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QuinSec Technology: An alternative approach to maritime security

John Holden4

The maritime security industry is still relatively new, and was born from the need to protect mariners on board commercial ships, transiting what is known today as the High-Risk Area (HRA), where piracy has become a significant problem. The maritime security sector has seen tremendous growth over the past few years, and the traditional and still prevalent method of defending ships – placing armed guards on board – certainly acts as a deterrent.  However, current methods of intelligence gathering, and the use of technologies such as cameras and tracking devices are under-utilised, and employed in a manner that neither ensures safety nor aids the prosecution of criminals. This article discusses the shortcomings of existing anti-piratical measures, and introduces QuinSec’s innovations that can help improve the prospects for deterring and detecting piracy.  This includes highly trained and well-equipped armed and unarmed security personnel, covert trackers, 360-degree imagery of vessels, wireless CCTV (closed-circuit television) systems, and sophisticated and timely intelligence gathering.

Background to the Maritime Security Industry 

The traditional method by which ships are defended against modern-day piracy follows a simple formula: between two and four armed men are placed on the ship, whose presence deters would-be attackers.  The first companies to enter the industry were trail-blazing, but frequently operated outside national and flag state laws: armed guards were placed on commercial ships, and their weapons often disposed of illegally overboard prior to entering the port; this practice is now far less prevalent, but does still exist.  To date there has been little innovation in the industry, and the basic choices available to shipping companies are armed or unarmed security, and escort vessels.  Although these certainly act as a deterrent, they do not help with the prosecution of criminals, nor the timely recovery of ships.

Although technologies such as camera systems and tracking devices are by no means new, they needed to be developed to be of maximum use in the maritime sector, and they are still not being used to their full potential for protecting mariners or gathering intelligence and evidence. This is a contributory factor to prosecution rates for those engaged in piratical activity remaining very low. QuinSec entered the industry to address these issues. Our unique and flexible approach was devised from the director and senior management’s many years’ experience in UK Special Forces, Royal Navy, British Counter Terrorism, and offshore industry. The methods employed by QuinSec are therefore a result of a deep understanding of realities of the situation. 

After making a proper assessment of the threat being faced, the company set about overhauling the armed-guarding model, and have gone beyond the debates about numbers of people in a team, the often commercially unsuitable convoy-based systems, or slightly fanciful ideas of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Technical innovations can help to raise standards, increase detection ranges, assist in evidence collection, and decrease the likelihood of expensive litigation.  First, we ensure that our intelligence gathering and architecture is robust, accurate and timely.  Second, our teams are equipped with a sophisticated wireless CCTV system designed for the marine environment.  Third, we offer a covert tracker that works even if other systems are disabled; it is effectively an ‘insurance’ against losing the vessel or cargo, and can also be used as a fleet management tool.  Finally, we provide 360-degree imagery of the vessel, which can be passed to the relevant authorities and used in the event of a hostage rescue, used as part of an ISPS or ISM survey, or as an engineering tool.

Intelligence

The systematic reporting of attacks or suspicious activity is essential to ensure that intelligence is disseminated in an accurate and timely manner. Strong evidence can also be used to build a prosecution case against those engaged in piratical activity.  The Voluntary Reporting Scheme run by the UKMTO (UK Maritime Trade Operation) uses intelligence it is given to track vessels and pass intelligence to ships operating in the HRA. The UKMTO also supplies information to organisations such as the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which also disseminate this information to shipping companies.  Specialist intelligence companies for the maritime sector do exist, but they are of limited value to shipping companies in that they offer little more than a shipping company can source directly from the IMB.  Furthermore, the information supplied by the IMB and UKMTO is only as good as the information they receive, and research conducted by QuinSec, gathered through interviewing armed security contractors, indicates that suspicious vessel sightings, or even attacks, too often go unreported.

OO Quinsec 11This is not due to lack of will on the part of the security teams or shipping companies, but is frequently because of lack of resources to collect evidence. This means that prosecution, or its threat, is not a deterrent to criminals. Add to this the fact that most piracy (or robbery at sea) is conducted by those with few prospects in the legitimate job market, and the ‘upside’ to conducting crime is very high. The gathering of timely, accurate intelligence, and its dissemination through a robust reporting structure is the cornerstone of our activities, and is used in conjunction with our security teams. Once intelligence is gathered, assessed, and a good evaluation of the source made, operational decisions such as re-routing a vessel, short-term increased security (changes to the watch bill, for example), or changes in speed can be implemented.  This intelligence can also be passed to relevant authorities.

The QuinSec Wireless Camera System (QCS)

The use of cameras offers an effective means of both capturing evidence and ensuring that security teams abide by the agreed Rules for the Use of Force (RUF), which some companies have adopted.  However, existing systems – comprising either wired cameras, helmet-mounted cameras, or hand-held devices – are used in an ad-hoc manner and are inadequate in many respects. For example, wired cameras are awkward to relocate, and the presence of wires running through a ship can compromise its watertight and physical integrity.  Although hand-held and helmet-mounted types are useful for ascertaining the sequence of events from a personal perspective, they do not improve detection ranges in that they cannot detect potential threats, and also rely on the physical presence of a person to record events.  Finally, for any camera system, there is currently no systematic or efficient means by which evidence gathered can be disseminated or reported quickly to the relevant authorities, or used to build a prosecution case.

The QuinSec Camera System (QCS) is a portable wireless CCTV system that was originally designed to increase the possibilities of detection for a security team.  The kit comprises a number of wireless cameras that are easily and quickly mounted around a ship to improve the detection ranges of an embarked team. The cameras also have obvious value outside the security arena. It comes on board in a robust, wheeled, military-grade case about the same size as a normal suit-case and can be flown with a team on a commercial flight.  The cameras can be positioned anywhere on the ship, and are set up in minutes, and relocating them is a quick, easy process. Each camera has a battery life of at least 12 hours (even on infrared mode), and the charging time takes about 4 hours so, as each camera has 2 batteries, there is no effective limit to the amount of time they can be deployed. The data from the cameras can be egressed by various means, including SD card, GSM network, or satellite communications.

The Camera System is wireless, so the physical and watertight integrity of the ship is not compromised by the presence of wires, and their portability ensures responsiveness to a changing threat.  It is designed to collect and disseminate evidence in a systematic way: the cameras are linked to satellite systems, and in the event of a suspicious sighting or attack, audio and images can immediately be relayed to our 24-hour operations room.  The cameras can transmit or receive video or images in several ways, allowing our security teams and 24-hour operational headquarters to work together and disseminate intelligence quickly and efficiently.  This means that if an act of piracy is taking place or is observed on one vessel we are able to quickly transmit the images to other clients. We can also share the intelligence with relevant governmental authorities and navies.  The Camera System ensures that evidence is collected and disseminated in a systematic way, and ultimately the evidence gathered can be used to help bring a prosecution.

OO Quinsec 12It is also hoped that cameras will lead to an improvement in training standards and adherence to the agreed Rules for the Use of Force. Finally, the ease of use and flexibility of the system means it can be employed in many situations: for example for access control in ports, or monitoring the loading of cargo.

We also noted two worrying trends: first that increasingly ships in the Gulf of Guinea were being hijacked and the ships’ navigational systems or location devices (developed without piracy or criminality in mind) were simply being disabled or turned off by the pirates; and second, that evidence showed a worrying trend towards hijacked crews and ships being held for longer and crews being subjected to ever increasing levels of violence; the increased levels of human suffering in certain of these instances makes a well-planned and executed rescue attempt a desirable option. We addressed these issues with two different forms of technology: the use of covert tracking devices, and the development of 360-degree imagery of the vessel.

Covert Tracking Devices

QuinSec’s Covert Tracking Devices and tracking portal ensures that the technique often employed by pirates of turning off ships’ navigational systems is rendered useless. The tracking device is installed without anyone on board having knowledge of its location, and in the unlikely event that the system is switched off, it automatically alerts our 24-hour operation HQ, which immediately begins tracking the vessel. The system works independently of our security teams, and is available as a stand-alone package. The covert tracking device also works as a sophisticated fleet-management tool, collecting useful data on ships’ speed and location.  It can also alert owners or charterers if the vessel enters a prohibited area, if the ship breaks an embargo with a particular cargo, or slip a mooring in harsh weather, for example.

360-Degree Imagery

Once we were confident that we could provide intelligence to a vessel, improve our detection ranges as far as practicable, provide well trained, experienced, and equipped armed and unarmed security teams, and track a vessel, we then looked at the other end of the spectrum: if everything had failed and the crew and vessel had been hijacked. We developed 360-degree imagery that would make the task of re-taking a vessel easier and would also work in conjunction with our other security techniques. Having an effective knowledge of the interior of a particular ship is key for a successful rescue attempt by a Special Forces Team. A senior member of our team has first-hand knowledge of re-taking a ship from a pirate hijacking and we have used his experiences to inform and guide the development of our 360-degree imagery.

The 360-degree imagery comprises actual videos and images of the vessel’s interior and exterior, with the photography taking around one day to complete.  The 360-degree imagery is fully integrated with ships’ plans and enables the first responder to examine virtually the layout of the ship and any potential hazards before going on board. The technology is also of use to engineers and other first responders and is being used in a host of other applications unrelated to shipping. There will be many circumstances when it is not appropriate to mount a rescue of the crew and vessel, but having the ability to covertly track and to show the first responder the layout of the entire vessel offers huge benefits.

The overall system that we have developed is reliant on well-trained and equipped armed or unarmed guards on the vessel, used in conjunction with innovative technology. The technologies discussed here facilitate a graduated response, offering clients a more flexible approach to maritime security.  By developing these techniques we endeavour to move the industry towards a more sophisticated, effective model for maritime security.

Editor's Note: OnboardOnline would like to thank QuinSec for providing our readers with their real-time security updates. You can find these by clicking on the "Intelligence Reports" link on the top right side of the homepage, or by clicking here.

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John Holden is the Managing Director of QuinSec Maritime Security Management, a maritime security company formed in late 2011. Before joining QuinSec, Mr. Holden worked for the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, specialising on matters in Russia and Central Asia. He was part of the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Georgia, worked for the Joint Terrorism Analytical Centre and served in the Royal Navy.

QuinSec’s four directors and senior staff came from the Royal Navy, Special Boat Service, commercial diving industry, intelligence agencies, Customs and Excise, and the oil and gas sector. By drawing on this broad base of experience, QuinSec has brought to bear an alternative approach to the complex world of maritime security.

QuinSec gained positive interest from investors, international oil and gas companies, the maritime insurance industry, academics and regulators in the United Kingdom. The Dorset-based company, with offices also in London and Washington, D.C. and representative offices around the world, has grown quickly and is now known not only for supplying armed guards, but also for being specialists in providing sophisticated technical options for clients. The company has developed unique security solutions, which include: 360-degree imagery, covert tracking capabilities, sophisticated portable wireless camera systems designed for the marine environment, intelligence and investigation services, crew training and private armed guards.

You can learn more about QuinSec at www.quinsec.com. Or call +44 (0) 1305 259 777 or +44 (0) 207 129 1445.

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