Security concerns

Over the last decade there has been a rejuvenated emphasis on international security and the maritime industry has been at the forefront of this, with the IMO initially reviewing its security requirements in December 2002 to reflect this increasing concern. With State Navies experiencing funding cuts, a private industry has rapidly arisen around these new security concerns with companies from equipment manufacturers to risk managers, protection agencies to general service providers all looking to make a mark in a rapidly expanding sector. As with any young and growing sector, however, it can often prove difficult to sort reliable companies from unreliable ones.

Whilst working for marine insurers and underwriters, Peter Cook – a former Royal Marine – recognised the industry’s concerns about identifying good practice and high standards, and that something stronger than word of mouth would be hugely beneficial. To this end, he began working on a guild concept for bringing together security providers but this eventually evolved into a trade association that came to be called the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI).

“It was clear that the highest quality providers wanted a means of differentiating themselves from the many new start-ups that were coming onto the scene,” says SAMI director Steven Jones, “whilst shipowners needed reassurances on the quality, experience and resources of the maritime security companies they were using. In early 2011 a series of SAMI working group meetings were held in which standards were discussed and it was agreed that SAMI should support the parallel work of the IMO as it looked to create its own security guidelines for shipowners and flag states.

“SAMI attended the Maritime Safety Committee in May 2011 as part of the Marshall Islands delegation and was able to provide a maritime security perspective to the dialogue. The Marshall Islands have been a key supporter of SAMI from the very start and we recognise its contribution as well as the importance of having such influential and supportive patrons. The IMO subsequently produced guidelines in the form of MSC Circulars 1405 and 1406: 1405 outlines the minimum checks and standards that a shipowner should apply when appointing privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) on their vessels; 1406 provides guidance for flag States when vessels flying their flag appoint armed guards.”

With these guidelines in place SAMI has a base on which to form its services and outlook, the first and foremost of which is to offer an industry-recognised standard that companies successfully gaining membership could use as a statement of quality. To do this SAMI has begun working with independent assessor the National Security Inspectorate (NSI), which is a UK-based organisation focused on home and commercial security standards, in formulating a rigorous three-stage approval process.

Stage one is due diligence that looks at the financial, legal and insurance status of the applicant and if it has the right risk cover and legal support, and the finances to remain a viable provider of security services. If this is passed then stage two is an in-depth analysis by SAMI of the applicant’s infrastructure that includes physical verification of premises, systems and documentation. The third and final stage before approval sees SAMI making operational checks on the applicant’s personnel pre- and post-operation, following the applicant’s agents from desk to field and back again although exact specifications for this stage are still being agreed upon.

“Working in partnership with NSI, the SAMI accreditation process is about to begin for our 114 current membership applicants and the organisation’s international member companies will soon begin to pass through this three stage process of checks and verifications,” Steven says. “The members encompass maritime security providers, consultants, trainers, individual operatives, and maritime security equipment, technology and hardware (ET&H) manufacturers. The full range of names and details can be found at”

The precise functions behind this approval process are the result of eight months of meetings by the Standards and Accreditation Working Group (SAWG). SAWG is a regular meeting group that brings together SAMI, NSI and representatives from all its member companies to work out SAMI accreditation processes, key performance indicators (KPIs), and to translate the IMO’s regulations into practical real world guidelines that SAMI can then implement.

One hot topic in the maritime security industry at the moment is the use of armed guards aboard merchant vessels. In attempting to ward off or, as a last resort, defend against hijackers, many shipowners over the last few years have begun employing armed security on their vessels. Whilst this tactic may have been frowned upon a decade ago, it has become an increasingly accepted means of defence. SAMI takes the position that real world field conditions show pirates have, as yet, not taken vessels manned with armed guards and thus highlights it as an effective security precaution.

“Circulars 1405 and 1406 have provided a foundation on which the accreditation and certification of maritime security providers can be built,” Steven points out. “SAMI is currently in the process of verifying member companies through NIS, which will then create a streamlined means for the shipping industry to access the robust assurances that are requires when making the decision to ‘go armed’. The moves by the UK government and a number of others to dismantle the legal barriers to the employment of armed guards has emphasised the need for a system of clear differentiation of provider standard.”

Armed guards are, of course, subject to Rules for the Use of Force (RUF) but the industry nonetheless recognises that guidelines need to be set out so that owners and flag States have a foundation on which to build. The IMO has already issued minimum standards expected of maritime security providers but SAMI is pursuing enhanced requirements.

At the heart of this pursuit is an effort to transform the image of these maritime security providers from ‘mercenaries’ to valuable assets in an environment where such measures are crucial for the industry to remain safe. The increasing nature not only of global piracy but also of drug smuggling, poachers and terrorism demands it. Of course many ‘coffee shop cowboy’ operations have appeared amidst the wealth of legitimate companies and these have bruised the image of the industry.

SAMI thus wants to ensure that there is an industry- and globally-recognised system of standards that will minimise the spread of such spurious enterprises and, so far, has been quite successful in its bid. This is reflected in the support it has received from previously mentioned flag States as well as the Round Table of international shipping associations that incorporates the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), International Shipping Federation (ISF), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Intercargo and Intertanko. Further support has come from numerous protection and indemnity insurance (P&I) clubs, maritime law specialists and international seafarer welfare bodies.

Steven talks further about this: “Perhaps the most fundamental role for SAMI has been to bridge the gap between shipping and security. There is a perceived lack of understanding or appreciation of the many benefits that come from using the very best maritime security providers. Aside from the basic regulatory and insurance angles, there is much that a ‘real’ security culture can bring. It’s not just about paperwork, it is about keeping people, cargoes and ships safe. SAMI is about making it easier, simpler and more attractive for shipowners, operators and managers to embrace this real security and not just paying lip-service to it.”

As a non-governmental organisation (NGO), SAMI is able to represent the interests of its members internationally. There are a number of ways in which it promotes its message including through media contact, engaging with national governments across a range of departments, and by arranging its own networking events. One such event was the Citadel Symposium, which elaborated on the importance of citadels as a part of a layered defence that also includes, for example, armed guards. The citadel concept designates an armoured safe room onboard a vessel to which crew can safely retreat in the advent of an attack. In combination with good pre-planning and security protocols, they have a proven record of foiling a number of pirate attacks on merchant ships.

The symposium was held at SAMI’s headquarters onboard the HQS Wellington with nearly 200 senior industry professionals attending to help debate and delineate the best practices of, issues surrounding, and acceptable standards for citadel defence systems. Organisations that spoke at it included Allen Vanguard Threat Solutions, Dryad Maritime, BIMCO and NATO Shipping Centre, whilst other bodies present included the European Union Naval Force, G4S, Greenwich Maritime Institute, Marsh Ltd, NSI and the US Embassy.

Third party exhibitions and conferences are another important avenue for SAMI to promote itself and it is a regular attendee at such events worldwide. Already booked in for 2012, for example, are events such as the Third International Maritime Security and Anti-Piracy Conference (MSAPC) in Athens, Greece, where speakers and delegates will convene in March to debate important topics across the maritime security spectrum. SAMI also attended the Passenger Ship Safety Conference in January; the Treasure Mapped launch event surrounding Dr Anja Shortland’s paper on the economic effects of Somalian piracy; and will attend the Fourth Chemical and Product Tanker conference in March.

Another important development that SAMI has been intimately involved with is the creation of the world’s first Master’s degree (MSc) for Maritime Security, launched and taught by the University of Greenwich. “The course is designed to help the expanding international shipping industry to tackle threats such as piracy and terrorism on the high seas,” explains Steven, “and to deal with the new issues affecting environmental and energy security. It aims to equip its graduates, security personnel, and serving and former members of the armed forces with the professional skills they need to succeed in senior management roles within this growing professional sector.

“The career development opportunities offered by this new qualification are expected to attract interest from people currently working, or who are seeking employment, in senior roles across the armed forces, private maritime and shipping companies, private security firms, government bodies and law enforcement agencies. Students can start the degree in September 2012 and study either full-time for one year to part-time for two years. They will be based in the historic setting of the university’s campus in the Old Royal Naval College, within the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, at the heart of the UK’s naval and maritime seafaring traditions.”

In a press release, founder Peter Cook described his hopes for the establishment of this MSc: “The maritime security industry has come a long way in stressing its professional credentials. The creation of this Master’s degree is yet another stage in the development and we would encourage all those considering a career in the highest echelons of this rapidly growing industry to join this course.”

Thus SAMI is approaching the maritime industry’s security concerns from both ends of the spectrum, attempting to guide existing companies whilst creating a space for people desiring to enter the market. By doing this, the prospect of normalising security providers aboard merchant ships seems an achievable goal within the foreseeable future. Piracy continues to rise and SAMI will help the industry fight back. By submitting themselves to SAMI assessment, companies in the security supply chain will gain not only the support of an industry-recognised standard but ultimately financial and other benefits such as insurance premium discounts because of improved reliability throughout the sector.

The organisation established STL Marine in December 2011 to help foster this aspect of membership. Because SAMI itself in a not-for-profit organisation it was necessary for the group to create a commercial arm to bring in financial and market benefits for its members. STL Marine will be involved with managing events, publications, and the provision of bespoke products tailored to the SAMI portfolio. Former Royal Navy pilot and investment banker Howard Leedham MBE was appointed director in preparation for STL Marine’s launch in April 2012.

Looking forward, then, Steven reiterates the advantages and SAMI brings not only to members but to the entire industry: “The SAMI strategy is about ensuring we remain focused on our mission – that of ensuring the very best maritime security companies are able to demonstrate their professionalism and value to the shipping industry. By putting members through vigorous checks and accreditation processes, we can ensure that they are of the standard required and are able to delivery the necessary levels of service, support and professionalism. To ensure we can do that, the challenges remain the same as for many other not-for-profit associations: we need to ensure that we have the resources and capability to pursue our strategy into the future.”

Pioneering security standards
International NGO
Accreditation about to begin