Ship operators hire armed guards to countenance the potential use of lethal force to defend a vessel in extreme and proscribed circumstances. It’s a serious business and has potentially significant consequences; however, there continues to be a trend within some quarters of the industry that devalues the importance of armed guarding through low prices and loose guidelines.
The costs of placing armed guards have risen considerably since the disruption caused by COVID-19 took effect, but this does not mask the relentless downward pressure on prices over the previous 24 months and barely alleviates the financial pressures of increased operating costs and reduced business volume induced by the pandemic. In response, this precipitated a race to the bottom price war amongst some providers looking to retain market share at all costs. To achieve rock-bottom prices compromises have been made, short-cuts taken, standards lowered, blind-eyes turned, ignorance and indifference ingrained on both sides of the supply and demand equation. However, failing to understand and assess the threat for each specific transit, ignoring and failing to interrogate financial substance, capability and operational standards of the private maritime security company (PMSC) is a dangerous game and has serious consequences.
The impact of Covid-19 on the movement of personnel between vessels and ports, the extended levels of isolation at sea, poor working conditions and financially struggling PMSC’s mean there are a number of significant factors that vessel operators need to consider. Due diligence in terms of SOLAS and financial viability are of paramount importance to safeguard cargo, crew and reputation. In light of operational difficulties an increasing number of operators are failing to carry out due diligence on the armed guards they use, opting for the cheapest options to ensure they meet the minimum requirements of their insurance providers for transits through high risk areas like the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
When it comes to hiring personnel with designated security duties including armed guards, vessel operators will invariably get the service they pay for and thus are liable for the associated heightened risks of dealing with such providers.
Vessel protection and armed guarding should be defined by the highest of standards and needs to provide vessel operators with quality assurance at its best. In a commoditising industry we aim to stand out for our refusal to cut corners.
Vessel Protection: Armed guard due diligence checklist
Why is it important to complete a due diligence checklist?
For each voyage, the decision to engage a PMSC is an operational one, which should be based on a bespoke voyage-specific risk assessment. Due diligence in the selection of a private maritime security company (PMSC) is indeed able to be conducted upstream of such a requirement but should be thorough and potentially revisited in part if their engagement is deemed necessary.