A few years back it was Somalia which took the maritime world by force, awakening ship owners to a new reality of maritime dangers. Today, when most people seem to think that these are now perils of the past, the realities of maritime shipping are much more dangerous and complex, just not so much in the spotlight any more, as high profile attacks are now scarcer.
In an exclusive interview with Hellenic Shipping News, Mr. Alexandros Theodosios Kontos, Chief Operating Officer with LSS-SAPU, a specialized maritime security company, highlights the complexity of threats, noting that maritime terrorism, kidnappings for ransom reasons and cyber crime are the three main issues.
LSS specialises in Information & Technology, Training and Security Services both ashore and at sea. LSS retains active offices in London, Galle, Athens, Limassol and Seoul. In 2010, LSS focused on the Somali Piracy phenomenon and founded the Special Anti Piracy Unit (SAPU) as a response. SAPU is made up of Special Forces Officers and commandos, highly experienced, constantly trained with over 35 Certifications/Qualifications each. Also, LSS – SAPU is a BIMCO Associate PMSC member, ISO/PAS 28007-01:2015, ISO 9001:2008 & ISO 14001:2004 certified and a signatory company of the International Code of Conduct Association – ICoCA.
A lot has changed since the rise of Somalian piracy back in late 2000’s until today. Where do we stand today in terms
of Somalia and its threat to the maritime industry?
Following the recent attack faced by the CPO Korea some 300nm off Somalia and the Chinese Navy deterrence by the use of warning shots against a Pirate Action Group consisting of 4 skiffs along with the hijacking of the Iranian fishing vessel a few months ago, it is safe to conclude the Somali Piracy threat is still out there.
The NATO withdrawal from the area certainly does not assist. Any balance in the HRA still comes from the three-legged stool of Navy active presence, BMP4 and Private Maritime Security Companies. Remove one of the three legs and the stool will collapse. Shorten one or more of the legs and the stool will not be performing well, if at all.
Which are today’s major “hotspots”, which ships will have to be extra careful when crossing?
The major hotspots are the HRA and especially the Bab Al Mandeb (BAM) where we even saw the tragic death of seafarers from an RPG attack against MV Joya, which set the vessel ablaze and ended up sunk. The Gulf of Guinea remains a deeply problematic area with no signs of improvement. Last but certainly not least the Sulu and Celebes seas area are quickly evolving into one of the worst areas a ship can sail with constant attacks, kidnappings and even beheadings of hostages when ransom payments are delayed. Combine the last with the recent attacks against Navy and Merchant vessels by RPGs in the BAM along with the Mukala attack we faced last year and we are clearly looking into a new era as far as maritime threats are concerned. This new threat is Maritime Terrorism.
Any and all vessels are under threat when crossing or operating these areas. Owners should conduct careful Risk Assessments considering all relevant factors in which they might very well conclude it is not safe to operate in these hotspots without the presence of armed guards, and/or patrol boats. As far as the Sulu and Celebes seas are concerned as no such service can be provided at the moment one may conclude it is best not to operate or even sail there at all.
Which are the biggest maritime threats today, apart from ship hijackings?
Even with a quick glance at the latest IMB report one can understand that Kidnap & Ransom along with Maritime Terrorism are well into today’s reality. K&R applies in the Gulf of Guinea and the Sulu/Celebes Sea with or without hijackings. It is essential to point out that it would not be a great surprise to experience Somali pirates switching tactics and adapting a similar model, which might not include hijacking the vessel itself. In fact K&R is relatively easy to implement in many areas of the globe.
As far as Maritime Terrorism is concerned in a nutshell we are looking at a totally different beast. The purpose here is not ransom money but terror. This can be inflicted by providing severe damage to merchant shipping like e.g. setting a vessel ablaze at a major shipping lane like the BAM but especially by claiming seafarers’ lives as it inevitably attracts the needed media attention, which gradually turns into terror.
Another threat we are staring in the eye is the Cyber threat. This threat is spreading as cancer and although the industry has recognized the problem it has little knowledge of what it can do, how fast it can do it and how dangerous it can be. This lack of pragmatism is exploited by Cyber attackers and has all the potential to evolve into a major problem in the years to come. However, I must stretch out so called experts emerge like mushrooms and claim anything that comes to mind as well. Selfcontrol is a virtue.
In what ways can a ship fall prey to cyber perils? Can you outline the basic vulnerabilities and what consequences can such actions have for the ship?
Sky is the limit really. Each and every piece of information that is transmitted can be retrieved and exploited. Whether it is a ship’s schedule, a charter party, economic or sensible info and many more. This can go against the office ashore, a vessel at sea or both, or even against a whole fleet. At this point let me stretch out with a very big statistic sample in hand we understand most vessels operate in old Windows versions, where even a petty hacker can inflict damage in little time.
How can a ship owner protect himself and his assets from cyber security?
By realising the magnitude of his exposure first. Only then can he comprehend the magnitude of the actions that need to take place. Hiring the right company for such a service will be the next step along with the relevant implementation of the new security measures. LSS-SAPU is in close liaison with industry experts and will launch such a service soon where all threats will be treated in the most efficient and economic way possible.
How has the private maritime security sector evolved over the years, as needs shifted?
This question requires pages of analysis but I will be laconic instead and point out the major threat of the industry. The industry is poisoned by Pirate maritime security companies. These “companies” are active in an illegal weapons trade daily coupled with dangerous guards swapping. They do this simply because they keep making millions from it. Numbers and severity are not exaggerated.
BIMCO has voiced some very serious concerns on the phenomenon, issued an explanatory note for the Guardcon and performed an educative webinar in order to assist all relevant parties understand the nature of the problem. Truth be told that helped but there is still much more to be done. Awareness is one. The necessity of a database where all owners can check the legality of the firearms they are about to embark to their vessels is essential if not crucial. Moreover, as BIMCO clearly stretched the Registries should be active about the problem and perform End User Certificate – EUC checks in other words check the identity of each firearm before every embarkation of armed guards on their vessels. A similar practice must be implemented by all port agents and floating armouries.
To the best of our knowledge Interpol along with certain national authorities are conducting a very thorough investigation against certain pirate maritime security companies and results will come out soon enough as new evidence have seen the light of day. Until then what an owner can do to protect his fleet from delays or even arrests is to perform an up to date due diligence to his PMSC of interest and check the EUCs along with the designated guards to embark his vessels on a transit basis. This must not be a one-off due diligence but an on-going one.
This industry has been regulated evr since its foundation but it is still clearly at first grade when it comes to legality. This provides the opportunity for anyone to enter and compete in an illegal and unfair fashion thus drag along all the professional and fair playing PMSCs down the abyss with him. Last but not least this is not a minority problem. Over 1/3 of the security companies nowadays are performing illegally and dangerously either with rented firearms, which no one maintains and supervises or even with untrained and ill certified guards. If owners understood the magnitude of the trouble they are sailing into for no good reason they would immediately take measures against it.
Which aspects should a ship owner examine when selecting a maritime security company?
As mentioned above legality nowadays is key. Another major problem is that the Laptop companies have evolved into Pirate security companies thus tick many if not all boxes in a typical due diligence procedure. Many are ISO 28007 certified as well and from a recognised certification body.
The solution is an external audit from the owners CSO or equivalent, which must take place in order to establish everything is in real order followed up by EUC and guard compliance checks on a transit basis. The “companies” that choose to take the illegal path of renting in/out firearms also choose to hire any and all guards as well. Therefore, an owner thinks he hired PMSC Alpha to safeguard his vessel when in reality he is embarking illegal firearms from “company” BRAVO with guards from “company” Charlie or even from two “companies”.
As you can understand this is not just about legality, insurance and costs but of a security nature as well. The owner has unchecked guards on board most probably untrained too with illegal firearms in hand. How can they protect his vessel when they have little knowledge on how to use the weapons in hand? They could very well be unfamiliar with how this firearm works as they are not trained for it. And even if they do know how to use them its illegal to do so thus prejudices the according insurance covers of the owners and their own covers – if they have any.
Do you think piracy will ever fall in such low levels that the need for hired security will be eliminated?
Maritime Crime is evolving into a Lernaean Hydra. Whilst the Somali piracy problem was been handled, the Gulf of Guinea piracy problem arose and then we experienced piracy in the South East Asia, followed up by the spike of kidnappings and deaths in the Sulu/Celebes Sea. Therefore, I reckon we are far off from such low levels of maritime crime globally in the near future.
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Source: Hellenic Shipping News