The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: PMSCs and the Search for Lessons Learned

By MarEx 2013-05-02 14:11:00

By Martin Edwin Andersen
Editor-in-Chief, Piracy Daily

The controversy in late April arising from the impounding by Spanish authorities of a seemingly fortress-like vessel owned by a former British navy officer offers a window into some of the continuing challenges faced by a world maritime shipping industry seeking to protect its crews, vessels and bottom lines.

The brouhaha in Tenerife took place after the former gunboat DEFENDER was stopped and repeatedly searched by unimpressed officials.

The DEFENDER owner claimed that, contrary to media reports, the vessel was not en route to "fight" pirates in the Gulf of Aden and that the cannons it displayed onboard were "just for show and totally unusable."
Still, in an earlier interview with another publication, the owner had boasted that the DEFENDER was operated by "handpicked ex-Royal Marine Commandos and run as a professional naval ship, obeying the rules of engagement."

According to the Daily Mail, this week he admitted that "that only he and one other crewman had served in the Armed Forces." The reason for the prolonged delay? "The inspectors say our on-board safety equipment is not up to standard."

The news splash, although anecdotal in nature, underlined the recent observation in a Piracy Daily column, "The UAE, a new international 'Silk Road,' requires sophisticated counter-piracy efforts," made by Andrew Moulder, a former armed crime/piracy analyst for the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) who now heads the AdvanFort Company's research department.

Moulder observed that, "Unfortunately, the private maritime security company community remains, as a group, a motley crew."

Too many private maritime security companies (PMSCs), Moulder added, "still seek to increase their share of the market with proclamations, claims and even the invocation of misunderstood history that keep them competitive only at the risk of the greater good."

For example, to what extent have those who have engaged privately-contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) ended up finding that those of lesser talents and abilities have actually turned into the kind of financial, professional and even legal nightmares that hiring PMSCs is supposed to avoid, and how did that happen?

As the problems that have arisen have even included the creation of disputes between countries (particularly when dealing with Rules for the Use of Force), how can they be avoided by the better selection of one PMSC over another, and what criteria for judgment need to be employed?

Similarly, to what extent can operational best practices mean real savings for owners and operators who are still too often forced—given unwise contracting decisions—to have to delay their vessels already in transit in order to assure support from PCASP teams, particularly those guards who can only board from shore?

And what are the essential seafarer and security operator training programs necessary to assure that PCASP teams are truly part of the solution, rather than a big part of a continuing problem?

Finally, what cultural education and critical understanding about the customs and courtesies for those aboard shipping vessels serve as a bottom line for both the companies that need to contract PMSCs and for those seafarers onboard to carry out their jobs? And how do these help determine "best practice" relationships with the countries and, specifically, port authorities for whom above-board and productive ties are key to an industry already saddled with seemingly prohibitive insurance and difficult market competition?

These are some of the critical issues facing private companies engaged in the counter-piracy fight.