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A New Solution To a Pressing Problem: gCaptains (Captain) John Konrad Gives Another Perspective

The international shipping community, government organizations like the European Union and corporations like Global Rescue LLC, a US based rescue, evacuation and security company, are engaged in developing solutions, says gCaptain’s CEO.

The dynamic in the Gulf of Aden is changing by the day. The last two weeks brought news of two separate attacks on Cruise Ships and a determined attack against a convoy under the protection of an Italian navy destroyer. The one constant in the region is a general lack of answers to the question; "How do we keep our vessels and crews safe?" The international shipping community, government organizations like the European Union and corporations like Global Rescue LLC, a US based rescue, evacuation and security company, are engaged in developing solutions.

During the course of events, we have seen solutions with varying degrees of success. On one end of the spectrum is Blackwater, the private security firm best known for their work in Iraq. This summer brought news of the firm purchasing a former NOAA vessel outfitted for extended security missions. Currently, they are marketing the vessel as a platform to defend ships in pirate waters. The problems with a Blackwater solution are two-fold. First, by bringing heavy weapons to the region, the International Maritime Bureau predicts the reinvestment of ransom income by pirates for the purchase of more powerful weapons. In essence, this translates into an escalation of arms. With the pirates not currently showing aggressive action against hostages, more firepower could also mean an increase in fatalities among innocent mariners.

The second problem with this solution is discussed only at the highest levels of ship management: marketing. Captain Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the ill-fated Exxon Valdez, was cleared of charges by the U.S. Coast Guard and continues to be licensed and qualified to command ships, but he remains unemployed. Why? The reason Capt. Hazelwood and Blackwater have found difficulty being hired is not due to their lack of ability or professionalism, but the potential employer's knowledge that mistakes can happen to anyone. The problem is that a relatively minor mistake made by an unknown firm would not necessarily bring negative press, while a mistake by Hazelwood or Blackwater would.

On the other end of the spectrum is the non-lethal approach marketed by the UK firm AntiPiracy Maritime Security Solutions (APMSS). Their approach has been the deployment of small teams of unarmed security personnel equipped with non-lethal weapons like the popular and successful Long Range Acoustic Device marketed by American Technology Corporation. The idea has been popular among shipping executives and APMSS quickly picked up contracts until the tanker M/V “Biscaglia,” under the protection of APMSS, was successfully hijacked by pirates. All three security personnel escaped by jumping overboard, but the company's sales team is less likely to survive the incident.

What happened aboard the M/V Biscaglia may provide clues to the problem and offer a solution. In an interview with Wired's Danger Room the makers of LRAD report as follows:

"Per unconfirmed reports from other vessels in the area, it appears the unarmed security force on board the Biscaglia was not aware that pirates had boarded the ship, never deployed LRAD or any of its suite of non-lethal capabilities and jumped overboard (probably hoping for rescue) when they saw the German helicopter overhead. It appears that the principal of APMMS is attempting damage control for his firm’s failings in this incident."

To find the best solution, we analyze this report alongside our knowledge of the current challenges facing the industry; training/experience and manpower. Ships make excellent targets because with crew complements of less than two dozen, they have less than a handful of watch-keepers on duty at any one time. The crews themselves do not train for security incidents with the frequency or intensity of those reserved for fire, pollution or abandonment drills. When they do train, it is not accomplished with the experience or knowledge gained over a long career; the ISPS code is simply too new.

Commercial vessels contracted by the US Military have faced these problems through two recent wars, but along with the rest of our industry, their mariners are not trained security providers and do not have the available resources to increase manning levels. Their solution might be of interest to all shipping companies with concerns about piracy.

The first step that companies under military contract often take is to provide all crew members with security training which, for prepositioned ships, is conducted by Navy personnel. The vessels augment these classes with drills, security audits and on board training. Second, they maintain a close working relationship and establish communication protocols with nearby Navy units tasked with their protection. Finally, they augment crews with security personnel, often Gurka's with prior military training, whose primary task is to maintain a look-out for security threats.

This final element is important. It is difficult enough for watchkeepers to maintain a lookout for small boats, in addition to threats of collision., Once a small boat is spotted, how effective can we expect them to be in identifying the target as a threat? Experience is needed. In observing a freshly minted third mate identifying a new contact, you witness uncertainty, erratic behavior and a touch of fear. This is the case even if the contact is not a threat to the vessel. When observing a mate with years of experience you will usually find “calm,” followed by appropriate and timely action. With officer examinations and lectures fresh in his mind, the third mate may even be more knowledgeable in collision avoidance, but it is experience that differentiates the response.

When sailing in pirate waters, every mariner is a third mate. The advantage that well trained security personnel with a well defined task can bring to the equation cannot be ignored. Their experience combined with the dedicated task of observing the surrounding water for security threats is a valuable resource to the bridge team.

The final question is how can a shipping company use these lessons to keep a vessel safe? Global Rescue LLC, may have the solution.

Global Rescue provides medical and security advisory and evacuation services for individual clients and organizations of all types and sizes, including Fortune 1000 corporations, Olympic teams, government agencies and more. They also have mariner clients who appreciate the fact that regardless of their vessel's position, if they get injured Global Rescue will get them off the ship to the hospital of their choice. A recent client with an existing medical condition was unable to get off the vessel as scheduled and Global Rescue delivered his medication so he could continue work.

While the core service they provide is medical and security extraction, they are a truly global company that has established relationships with transport services, medical institutions and logistical support firms worldwide. To assist in the extraction of clients in extreme climates and corporate customers from hotspots, they have former Navy SEALS, military logistics experts and national security experts under their employment. Their focus on rescue and crisis response, not static security, in addition to their relationships with humanitarian organizations, has allowed them to attract personnel looking to save lives.

Global Rescue has developed a plan keep ships safe by using their expertise and international relationships to protect mariners transiting the Gulf of Aden. What distinguishes them from other security providers is staying close to their mission; helping to support people in need. They have also taken one step further by developing their plan with the close advisement and guidance of merchant marine officers and industry experts.

Their plan is simple: Board client vessels three to four days prior to entering dangerous waters and use the transit time to audit the security plan, train the crew, conduct drills and harden the vessel for a less than lethal defense. The boarding team will have a sufficient number of security personnel to ward off attack, but will also include a licensed maritime officer and a communications specialist. The licensed officer, an experienced mariner with a Master unlimited endorsement, serves as a liaison and works to facilitate unity among the security and bridge teams. The communications specialist is tasked with team building but not internally, rather between the vessel and external support providers.

During the critical legs of the voyage, the team gathers intelligence, maintains a dedicated watch and cements relationships both internally and externally. Upon identification of threat they work closely with the crew to evade the threat, repel attack, and coordinate military response. Only after alternative solutions have failed or a crew member is in immediate danger do they use deadly force.

Unlike most other providers, because they are a rescue and logistics company, the support continues after an altercation. With an onboard paramedic, medi-vac assets and telemedical equipment connecting them to their partner organization, John Hopkins medical center, the crew is cared for regardless well past the altercation.

Finally they are unique because they listen. Here at gCaptain, we have been contacted by several maritime security firms looking for solutions to secure ships transiting pirate waters. And, while we give our thoughts…few really listen. Global Rescue, not only paid attention to our thoughts, they had already read our articles and the comments of our readers. This is important because each ship and each shipping company has different security needs. Global Rescue is willing and able to fit their plan to their client’s thoughts and requirements.

Like any well constructed plan, time will tell its effectiveness, but Global Rescue's passion for support and rescue, focus on building teams and hardening targets combined with close advisement from maritime experts gives us hope in these uncertain times.

Mariners interested in purchasing rescue insurance can visit GlobalRescue.com/maritime for information on their services. Shipping companies interested in learning more about their unique approach to vessel security should contact, Tom Bochnowski of Global Rescue at 617-459-4200, tbochnowski@globalrescue.com.

gCaptain on the WEB: http://gcaptain.com/

MarEx Editor’s note: Captain Konrad’s comments reflect his opinions, which may not reflect those of THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE, its staff and editors. Captain Konrad can be contacted at info@gCaptain.com