The Sullen Seas

Despite a significant reduction in reported piracy attacks over the last few years, it is now widely accepted by the maritime community that the safety of the High Seas cannot always be guaranteed by Governments. The future of marine security is about cooperation between the public and private sector; so says a private maritime security company.

Speaking at the Port Security Summit Conference in London, on Thursday, November 27, MAST's senior ship and yacht contingency response negotiator, Peter Astbury, said: “They are sullen seas and they are becoming less secure for the people who sail them. Although the Indian Ocean is relatively quiet at the moment, the overall political direction of Somalia is far from settled. Things could change very quickly and with very little notice. The prevalence of piracy, cargo theft and crew kidnaps in the Gulf of Guinea is well reported and it seems to be re-emerging east of Malacca.”

Astbury said that in the Mediterranean, few people realised the scale of the people displacement caused by the civil war in Syria and its spill into the wider region. The numbers of people affected ran into the millions and are adding to the numbers of migrants entering Europe by boat from Libya – itself in the throes of chaos and violence after the fall of the Gadhafi regime.

Astbury added: “More than 190,000 people have been trafficked this year alone through Libya into mainly Italy and Malta. With the cost of a passage estimated at up to USD1000 per person this implies a flow of funds into to criminal networks of almost USD200 million over the same period. Experience in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere has indicated a close connection between people trafficking, piracy and the trafficking of guns and drugs.”

Astbury explained that what he termed the super-connectedness of today's world sometimes places limits on the extent to which the international community can always act robustly to preserve law and order on the High Seas, because the policy priority will always be stability and the winning of 'hearts and minds' on land. Sending in the gunboats can sometimes antagonise fractured local communities and throw the internationally recognised political strategy off course.

He said: “The use of armed guards on ships in exceptional circumstances is likely to ebb and flow but will not disappear. Port authorities have a critical role to play in helping responsible ship owners protect their crews and in support of wider initiatives to curtail illegal gun trafficking – in particular by ensuring that they have transparent, predictable and commercially practical procedures in place to facilitate the embarkation and disembarkation of lawful firearms handled by properly certified private security teams. These procedures should be dovetailed with the existing obligations and procedures as required by the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS).

“The good news is that the United Kingdom's Accreditation Service (UKAS) now has a framework in place in the UK for private maritime security companies (PMSCs) to be certified to the new, provisional ISO standard – PAS 28007. PMSCS who have been certified against 28007 have submitted themselves to a rigorous audit by UKAS accredited auditors and found to be at the required standard. The emergence of a small group of certified PMSCs with high quality insurance is evidence of an industry that is maturing and becoming an accepted part of the management of risk in the marine environment.”

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