Maritime security and international shipping – a look at modern piracy. By Joshua Nash
Travel by sea has been an important aspect of human travel, and while technological advancements have brought about other methods of transport, shipping has remained important. It has been of particular importance to the world’s economy, which is why piracy has proven to be such a major problem throughout the years. Modern piracy continues to play havoc with international shipping, and has a massive economic and human cost. Attacks cost the international economy an unparalleled amount of money, which explains why crews and companies go to such lengths to protect themselves.
The impact of modern piracy
Modern piracy is synonymous with Somali pirates, which are often featured in the media as being responsible for attacks. This is not unfounded, and Somali based piracy has cost the international community over $6bn in 2012 alone. Somalia is certainly not the only source of piracy either, which makes the impact of piracy on world shipping all the more serious. While the past few years have seen a decrease in pirate attacks, and particularly in Somali piracy, attacks are still a serious threat that need to be safeguarded against.
Eighty per cent of all world trade is undergone through international shipping, which explains somewhat why both pirates and the anti-piracy industry have been so successful in recent years. Overall attacks may have decreased, but piracy is still rife and has even risen in areas of increasing trade and shipping. For example, there has been a dramatic rise in piracy in South East Asia. Similarly, the scope of attacks has widened, meaning pirates are increasingly attacking any and all ships. Surprisingly, even warships can be targeted, with pirates attacking two separate warships in 2010.
As part of this increase in scope, attacks are becoming more and more deadly, with pirates increasingly using high-powered weapons. The ultimate aim of any attack is to board the target, which happens in 75 per cent of all attacks. It is worth noting, however, that the very nature of modern piracy means that statistics are often difficult to ascertain, and the true threat of piracy may be far higher. Protecting against boarding, however, has to be the main focus for crews. While traditional methods of deterring pirates are still in common use, things like water hoses and barbed wire for example are struggling to combat the increasingly dangerous pirate threat. Therefore, many crafts – including civilian vessels – have turned to private security.
Maritime security services
Private security consists of armed guards, known as Maritime Security Operatives (MSOs), who are tasked with providing protection for ships of all sizes. However, their presence also serves as a show of strength, which provides a secondary method of defence; by having armed guards present on a ship pirates may be deterred from attacking. For shipping crews, similarly, their presence will help make them feel secure and put their minds at ease.
This presence is aided in part by their equipment, as protection and weaponry furthers the image of a professional and prepared security force. This equipment is, of course, vital for the MSOs, who need to be protected and armed in order to confidently perform in their role. Body armour is absolutely necessary for these individuals, particularly as pirates increasingly use firearms and high-powered weapons in attacks.
Bulletproof vests are available in different styles, depending on the situations it will be worn in. An overt bulletproof vest, for example, is one that is worn over clothing or as part of a uniform. These are most appropriate for MSOs, as the sight of body armour further cements their preparedness and authority. Similarly, many overt vests can be customised with logos and insignia, high visibility covers, and even floatation devices, which are of particular interest to those working at sea.
For some branches of maritime security, however, an overt vest will be inappropriate. Those serving on civilian crafts may need to remain discreet and present a more relaxed demeanour to passengers. This does not mean that they cannot be protected however, and it is unreasonable to expect these individuals to perform without protection. Therefore, a covert vest would be ideal for these situations. Covert vests are worn underneath clothing and can offer the same levels of protection and comfort.
The protection available
MSOs must be aware of the threats they will most likely face. Just as bullet resistant vests are available in different styles, so too are they available at different levels of protection. These levels conform to the standards outlined by the US National Institute of Justice, the world leader in ballistics testing. These NIJ Levels outline exactly what ammunition a vest can stop, with higher levels capable of preventing penetration by even armour-piercing rounds.
While the lower levels of protection are achieved by using soft and flexible materials like Kevlar, higher protection needs rigid panels of ceramics and/or polyethylene, which are inserted into a vest. These panels are still light enough to be worn comfortably for extended periods, and will certainly be no heavier than the rest of the equipment most security officers will wear. They may be of particular use for MSOs, as pirates continue to appropriate high-powered weaponry to use in attacks.
On the other hand, it may not be firearms that are the only threat to MSOs, as handheld and close-quarters weapons will be more prevalent in a boarding situation. Kevlar vests cannot protect against edged or spiked weapons because the soft fabric, while incredibly strong, can be easily cut or bypassed. Stab and spike proof vests therefore require additional materials, usually chainmail and/or laminated plastic. This provides a tough surface to stop penetration.
Joshua Nash works at SafeGuard, an international manufacturer and distributor of body armour. Its work in the research and development of ballistic protection allows the company to offer cutting-edge information to a variety of industries. It uses its knowledge of ballistic protection to help further the awareness of protective clothing and general safety.