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What to Consider When Selecting a Security Company

Corey Ranslem

Maritime security threats are ever-changing and affect vessels of all types including large yachts.  Attacks on vessels are no longer confined to the waters off the coast of Somalia.  Pirates, maritime gangs, terrorists, and other “opportunists” seek to take advantage of the perceived weaker targets.  Pirate attacks against vessels of all types are now common along the Horn of Africa, Asia, Central/South America and the Caribbean.  Mega-yachts were typically not affected by piracy and maritime security issues, but that has also changed over the past few years.  Pirates and criminals increasingly view yachts as easier, more viable, and potentially more lucrative targets than cargo vessels or cruise lines, especially those that choose to transit high-risk areas without benefit of a protective convoy or security team. 

Criminal threats such as theft, vandalism, and assaults against yacht crews are showing signs of increasing worldwide.  Many of the companies that offer insurance for large yachts are paying increased attention to owner/operator implementation of maritime security standards and practices as a factor in determining the premium costs.  As a result, many yacht owners are taking control of onboard security by installing their own security systems and bringing professional security teams onboard to effectively implement security policies and procedures, especially if the vessel’s itinerary is expected to transit high risk areas or ports-of-call.

There are currently no recognized world standards for the certification of private maritime security companies (PMSC’s) with hundreds of them operating around the world with very little oversight.  Some of these companies are focused and well trained while others lack any understanding of the maritime environment, rules of engagement and pose a threat to the vessels they are hired to protect.  There are some basic principles that can be followed to ensure a high quality company and well trained team is selected.  There are a number of criteria to consider when hiring a PMSC.  This list is not complete but should guide the master when selecting a PMSC.

1. How long has the company been in business and how is the company structured (is the structure a single owner or is the company owned through a holding company?  Try to determine if the owners actually know and understand maritime security operations)?

2. Where is the company located and who are the majority owners? 

3. What is the experience of the ownership and senior leadership? (Good idea to check maritime security blogs to see what kind of posts are out regarding the company, also check social media and the internet in general for any information.)

4. Has the company dealt with large yachts in the past and do they have any references?

5. Does the company have a strong financial base to cover the operations and pay the shipboard security personnel?

6. Does the company have any quality management measures in place or certifications in security through international organizations?

The PMSC should be able to provide documentary evidence which may include:

•          Maritime (as opposed to land-based) experience;

•          Written procedures on management including team-leading skills, authority, chain of command;

•          Understanding of Flag State, port State and coastal State requirements with respect to carriage and usage of firearms;

•          Availability of written testimonials/references from previous clients in the maritime industry;

•          Availability of documentary evidence that firearms are procured, stored, carried, used, transported, embarked and disembarked legally;

•          An up-to-date understanding of the piracy threat in the operational region, along with maintaining contact with the response agencies;

•          Understanding of the latest BMP and, in particular, ship protection measures;

•          Access to competent maritime legal advice (e.g. in-house counsel/external legal advisers) on a 24/7 basis.

Written internal policies and procedures are important for a successful mission with the PMSC.  They should be able to provide copies of their written internal policies and procedures for determining suitability of their employees.  This should include criminal background checks; verified personnel employment history; Coast Guard, military and law enforcement background and experience (verified); records of medical, physical, and mental fitness of personnel (including regular drug and alcohol testing); verifiable systems in place to ensure continued suitability for employment; documentary evidence of relevant experience and certification in the use and carriage of firearms to be deployed; and verified travel documents (passports and visas), immunizations and the ability to travel.  The vessel master should also consult with the vessel’s insurance provider to ensure the vessel’s insurance coverage would cover any potential gaps in coverage as it relates to armed engagements and liability insurance held by the PMSC.

Vessels should also review and revise their vessel security plans and programs at least annually, as needed, or before the vessel’s transition to an unfamiliar area of operation.  A simple discrete CCTV system, access control system, and intrusion detection/alarm system can help enhance the security of the vessel, its passengers and crew in many situations along with a ship’s security alerting system (SSAS).  It is also a good idea to have a basic “what-if” security plan in place to deal with the contingencies most likely to be experienced, depending upon the vessel’s itinerary, and ensure that the crew receives training and conducts periodic drills to support their effective execution.  There are a number of things a mega-yacht captain can do to evaluate their internal security standards against regulations and industry best practices regardless of where they go in the worldwide.    

It should be remembered that installing effective preventive security systems, equipment, and training personnel is ALWAYS more cost and operationally effective than remediating the financial and legal impacts resulting from a preventable security-related incident.  Security doesn’t have to be a burden or overbearing and the sky isn’t falling everywhere, but it is a good idea to understand the basics wherever you are headed to keep everybody onboard safe.


Corey Ranslem is the founder of International Maritime Security Associates, Inc.  He has been working in maritime security for the past 18 years in both the public and private sector.  He currently provides a variety of maritime security related consulting services to cruise lines, large yachts, law firms, and private clients worldwide. 

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