Full speed ahead

Shipping and Marine last featured Protection Vessels International Ltd (PVI), the world’s largest private maritime security service, back in April this year. Over the months that followed the company, which is a part of Protection Group International, has made significant progression in terms of growing its business and providing critical services to an industry that faces ever present threats in the world’s shipping regions.

“Over this time PVI has had a successful year in which our top line sales and volume have grown quite pleasantly at a time when the industry as a whole is shrinking,” begins MD, Matthew Parker. “To start with, we have implemented a lot of efficiencies across the business to make sure our standards of compliance are still the highest in the business, whilst ensuring that our profits continue to increase so that we can re-invest in the business. We have also strengthened our supply chain, which we own ourselves, so we have vessels in the Red Sea that enable our re-supply and ongoing operations, and we also have a significant hub in Galle in Sri Lanka. This really sets us apart – recent changes in Galle with ongoing political instability in the region has been really significant as we have invested heavily there, whilst others have not.

“We have also developed our intelligence product, which includes a free risk portal providing users with a geopolitical risk analysis tool enabling them to measure and understand risk in different areas of the world. From this we can generate bespoke reporting and monitoring of events in specific jurisdictions.”

Compliance is where PVI is really able to set itself apart from the industry and over the last couple of months the company has successfully passed its ISO audit and reapplied for its German Flagged licence. Matthew puts this down to the people it recruits and the continual training programme they are put through. “The screening and vetting of any applicant wanting to work for PVI is extremely stringent and the bar is high,” he says. “Not only do we want lots of relevant military experience but also private sector experience. Our refresher training and ongoing programme to bring people up to speed on the threats they will face and the changing environment in the specific geographies they will operate in is second to none.”

Outside shipping, the two areas of offshore oil and gas and telecoms have also been key markets for PVI over the last year. Despite challenges from the current oil price putting pressure on the company’s operations in the offshore sector, PVI has established strong and long-lasting relationships with clients who call upon its security services all across the globe. “In terms of telecoms we have made a big push into this market recently and are working a lot with subsea cable layers as well as onshore installation builders and suppliers across Africa,” says Matthew.

Its ability to offer such a professional and responsive service to the international market is absolutely key to PVI’s success when considering the volatility of global politics. “It is always a rollercoaster ride because we are constantly responding to global macroeconomic events, including events in Syria, which are reverberating across oil prices, and therefore the shipping industry,” he adds. “We are constantly cutting the cloth to listen to the pressures that our customers are under and try to respond to those as best as we can, whether they be new threats from cyber security or traditional threats at sea. Piracy, for instance, is constantly changing in form, so we try to respond to that, listening to our customers and what their needs are and providing them with a solution or service to fit.”

One such event, which has required PVI’s flexible response, is the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Not least has this caused issues for many of the company’s clients who have had to divert or delay course to avoid getting caught up in the problems, but PVI has also played a significant role in ensuring the best support can be provided to the situation. “Some vessels have taken several thousand migrants onboard at a time and that can be a massive headache for operators,” Matthew explains. “Our services revolve primarily around training in the first instance to prepare crew for the event of picking people up, so things like vetting and screening people coming onboard, having safe areas, reception centres and making sure they are properly equipped with medical supplies and other things that will make life onboard more bearable in the situation. We also do a lot of medical training to make sure the crew are fully up to speed with the sorts of things they will encounter, and this extends to post-traumatic stress management so that we can look after the crew and support crew who may not be psychologically prepared to deal with this type of situation.”

Other geographies of particular focus for PVI are the Indian Ocean, although India’s west coast has become less of a risk more recently, the Persian Gulf, South Africa, Red Sea and Sri Lanka. “We’ve also been quite active in the US, where we deal with a lot environmental activists and the threat from NGOs,” says Matthew. “For example, we have been supporting the exploration activities of oil companies and making sure we can help them maintain their business continuity from some of the softer threats such as Greenpeace, who we have previously dealt with on Arctic exploration projects.”

As PVI looks ahead, it is keen to help build resilience in the market towards terrorism, which Matthew notes doesn’t have to be a major worry but is important that the crew are trained and confident to deal with worst-case scenarios. It also sees developing issues in South East Asia with maritime crime becoming an increasing problem for which PVI is prepared to deploy guards and provide training to overcome. Elsewhere the company will be looking at expanding its footprint in telecoms as cable upgrade and extension projects become busier, as well as preparing itself to react as soon as the oil and gas market picks up and increased exploration activity will demand more security.

PVI’s parent company, PGI, has also made significant progress with its cyber security division over the last year, which has developed its reputation inline with the growing success of PVI. “We are a cyber security consultancy and solutions provider as well and we have been able to up-sell this through the shipping and offshore industries,” Matthew says. “The services that we provide here can be anything from awareness training for senior executives and operatives to understand how to protect themselves from cyber attacks and malicious software, through to monitoring software and hardware systems. This is supplemented by a response service, so forensic investigations of cyber breaches in order to take appropriate steps to protect against future threats to commercial activity. This business is going very well and there is a growing need to protect against this across the world in all industries.”

In terms of the future Matthew continues: “PVI will continue to adapt to the changing environment in the Indian Ocean. I think in the maritime security industry we will see consolidation in the market place forcing a lot of smaller companies to close their doors. This will create opportunities for us, being a financially stable organisation with very strong investor backing, to either bring these companies on board or support customers when these businesses shut down.

“I don’t think it is a time for the shipping industry to become complacent however, as piracy and other dangers continue to evolve and emerge. Ultimately, we will be prepared to assist them whatever their need be, as we are a company that is here for the long term. I also think there is a major opportunity for us in the cyber domain where we have become preeminent amongst UK cyber security companies and we are well poised to take advantage and support new and existing customers as and when the need arises. This is both in terms of pre-empting a cyber attack or in the wake of an increasing number of attacks happening.”

Protection Vessels International Ltd

The world’s largest private maritime security service

Demonstrates unparalleled compliance within the industry

Has a successful and growing cyber security arm