Private Maritime Security Companies and Concerns for the Near Future
By Ioannis Chapsos
Special to Piracy Daily
The international maritime security community celebrates one year without successful hijackings in the West Indian Ocean. This 'victory' is ascribed to the multinational flotilla's anti-piracy operations, but–from the author's perspective—the tactical advantage is stemming from the deployment of private armed escorts onboard merchant vessels. Albeit the current decline of the phenomenon in the region, all strategy planners recommend awareness and caution, since they realise that the root causes and causal factors still exist in the Somali coast and there is still a long way ahead before removing the East coast of Africa from the 'high risk' areas. In this framework, a UK initiative urged the international community to allocate funds in the ambitious potential to rebuilt security forces in Somalia, including a robust Coast Guard.
The situation though is quite different in the other side of the continent, where the West coast of Africa makes the headlines as the epicentre and hot spot of modern piracy. According to the IMB Live Piracy and Armed Robbery Reports, 15 incidents were recorded in the first quarter of 2013 and another four occurred in just five days in April. Almost all of them occurred in international waters, contradicting the hitherto international bodies' 'excuse' for inaction, claiming that incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are mostly 'armed robbery' cases, falling under the coastal states' jurisdiction.
As if this was not enough, referencing Mark Lowe's article 'Game Changer', Nigeria's recently implemented legislation resulted on the suspension of number of Private Maritime Security Companies' (PMSCs) operations in the country. In an effort to strictly regulate the maritime security industry, the state issues licences only to local operators, while foreign companies can operate legally only with the status of partnership. It becomes obvious that the region doesn't wish to follow the hitherto established structural business model and is reluctant to abolish the share of the pie and the lucrative perspective that maritime insecurity raises in the Gulf of Guinea.
Hence, at the operational level, the status which PMSCs are going to obtain in order to provide legally their services in this high risk area and emerging/ promising market remains under question. Furthermore, given that Nigeria doesn't allow weapons to be carried within its territorial waters, PMSCs will perhaps seek controversial solutions, such as the floating armouries since the OSV's practice will not be applicable for obvious reasons, including the vital need for replenishment, which will not be feasible in Nigerian ports due to the above contractual restrictions. If that will be the case, a bigger concern emerges, considering the scenario of a floating armoury being hijacked by already heavily armed local pirate groups.
There is another broad debate at international level, focused on the certification of PMSCs according to internationally recognised and endorsed standards. On the one hand ASIS International issued the PSC 1 to 4 series and ISO issued the PAS 28007, respectively. And here is another dilemma that both PMSCs and shipping companies have to overcome. The former have to choose between the two; the auditing process is time, money and effort consuming, so very few companies will consider the potential of going for both of them. And even if the final criterion for their choice might be geographical, the globalised maritime security provision does not offer solutions to the latter, in terms of choosing the PMSC with the proper credentials and relevant certification. So, what certification should the shipping companies ask from the PMSCs, in order to ensure that they will contract the most suitable and reliable one to provide security on board their ships? And if a PMSC has already been certified with Standard A but not with B, and/or vice versa, does this mean that it is not reliable or capable of accomplishing successfully its mission?
The body which was supposed to provide answers and guidelines in this case, including the development of auditable standards and ethical inspirations, should have been the Swiss-based International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC), which currently counts 630 signatory companies (as of May 1st) and enjoys (high) membership fees from every single one of them. On the contrary, the Association remains in apathy and its primary concern is currently focused on its budget development and the establishment of a Board of Directors, which will increase the membership fees to such an extent that small-sized companies will not be able to afford.
The struggle against maritime security in general and modern piracy in particular is definitely multi-dimensional. A short-term success at local or regional level should not distract international actors or companies from the fundamental institutional, operational and ethical issues that have to be addressed, aiming at drawing future routes that will safely navigate the companies in the global market and operational field, in order to protect seafarers' lives and enhance vessels' security.
Captain (ret.) Ioannis Chapsos of the Hellenic Navy is a Research Fellow in Maritime Security at Coventry University (UK) and Vice President of the International Association of Maritime Security Professionals (IAMSP). He is also a former Lecturer for International Security at the Hellenic Supreme Joint War College / Security & Strategy Department.