with pirates and what happens if any attackers are killed or injured, Pottengal Mukundan, the bureau's director, said at the forum.
Military counter-piracy forces are reluctant to co-operate with private companies that provide armed guards, James Butler-Wright of Aegis Advisory said at the forum. The consultant helps companies assess and adjust exposure to risk.
"Private security is desperate to work with the military," said Butler-Wright, a senior maritime analyst at Aegis. "We get shut down pretty quickly" when seeking information from navies, he said."

Recent comments were made that private security firms have dropped off reporting out of concerns regarding the liability associated with their actions. I would propose that this statement is less than complete and certainly less than representative. Some other reasons (for discussion), why these reports have dropped off.

Number 1 - even though approaches and suspicious activities were reported to the centers, they were dismissed as being "fishermen", "groups of fishermen" or even "curious skiff operators." After a while, people that report in (similar to calling the police in a city) suspicious activity stop doing so because the reports are simply dismissed (just so and so acting out).

Number 2 - even though approaches or suspicious activities were reported to the centers, no information was returned back. In short, reporting into the centers was a one way street where private security companies were reporting in and getting little to nothing of value in return. I will personally vouch for at least one time where I reported in activity and, when I asked if there was anything else in the area, was told that the information was entered into the military system but could not be shared with private security companies (this was a witnessed report by the way).

Number 3 - even though reports went in, there were several instances where the reports were never acknowledged or posted where other companies could use them.

Number 4 - more than one instance is on the books where security went to report in and was informed that they (ship operator) did not want a report in because of insurance issues.

I would propose that the statements being made, while potentially having a grain of truth somewhere, is as much about projecting a point of view and deflecting the issue.