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Personal Safety Ashore

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In light of the growing number of terrorist attacks around the world, it's also a reminder that such atrocities can happen to anyone, anywhere. If you were caught up in a terror incident ashore, would you know what to do? A few important tips could make all the difference or even save your life.

This article discusses the potential impact of terrorism on the superyacht industry, at sea and ashore, and we'd like to thank security experts David Summerfield and Andreas Hartinger of Securewest International for their valuable input.


In the yachting industry we tend to focus more on security and personal safety at sea but, if you were caught up in a terror incident ashore, would you know what to do? A few important tips could make all the difference or even save your life.

Possible Impact on the Superyacht Industry

Only now are there concerns about the actions of these Apocalyptic activists affecting the yachting industry. The impact may be felt in two ways.

Firstly, hundreds of thousands of migrants are fleeing their homelands, and engagement in a rescue at sea may disrupt a cruise, even in the absence of a security threat.

Secondly, activists are now perpetrating acts of terror in the streets of Europe, some having slipped in over the borders with others being radicalized EU citizens. How many and how dangerous are they?

Currently, the most prominent group relevant to the Mediterranean littoral is the Islamic State, aka ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. There are about three dozen other groups such as Al Quaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, and Boko Haram, all with similar aims, sometimes affiliated with IS and sometimes operating in competition with IS. Whatever follows here about IS applies to the jihadist movement in general.

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Potential Threat to Yacht Crew and Passengers

The potential terrorist threat to yacht crews and passengers is being discussed in the yachting media, without clear conclusions or advice on what actions to take, if any.

Meanwhile, the global travel industry and yacht charter companies are concerned that Americans in particular may be scared away and stay at home this year.  Analysis may, or may not, suggest that such fears are being over played.

Data Relevant to Yachting

What data are available and relevant to our inquiry into the potential for terrorism against yachting at sea or in port?

(i) Actual and Foiled Attacks   

We have data about actual terrorist attacks as they’re headline news. Foiled attacks generally don’t get the same attention but must be considered when looking at the overall picture.

*For examples see Appendix 1 below

(ii) Threats and Explicit Intent

We also have data about threats and explicit intents but we need to analyse this data in order to make any risk assessments appropriate to our own situation.
*For examples see Appendix 2 below

What is the Yachting Industry Doing?

We have almost no data about what the yachting industry as a whole thinks and does in terms of adapting to an age of small terror.

What we do know is that ISPS-compliant yachts conform to a set of prescribed procedures and drills. We know that since ISPS was implemented in July 2004 there have been no terrorist attacks on yachts. But there is no proven correlation between ISPS compliance and absence to date of a terrorist assault on a yacht or its personnel.


Even after acknowledging that a threat exists, threat analysis is a complex task around a moving target. Accurate analysis is contingent upon close collaboration between domestic and international intelligence services.

In this industry, yacht managers, charter managers and yacht captains have a duty of care to the owners, guests and yacht crew. We all depend on the advice of the same experts, so what are they telling us?

(a) The Risk at Sea

* During the PYA Sea Changes Forum at the 2015 Monaco Yacht Show, Richard Skinner of Allmode security services contended that most of the Mediterranean littoral is at high risk for terrorism, but he focused on the risk of a Tunis style attack from landward rather than seaborne assault.

* MYBA refers to Dryad Maritime’s ‘Superyacht Special Advisory Central Mediterranean: ISIS Maritime Threat Assessment’ of 18 March 2015.
One conclusion in this advisory is that “Low level capabilities at sea mean that neither the focus, nor the capability is present for terrorist groups to conduct substantial attacks offshore.”

* The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s analyst Patrick Prior has spoken extensively about Western officials’ concerns that ISIS is building a fall-back base around the port of Surt in Libya, with 150 miles of coastline under its control. Speaking off the record, some of these officials have revealed that the USA and UK have landed “commandos” (presumably US SEAL and UK SBS units) on surveillance and intelligence missions along this stretch of the Libyan coast.

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So far they have issued no warnings of an imminent likelihood of ISIS realising its boast to close the offshore East-West shipping lanes across the Mediterranean. Dryad’s advisory broadly concurs regarding ISIS‘ current incapacity to present a maritime threat out of Libya, pointing out the preemptive capabilities of the US 6th Fleet and NATO operatives in the Eastern Mediterranean.

* In the February edition of Dockwalk, Bransom Bean’s article “Nowhere to Hide” refers to several security companies’ assessments of the risk of terrorist attacks on yachts. David Goldie of Akula Yachts is quoted as summarizing, “Bottom line, the likelihood of a terrorist attack on a superyacht in Europe is still low to very low.” This opinion is echoed in another quote from Ed Hill of Intrepid Risk management, “The risk is the same in the U.S.”

* Flag and Port States have retained MARSEC Level 1 throughout Europe despite the past year’s onshore terrorist incidents, the extended State of Emergency in France (with armed troops on the streets now a common sight), and tight security at major public gatherings across the continent and in the UK. There have been no indications of any intent to raise the MARSEC Level above Level 1.

* The cruise industry is somewhat ambivalent, with some companies continuing to advertise 2016 cruises for Eastern Mediterranean destinations, including North Africa, while others have temporarily removed Istanbul from their itineraries. Beyond that, marine traffic through the Suez Canal and along the Mediterranean shipping lanes continues without special concern about terrorist attacks at sea.

*The likelihood of terrorists launching a seaborne attack against a superyacht, using the same direct assault tactics as practiced by pirates off the Horn of Africa, is remote. Even so, on 21 November 2015 the Scottish Daily Record published an account of UK SBS units exercising mock assaults on Scottish ferries, in training for a rapid response to a terrorist hijacking at sea.

But another factor has entered the equation.

Operatives and Migrant Boats

A year ago the argument was that ISIS had plenty of money and would not risk the lives or waste the time of trained operatives using refugee boats to enter Europe. ISIS would simply buy them an airline ticket. The latest intelligence suggests this has changed. On 6 February the International New York Times reported fresh concerns among intelligence agencies that operatives are being embedded among refugee groups as a deliberate IS policy.

Looking at the probability of this new risk, on 11 February NATO committed to the deployment of three vessels, one each from Canada, Germany and Turkey, to the relatively confined waters of the Eastern Aegean to monitor the flow of refugee craft and intercept traffickers. (This would also provide close back-up for any yacht encountering a foundering refugee vessel in this area.)

Meanwhile, what is scaring the Italians is the prospect of a new surge of refugees out of the developing chaos in Libya. Renewed activity on the central Mediterranean migrant route, which is South-to-North towards the Sicilian and Calabrian coasts, crosses far more open waters than in the Aegean.

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In 2014 more than three times as many refugees used the Central Mediterranean route than the Eastern Mediterranean route. In the same year almost 900 ships were diverted to rescue operations.

A new surge would raise the odds of an East- or West-bound superyacht intersecting the path of a migrant vessel with a possible SOLAS intervention being obligated. Each superyacht’s contingency plan for such an encounter now needs to be updated to allow for more circumspect marshalling and handling of rescued migrants, one or some of whom may harbour hostile intent. Already we know that one major cruise company has conducted a migrant/terrorist exercise in preparation for such an event.  

(b) The Risk Ashore

All the sources referred to in this article contain a caveat when discussing terrorism at sea: The risks are far higher in port or ashore but quantifying the risk level is not an exact science.

*See examples below in Appendix 3

France and the French Riviera

France appears most frequently in statistical compilations of recent terrorist attacks in Europe. Of the entire Northern littoral of the Mediterranean, the French Riviera is the most celebrated, most filmed, and most popular cruising ground and is potentially the most vulnerable.

The ports and inland towns along this coastal strip have concentrations of immigrant communities. It is disaffected first and second generation immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East and North Africa who provide most of the converts to the jihadist cause, particularly if they have a record of the type of petty criminality associated with economic disadvantage.

The French authorities are trying to grapple with this reality. Between March 2012 and February 2016 there have been 10 terrorist incidents in Nice, Marseille, and towns in the regional hinterland, resulting in fatalities and serious injuries.

Risk and Uncertainty

The preceding data are indicators of the risk at large in this new age of small terror. In going about our daily business, the certainty of the existence of such risk is outweighed only by uncertainty as to where and when the risk may become realized. And yet this uncertainty tends to reduce our will to think about and practice defensive measures.

On a scale of horror, the risk from ISIS is right at the top, yet the probability of your personal involvement in any terrorist attack is very low. However, anything you can do to reduce the chance of this happening to you or your colleagues should be done.

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Proactive Measures

Over-reliance on ISPS procedures to mitigate risk when in port, and failure to assess probabilities of terrorist action ashore, led to a catastrophe for passengers on two cruise ships last year. Twenty-two of them were slaughtered and another 40 were injured as they entered the Tunis Bardo Museum from the buses bringing them from the adjacent Goulette port.

It’s not the kind of news one wants to read about yacht guests on a shore excursion. But with the apparent inconsistency between ports at MARSEC Level 1 in countries at the highest level of alert against terrorist attacks, what practical measures should we consider?

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

In the throes of an emergency it’s too late to learn the survival lessons which basic training can provide.

The risk of a terrorist incident may seem remote, but being prepared demands little more than extending the protocols which already apply to other areas of risk management. This includes criminal assault, criminal theft, civil unrest (street protests and demonstrations), natural disasters, and so on. And if all these risks are combined, there’s a significantly higher probability that you’ll be involved with one of them at some time.

We need to develop a more robust security culture, combining safety awareness with defined protocols covering all aspects of personnel security ashore.

Currently the ISPS Code offers little guidance for the security of seafarers and maritime personnel ashore, on or off duty.

An Aide Memoire is offered here as a guide towards drawing up onshore security protocols for any seagoing or shore based entities in the superyacht world.

If one’s industry peers are pro-actively writing and implementing programmes, advisories and training sessions to address this gap, any employers or persons who may be legally defined as ‘responsible’, who are not doing the same are putting themselves at risk.

See link to the Aide Memoire at the bottom of this article.

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Actual and Foiled Attacks   

We have data about actual terrorist attacks as they’re headline news. Foiled attacks generally don’t get the same attention but must be considered when looking at the overall picture.

*On 16 November 2015 Authorities in the UK announced that seven plots had been foiled in the previous 12 months. (Some of the alleged home-grown plotters appeared in UK courtrooms in December).

*On 23 November 2015 the French announced the foiling of five plots in the preceding few months.

*On 1 May 2015 German police announced the preemptive arrest of two people planning a Boston style bombing at a cycle race.

*In Bosnia, on 22 December 2015, 15 people were arrested in a round-up which thwarted a planned massacre by ISIS supporters opposed to the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The list goes on; the statistics continue to pile up across Europe.


Threats and Explicit Intent

We also have data about threats and explicit intents but we need to analyse this data in order to make any risk assessments appropriate to our own situation.

Here are just three examples of overt threats:

(i) September 2014: Abu Adnani, a Syrian advocate for ISIS, issued a 42 minute audio on social media calling on Muslims to kill individual Americans, Europeans, Canadians and Australians.

(ii) September 2015: Al Quaeda called for jihadists to assassinate Bill Gates, Larry Elison, Warren Buffet, the Koch brothers and other prominent figures, with the aim of disrupting the U.S. economy.

(iii) October: 2015 the IS online magazine Dabiq issued an appeal that “Every Muslim should get out of his house, find a crusader, and kill him. It is important that the killing becomes attributed to patrons of the IS who have obeyed its leadership.”

Other online sources such as The Independent, Front Page Magazine, the Center for American Progress, the Quilliam Foundation, the U.S. Congressional Research Service and Europol cover the subject in great detail.


The Risks Ashore: Reports and Commentary

* The Global Terrorism Database contains a detailed list of all worldwide terrorist attacks by location and frequency on a yearly basis since 1970, but is much criticized over its inconsistency due to occasional changes in its methodology, and its current irrelevance (last input was 2014).

* Looking first at some big numbers, in 2015 the Australian journalist John Stapleton, bedeviled by concerns about the growth of IS influence in his homeland, published “Terror in Australia: Workers’ Paradise Lost.” In the book he refers to “the millions of sympathizers of ISIS worldwide”. Similar multi-zero numbers are bandied about by Raheel Raza, a Canadian writer and public speaker (see YouTube video below) who is herself a Muslim and a campaigner against Islamist extremism. Neither Mr. Stapleton nor Ms. Raza offers any methodology to validate their data.

* To illustrate the spread of jihadist influence, Peter Bergen’s just-published book “United States of Jihad” quotes a study showing that since the 1990’s, terrorist recruiting websites have increased in number from around a dozen to over 3,000.

* A report issued by Europol on 25 January states that "IS is preparing more terrorist attacks, including more 'Mumbai-style' attacks, to be executed in member states of the EU, and in France in particular." The report was issued on the same day as a new Europol law enforcement centre was inaugurated to combat violent extremism. Interpol warned that “The attacks will be primarily directed at soft targets, because of the impact it generates." The most ominous part of the report was the reference to refugees fleeing Syria and other nations for Europe becoming vulnerable to recruitment by jihadists. "Indeed there are reports that refugee centers are being specifically targeted by Islamic extremist recruiters," the report says.

* On 3 February CNN News quoted a U.S. official as saying that the terror threat in Europe is “at as high a level as it's ever been.”

* On 4 February 450 German police officers carried out simultaneous raids in various locations to disrupt a suspected planned attack. The raids followed a tip-off that some embedded IS operatives were planning a large scale attack in Berlin. Surveillance of the suspects seemed to confirm an active conspiracy, and the authorities moved in preemptively. One of those arrested had entered the EU as a refugee – as did at least two of the November attackers in Paris.

*On 5 February U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that 34 militant groups from around the world had reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State extremist group as of mid-December, and that number will only grow in 2016. Ban Ki-moon warned U.N. member states to expect attacks by IS associated groups traveling to other countries from their Middle Eastern bases. Their economic clout is one measure of the IS affiliates’ capacity to strike in Europe, the USA and elsewhere. Ban Ki-moon cited estimates that the group generated $400-$500 million from oil and oil products in 2015 despite an embargo.

* On 5 February the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, said on ZDF public television that the Islamic State was using the wave of newcomers to infiltrate Europe: “Terrorists are being smuggled in, camouflaged as refugees.” But he added that there was no intelligence indicating a "concrete, imminent" attack.

* On 7 February the French newspaper Nice Matin published an interview with the former director of the French Directorate of Territorial Security. Mr Caprioli, who now works for the risk management group GEOS, said in France alone there are over 8,000 people identified as having been radicalized. Mr Capriolo stated that they will each be investigated, but that it will take time to do so. He pulls no punches in denouncing the jihadists’ intent to wreak murderous havoc in pursuit of their fanatical beliefs, including a suicidal imperative to die while perpetrating their assaults.

*There is a general consensus among Western analysts that some 6,000 Europeans have travelled to ISIS occupied zones, and that around 2,000 have since returned. Experience of recent attacks has revealed the existence of sleeper cells which take orders about set piece assaults from ISIS higher command, and of individuals who have been inspired to carry out undirected attacks on their own initiative.

Up to 40 undetected operatives who were sent in to carry out similar attacks to the Paris November incident may still be awaiting their chance to strike. 

*Image credits:; Shutterstock/Commons wikimedia CC2.0

Click to view Personal Safety Aide Memoire

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