Despite being on the front line for a sharp decline in successful hijackings in the Gulf of Aden, the use of armed guards has divided the opinions of the maritime industry, governments, and the UN.
With no definitive accreditation or standard for private maritime security companies to work towards and a series of failed attempts to set an industry standard, one of the main objections to having armed personnel aboard a vessel is the inability to verify the capabilities and professionalism of companies offering to place guards with lethal weapons aboard commercial vessels.
The ISO 28007 standard is the latest and most authoritative attempt to separate qualified security providers from the under-resourced and ill-equipped. ISO 28007 has gathered the support of organisations including INTERPOL, IMO, and the European Commission. Bimco even announced earlier this year that any private maritime security (PMSC) earning the standard would qualify to apply for an associate membership.
The standard necessitates an organised approach to security focusing on planning, training, awareness, documentation and communication. For the contractors, crime scene and forensic management, managing injuries and casualties, customer interaction and health and safety are all highlighted, as well as handling customer complaints.
For some PMSCs, such as recently rebranded Solace Global, already ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 accredited, with an existing Integrated Business Management System, qualifying is a matter of business as usual, as Tony Hanson, QSHE manager, explained.
“Solace is fully aware that the decision to embark armed security teams on private and commercial vessels is a risk in itself. We employ only former Royal Marines with vast experience in maritime operations with the right qualifications and skill set. These teams are continually supported by high-grade training, reporting safeguards and vigorous internal processes. These established protocols have not been affected by the implementation of ISO 28007.
“Solace expects to comfortably complete both stage one and stage two assessments by early October 2013, prior to UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) formally accrediting the standard.”
When asked if the standard favoured larger PMSCs, Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) founder and director Peter Cook replied: “As with all management standards, it favours those who have the resources to deliver against the requirements. Those who are able to state what they do against the standard, document how they do it and are able to prove it will succeed. This is not a size issue, it is a quality one.”
SAMI also hopes that the standard will continue to improve the perception of PMSCs in general, “It is very much the hope that the standard will create a level playing field and a means of differentiating providers – which in turn will raise the profile and boost the reputation of companies and the excellent services they provide. We drove and subsequently supported the development of standards and have been very pleased to be able to see the evolution of the industry and the means of checking that quality was at the core of service delivery. We have constantly worked to integrate the maritime security into the mainstream,” he said.
For owners however, it seems ISO 28007 will be a positive indicator, rather than a one-stop guarantee of suitability.
Phillip Belcher, marine director at Intertanko, commented, “Intertanko is strongly supportive of any steps towards ensuring that there is a clear, quality standard under which private maritime security companies operate.
“The ISO standard is good, but it is only part of the process of ensuring the quality and good work of these companies. Combined with the ISO standard is the risk assessment, and also the requirement for due diligence, that any ship owner will apply.
“While having the ISO accreditation is a very good step, as with all accreditation, companies need to deliver consistent, good and demonstrably high quality service standards which the ship owner will need to keep under review.”
For the next few months at least, ISO 28007 offers a rather handy first glance appraisal method for the owner vetting PMSCs; as the certification bodies carrying out ISO 28007 audits are yet to be accredited and are unlikely to be ahead of December. Any UK company claiming to be ISO 28007 has jumped the gun.