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.

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