Using the services of private maritime security companies became well-considered during the height of pirate infestations in the years 2009 to 2011.
Since vessels are vulnerable to boarding on the high seas, the use of armed guards was an option for preventing attacks.
However, maritime stakeholders were not in full agreement when it came to arming vessels with people having guns.
But in 2011, a radical change occurred. The International Chamber of Shipping changed its stance regarding the use of armed guards. They stated that using them is the shipowner and flag state’s decision.
Even so, the IMO didn’t have any clear stand when it comes to Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) or armed guards.
Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) or armed guards work for Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs). They are former military men who worked in special forces or marines.
Why are ships not equipped with guns?
The maritime industry has long enjoyed the benefit of “free and innocent passage”. It is a legal right of any merchant vessel to exercise freedom of navigation in the high seas.
Article 19.1 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that
“Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State”.
Additionally, it goes on to express that passage shall be considered prejudicial if the foreign vessel engages in any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind.
Another reason is that countries have laws prohibiting ships from carrying guns due to arms trafficking issues.
Insurance and Shipowners
Marine insurance companies may also raise premiums if guns are carried on board since it poses additional risks to the safety of the crew.
If guns are allowed, shipowners may have to spend extra money for licensing these firearms and training the crew on board on how to use and maintain them.
If you are a chemical, product, or oil tanker, exchanging bullets between armed guards and the pirates may pose a risk of explosion.
Besides, why would a commercial company buy weapons and train its crew to use weaponry?
But the biggest risk is already inherent when guns are present.
Crew members may mistakenly use it to fire upon unsuspecting vessels thus creating turmoil against the the territorial state.
Or he may use it to hurt someone on board or those people in port when a heated argument or fight breaks out.
Why putting Armed Guards on ships is a big issue
Maritime security companies may not be making the headlines when it comes to security incidents involving armed guards.
But there are already events where Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel made serious errors costing innocent lives at sea.
On 15 February 2012, two Italian marines aboard an Italian-flagged oil tanker Enrica Lexie allegedly killed two fishermen off the western coast of India.
The incident sparked tensions between the two countries which eventually led to payment compensation to the crew members.
But this issue brought into light the risks of having armed guards on board.
Excessive use of force
Another consideration between industry stakeholders and maritime security companies is the excessive use of force.
Excessive use of force is when armed guards unleash an overwhelming firepower to a perceived threat or a skiff which is still in the process of identifying as a threat.
The amount of force to be applied must be proportional to the level of threat and be just enough to thwart an attack.
Is it effective?
Even with heated debates regarding Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) on board merchant vessels, there is no doubt that pirate attacks declined over the years.
Following the ISPS Code has its limitations. Shipowners were still losing ships, cargo, and crew against pirates. Best management procedures were not 100% effective in deterring pirate attacks and boarding.
Thus, shipowners explore new approach to combat the growing threat. Flag states who prohibit the use of armed guards found themselves losing registered vessels as shipowners transfer to pro PCASP registries.
To highlight the impact of armed security personnel on board, statistics show that pirates were not able to board vessels protected with armed guards.
Top Private Maritime Security Companies
Due to the increase of piracy attacks in some regions around the world, private maritime security agencies have become in demand to control the growing trend.
Many of them were already offering security services but were limited to land-based jobs only. Seeing the opportunity in the maritime sector, they expanded their service to include shipping.
However, there are a few in this industry who have long experience with private security in the maritime space.
Let’s take a look at them below.
1. Seagull Maritime Security
Unlike most maritime security companies, Seagull Maritime Security exclusively offers security services to the maritime industry.
Headquartered in Malta, their core service is the protection of commercial merchant vessels against all threats at sea especially maritime piracy.
SMS is one of the top class security services when transiting in High Risk Areas (HRA). Be it in the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean, or the Red Sea, you can be confident that this company will deliver its job in keeping your assets safe.
Since 2008, Seagull Maritime Security successfully secured hundreds of voyages and withstood numerous pirate attacks.
The company’s skilled security teams have unsurpassed track records with no damage to the crew or ship they’re guarding.
2. Hart Maritime Security
Hart Maritime Security is the security arm of Hart International in the maritime sector. Founded in 1999, Hart’s first maritime contract was providing fisheries management and protection off the coast of Puntland, Somalia.
They have extensive experience in anti-piracy in some of the world’s most dangerous shipping lanes. This is backed up with 100% success rate to more than 100 shipping companies.
Additionally, they offer tailor-made security services and intelligence assessment in the oil and gas field using ISPS Compliant procedures.
Hart has 6 offices around the world located in Dubai, London, Limassol, Sydney, Mogadishu, and Kabul and employs around 300 people.
3. Solace Global
When it comes to sector expertise in the field of maritime security, Solace Global is the name you can trust on.
Solace Global is one of the world’s leading maritime security company protecting over 5,000 vessels in commercial shipping, cruise liners, oil majors, and super yachts.
Their services include vessel protection, stowaway prevention, port/ voyage threat assessment, and crew training.
Additionally, they also conduct security audits, maritime security consultancy, maritime intelligence, and vessel tracking.
Either armed or unarmed security solutions, their 3 million man hours at sea is a guarantee of your safety wherever you are in the world.
Solace Global is headquartered in the United Kingdom.
As the world’s oldest maritime security agency, MUSC have extensive experience in providing security related advice, consultancy, assessment and operations.
Their 40-year experience in ship security and protection earned them a seat with the IMO during the development of the ISPS Code in 2001.
They have an unparalleled history of successful executions of maritime risk services including high-risk projects in some of the world’s most volatile locations (Libya, Somalia, Iraq).
MUSC’s team of security professionals came from the most elite military units.
Their counter-piracy measures, vessel hardening techniques, and onboard security guards have been tested over the years as one of the best in the industry.
As one Captain of Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC) puts it,
“Our MUSC security team is very professional and highly cooperative. Having them onboard makes the crew feel safer at all times.“
5. Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST)
MAST is a pioneer in developing maritime security and risk management concepts for ships and yachts.
It is one of the first maritime security companies in the world to legally dispatch private armed guards on commercial vessels and yachts.
Since that first deployment, MAST has conducted over 6,000 transits without security failure. Their team of specialists were serving from the Royal Navy as well as insurance and law.
MAST provides security services throughout the High-Risk Areas (HRA) in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
Together with regional partners, they are able to extend their business in the West African Regions and Sulu Sea.
MAST has offices in the UK, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Monaco.
6. Ambrey Security
Ambrey is one of the best and most equipped maritime security companies in the world. An award winning company, they protected more ships than any other agencies in this field.
Additionally, they own and operate their own vessel-based armories. They operate globally deploying the largest number of maritime security on the planet.
As the largest maritime security in the world, here are staggering figures of their accomplishments.
- More than 17,000 total armed transits completed.
- 520 transfers per month.
- 180 vessels protected per day.
- 1,046 Ambrey guards.
- 1,866 guards trained.
- 1,353 firearms owned.
- 16 owned vessels.
- 111 office staff and;
- 10 global offices (Head office in the UK)
The numbers speak for themselves. Ambrey Security always puts the needs of its clients first.
7. Neptune P2P Group
Founded by two former members of the UK’s Special Forces in 2009, Neptune Maritime Security was a response to the growing number of Somali Piracy.
Since then, they have completed 6,000 transits and 94% client satisfaction rating.
The company has bases in the UK and UAE. Their expertise in risk consultancy and special security services is second to none.
And because every maritime business is unique, they offer a tailor-made solution that fits exactly to each company.
Whether merchant vessels, cruise ships, superyachts, oil and gas, and ports and terminals, they protect your assets so you can focus on running your business.
8. Securewest International
Securewest International has over 30 years of experience in different sectors of global security. Though not a fully maritime security company, their maritime security teams are one of the best in the world.
They have extensive experience in the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf of Guinea regions.
Their 24/7/365 Global Response Center enables customers to tap for immediate help from their crews. They provide monitoring and management of SSAS for vessels.
As a short recap, the SSAS or Ship Security Alert System is part of the ISPS Code which is also the Chapter dealing with security in the SOLAS 1974 Convention.
Securewest is fully compliant with various regulations and governing bodies around the world including Flag States and international requirements.
Additionally, the company is certified with ISO 28007 and backed by comprehensive insurance.
Hiring armed guards on board through private maritime security companies is a choice shipowners make.
Whether it’s the largest shipping company or the smallest, security is vital when transiting high-risk areas.
Even with the presence of guns, crew on board ships feel much safer whenever they are escorted by private security.
On the other hand, pirates immediately stop their attack when encountered with firepower from the vessel. Even seeing the armed guards waving their guns is enough to deter them.
Wish you a safe passage in high-risk areas and an overall good voyage throughout your contract.
May the winds be in your favor.