Maritime piracy not only leaves ships and sailors exposed to hijacking; it increases the cost of shipping and, in particular, has meant significant increases in sea vessel insurance.
This month, a first-ever counter-piracy program designed for companies that work in the merchant marine environment is being given by the National Maritime Law Enforcement Academy (NMLEA) in conjunction with the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS). The course is not just an effort to meet growing international demands for standardized (and professionalized) counter-piracy teams worldwide. It also suggests the growing willingness of a once-reluctant maritime industry to engage private security companies when the latter closely adhere to "best practices" -especially when those focus on the effective integration of outside protection teams with vessel captains and crews.
Robert M. Wells, the founder of the NMLEA and a former special agent with United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, is the Academy's director for training and education and a key player in the creation of the new counter-piracy program. Wells met with Piracy Daily editor Martin Edwin Andersen during a break in the course, held at the spacious and inviting MITAGS campus, to discuss what the training for possible piracy encounters meant to leading companies such as AdvanFort and Moran Shipping Agencies, and why he though the effort was significant for the betterment of world trade.
Here is part of that conversation...
Andersen: As our friends from Maritime TV have noted, this new course encapsulates training for piracy encounters, and is a critical and-until now-overlooked first step in protecting maritime assets.
Wells: How we got into this-the baseline-is very important. This is not an area in which a lot of companies, or organizations, or even governments want to be involved. There are many organizations out there that have tried to come up with "best practices"-we've taken all of those best practices and consolidated them into internationally-recognized best practices, blending them into a single program that goes beyond the recommended STCW 95 for maritime security officers. What we have come up with is a transparent program that industry can feel comfortable with-a program that is independent, with outside auditing and assessment by well-known organizations like ours.
Andersen: How so?
Wells: If we place armed security officers onboard a vessel and they see the MITAGS and NMLEA seals on them, they understand that these guys are trained to integrate effectively with a ship's operations, captain and crew. It is not just a matter of having those skills sets that make them unique in this business, but specific knowledge of issues such as the proper use of force, which is huge. If you Google YouTube and put in "counter piracy incidents" and you will see some of the most gross displays of "excessive use of force" imaginable-and then you have companies saying, "This is why you need to hire us." Industry is looking at all of that and saying, "Wait, not so fast." But when our guys are deployed, and they see the MITAGS and NMLEA seals on that security officer's dossier, the captain is going to know that they have been trained for what they need.
Andersen: Ultimately we are talking about uniform standards, those best practices that include transparency, which take into account perspectives that range from those of the guards themselves to those of vessel owners. How did you put together a curriculum that spans those interests, that makes sense for everyone?
Wells: You never want to write a program like this unless you've actually been in the field and done it. One of the things that I did was go on a float for a few months and interviewed captains, crews, shipping agents, shipping companies, I talked to various government agencies in different ports in the both the Indian Ocean and in the Middle East. I listened to the concerns and challenges they were having in the field and tailored our program to meet those concerns and challenges.
Andersen: What were your most important conclusions in terms of lessons learned that needed to be applied to education and training?
Wells: My findings were that one of the biggest, most troubling issues faced by industry were these young operators, oftentimes Special Forces guys, aboard ship and not integrating well with the captain and the crew, not understanding that the master of that vessel is truly the master and commander of that ship-the end all and say all-and their job is to keep the bad guys off the boat, preferably using a minimum amount of force necessary to get that job done.
Andersen: How does it translate into day-to-day realities?
Wells: Like I said, all you have to do is Google-up YouTube "pirate attack incidents" and you will see some of the most gross displays of excessive use of force imaginable. And some of these companies are pointing to them and saying, "And this is why you should hire us"-and there are those in industry who have looked at these and said, "Oh my God, this is not what we want. We want the bad guys off our vessels, but that kind of use of force is well beyond necessary and could make the company, captain and crew look very bad."
Andersen: It is really interesting that a company as large and as well respected as Moran would be one of the first out the gate with your program...
Wells: They and others understand the necessity to integrate into the merchant marine environment and work effectively with captains and crews. They understand the need to train, that in order to be professionally recognized by the industry they are going to need the STCW 95 and other recommended training and performance objectives and have to go through a vessel security officer course to better understand the corporate ship security officer role, the vessel security officer role, and their own role in that security system.
Andersen: Moran being here is a clear signal that they wanted to be part of that process...
Wells: They absolutely wanted to become involved with this because they have seen some of the challenges in the industry, they want to be an effective part of raising the bar, raising that level of professionalism, ensuring that independent organizations like ours and the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies, recognized institutions that vessel owners can look at and say, "Now that they are involved I can feel more comfortable knowing these armed guards have been through and have been trained by a neutral third party." The rules for the armed security guards aboard certain vessels will vary of course. That is for companies and those fielding armed officers to determine. What this program does is train the officers in vessel security, vessel operations, and emergency response, use of force, self-rescue and other things the ordinary seaman and those in the merchant marine industry must have as a basic requirement to go to sea.
Andersen: What is key?
Wells: The folks who receive a National Maritime Law Enforcement Academy seal are meeting not just the industry's best practices as described by the ISO and the IMO and so many other organizations out there. They are also getting that industry endorsement through MITAGS that certifies they have met the STCW95 requirement and been certified as vessel security officers. That is critical as to their officer safety and survival as well as good safe and effective vessel operations at sea.
So when Moran or any other company comes in, part of what they are all signing on to is transparency, checks and balances, accountability-so the quality assurance programs that each of those organizations use by themselves are reviewed by the Academy, it signs off that they are using "best practices," they are signed off on as meeting certain milestones that this program's training is a part of, and they've also signed off on independent audits every six months to be done within the organization by an outside entity, the Academy..
Andersen: How is that?
Wells: Our auditors come in and do that assessment and then industry can take a look at how they did on our report card which will be posted on our Web site-are they meeting those standards and are they doing what they need to do in the most ethical, responsible way possible? Signing onto this quality assurance program is evidence that the company engaged with us is doing its very best to meet and exceed recommended standards.
Andersen: What is the Academy's role vis-à-vis international organizations, and how might that fit into corporate assessments of this new program?
Wells: Organizations that are coming up with and putting forward best practices based on their experiences is very important. The reason we are not affiliated with those private organizations is that we want to be autonomous. We listen to them, we take those best practices, we're blending them into our training, and we make sure that they are addressed through our curriculum.
That said, we are remaining independent and autonomous for a reason. That's because, no matter what organization you have, you need an outside, independent body that is going to be recognized beyond the scope of the industry. MITAGS is recognized as giving some of the best training on the planet to mariners. When you get a seal of certification from MITAGS you understand that this organization has been around for a while-they are Coast Guard recognized, they are IMO recognized. That adds credibility. Their quality of training is more than well known in the industry.
Andersen: And the NMLEA?
Wells: The NMLEA brings in the Coast Guard and MARAD-certified training through EDG Portstar, a training program that was born of a $6.2-million grant from DHS FEMA to Florida State University and crafted with Federal, state, and local authorities, as well as ports authorities and maritime industry leaders-the part of this that has to do with maritime domain awareness. These officers need to know what to look for in ports-once that boat is tied up, sometimes they will be off and running, while other times they will be staying on that vessel. They need to know the ins and outs of port security once that vessel is tied up and what are the protocols that exist there. These are awareness-training programs that every officer should have on their checklist.
Andersen: For those who want to join private maritime security companies, should those PMSCs be able to see who has participated in courses such a this one...
Wells: Absolutely. Any of those who graduate from the program, if they make an application to a company, that company can contact the Academy and we will validate all the training that they received and what certifications they received through the Academy, through MITAGS and through the other certified trainers we have working with the Academy. Records will also be kept at MITAGS for their portion of the training certifications as well as at EDG for the Maritime Domain Awareness Training.
Andersen: When you put all this together, what you seem to be moving toward is a recognized corps of international maritime sea marshals-with myriad countries being able to work together because of a real interoperability, both because of the type of people you would be training and what you are training them on.
Wells: In a perfect world, given the nature of international trade, the interoperability of the global transportation system that we enjoy, it would be wonderful if the International Maritime Organization would consider credentialing officers who have been through a training program like this-something recognized by them, acknowledged by them-so that all the nations that are signatories with the IMO would recognize international sea marshals. It would make certain issues regarding armed officers aboard ships in various countries more comfortable with their presence and pave the way for a more effective way of protecting our international trade through the maritime transportation system.
That way, those individuals could take their seaman books and get through customs a little more effectively, get to embarkation points more effectively, and work more effectively with their vessels. In other words, more easily manage the materials they need to do their job-a job that is now recognized in this industry as a necessary one to promote safer trade and transportation throughout the world.
RADM (Ret.) Terence E. “Terry” McKnight, the pioneering U.S. Commander of Task Force 151 off the coast of Somalia and the author of Pirate Alley, visited AdvanFort’s Washington, D.C. office to meet with President Will Watson and other senior staff.
Interview with Pirate Alley author Adm. Terry McKnight
U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Ret.) Terence E. “Terry” Mc K n i g h t was the pioneering U.S. Commander of Task Force 151 off the coast of Somalia and is the author of the new book, Pirate Alley, published by the Naval Institute Press. Recently McKnight visited AdvanFort’s Washington, D.C. office to share what Advanfort company President Will Watson called his “vast and valuable expertise” on maritime security issues and the challenges posed by piracy as a transnational security threat in the Gulf of Aden and, increasingly, in other areas of the globe.
Later McKnight met with veteran journalist Martin Edwin Andersen to talk about some of the most positive developments taking place since McKnight took command of the Task Force in 2009. He stressed both the concrete support offered to counter piracy by the United Nations and the unique naval coalition —the 26 partner nations of the Combined Maritime Forces from around the world—as key. He also pointed to the importance of private security firms in providing necessary law enforcement help to those navies, and the “lessons learned” that might be of great help elsewhere. Here is part of that conversation:
Andersen: One issue coming to the fore, given the increasing role of countries’ militaries in the fight, concerns how civil-military distinctions on water are claimed by some to have little parallel on land, and vice versa. Do you think that that is true and, if it is, what consequences has that brought to international efforts to fight piracy?
McKnight: When focusing on a land operation you have close scrutiny of what is going on. For example, we had security teams in Iraq and Afghanistan and you could see how they were operating day to day. The problem that I fear is that, when they are out on the ocean there is a fine line on the Law of the Sea and how these security forces are operating. Are they following the correct rules of engagement? Are they concerned about the well-being of mariners that are out there, such the problem of mistaking fishermen for pirates, and are they focused on the rights of the average citizen? So my biggest concern is the proper training on rules of engagement going after pirates.
Andersen: The unique cooperation among nations in Gulf of Aden has caused both positive and negative commentary. For example, China is one of the nations that is helping, but also carries with it human rights baggage from other arenas. How do you view these as potential lessons to be learned?
McKnight: I think that it is very positive that China is out there—it’s a good news story that they are out there and that they are working as part of a coalition. Every nation carries its own baggage; we all have our own problems. But I think we have to be cautious about what China’s goals are out there. Are they out there just to fight pirates, or are they out there to find how they can become a blue-water navy like we were in the early 1900s? We have to be very careful on how we deal with China.
Andersen: For example?
McKnight: If the U.S. Navy says maybe it can’t support anti-piracy operations, and now all of a sudden China says, “Well, we can be the leader out there,” putting a marker in the sand and taking over some of these operations. So we have to be very careful in how we deal with China.
Andersen: Following up on that, China is very involved on the continent of Africa.
McKnight: Absolutely right. They get a lot of their oil from there. If you look at the size of the Chinese merchant fleet—five of the top seven [world] commercial lines are Chinese flag vessels—so they have a concern. And the trade and goods from China are not only going to the U.S., they are going to Europe, they are going to Africa. So they have a keen interest that they have a free flow of commerce also.
Andersen: How can private companies help promote better standards and thus even better cooperation?
McKnight: I think you have to work with the militaries, to make sure that the private contractors are following the same standards as the militaries are following. Working together, training together. When I was in the Navy the biggest question was, is that person who is going to fire that 50-caliber gun on a U.S. ship trained and ready to go and knows how to respond? Do we have those same procedures in place? When you put a security team on a merchant vessel, how do they work with the master? Do they understand the language— is there a barrier? They have to understand those techniques so the master isn’t just throwing his hands up in the air and saying, “Okay, you just fire on anybody,” without concern for human rights.
Andersen: A number of analysts, looking at the progress that has been made in the Gulf and elsewhere, nonetheless warn about the increasing sophistication of some pirate organizations. Do you see evidence of that; if so where, and what might be done to anticipate their evolution?
McKnight: It’s a money-making business and they are going to try their hardest to stay ahead of us. When we stood up the task forces in the Gulf of Aden we pretty much knew that, once we stood them up, they were going to try to go out into the Indian Ocean. That’s exactly what they did. How did they extend themselves? They took mother ships. So they are always looking for tactics to overcome those of ours. And they are like anybody else—they are going to hire consultants, and they are going to say: “How can we defeat armed security teams? How can we get better?” We didn’t think that some of them would operate at night, but now we’ve seen operations at night. If they want to continue to make money off of piracy, they will change their tactics.
Andersen: In your book you suggest that the successful protection of targets such as container ships and crude oil carriers may result in pirates turning to crime on land, such as the kidnapping of foreigners. Have you seen examples of this, and if so, where?
McKnight: What we are seeing is a lot of sailboats coming out of the Seychelles [an island country spanning an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean], or coming out of the Maldives [another group of islands in the Indian Ocean], that are high-risk, high-interest targets because they are very easy to hijack. The sailboats aren’t worth anything, human property is, so what they are going to do is capture these people, take them to land, and ransom them. We have a couple of cases where people have spent a long time in Somalia because of the high ransom payments. And who can pay these ransoms? The governments are not going to pay them, so it’s up to the families to get the money to get these people out of captivity. Right now we are seeing it in ones and twos, but that isn’t to say that it couldn’t happen later because in the spring time a lot of these sailboats are trying to get through the Gulf of Aden into the Mediterranean before the trade winds change, so you see a lot, a lot of sailboats in the February/March time frame.
Andersen: In Latin America one of the problems with the drug traffickers is the so-called “balloon effect,” where when you come down on criminals in one area, they just establish operations in another country or another sub-region. Is this also a danger in terms of the pirates?
McKnight: We thought we had the problem contained in the Gulf of Aden and then it went out into the Indian Ocean, and then it went into the region of the Seychelles. So they are going to go out there and do what it takes to hijack some of these vessels. We’ve seen them out 1,500, almost 2,000 miles, along the coast of India. If they can get the vessels and extend their reach, they’ll get out there.
Andersen: Looking back, what do you think are the lessons concerning the best ways to outfit ships for travel through high-risk areas?
McKnight: It is very surprising, and very inexpensive, but the No. 1 thing is lookouts. If you have a keen eye, if you can see what is going to happen— whether it is on a radar, or a visual lookout—it is perfect. A lot of these commercial ships didn’t have lookouts. We are only talking about a 450-mile journey to go through the transit lanes. During that time period you want to be on your highest alert.
The other is speed. We have never seen a merchant vessel going over 18 knots that has ever been hijacked. It is too complicated for them. Speed, look outs, simple things like fire hoses over the side; listening to the warnings that come out from the UKMTO [UK Maritime Trade Operations] office—all those things help tell where the pirates are. It is a matter of being vigilant and ready to go.
Andersen: In one sense, those facing piracy in the Gulf of Aden particularly, and in and around the Indian Ocean, were fortunate in that pirates there were demanding ransoms, which many consider “newsworthy,” while those problems involving things like maritime armed robberies appear to get much less attention. What more do you think needs to be done to raise international interest in a problem that is clearly on the rise in other parts of the world?
McKnight: One of the issues is paying the ransom payments. Merchant communities will tell you that they have to pay those ransom payments or else they will not get mariners to transit those corridors. If we continue to pay those ransoms, there will continue to be acts of hijacking and piracy. We have to reach a resolution that says, ‘Okay, we are not going to pay ransom, and we are going to protect the ships going through those areas so that they do not get hijacked.’
Andersen: Clearly U.S. policy has changed over the last several years, particularly regarding Washington’s position on the role of private security firms. Now that some claim the threat of piracy is on the wane in the Gulf, what changes, if any, do you see for private firms, including their role vis-à-vis multinational and national government maritime security efforts?
McKnight: One thing I hope does not happen is that, because piracy is on the wane, navies don’t start to pull out. If navies start to pull out I think you will see private security teams that will not be as protective and you will see piracy start to pick up again. It is private security firms, the navies, and the maritime community, working together, that can bring down the number of piracies.
Andersen: It would seem that, given the fact that the maritime industry is hurting worldwide (due in large part to the rising cost of insurance and the escalating costs associated with capture by pirates), some of what is underscored is the importance and the factors involved with pricing of possible solutions. How do you think the market is handling those, and what—if anything—more needs to be done?
McKnight: I think you’ve seen a little bit higher prices in markets. If the insurance rate goes up, the customer is going to pay for it. If you have a transit journey that is extended to avoid pirate areas the customer is going to pay that. Let’s say that if piracy does pick up, and merchant vessels decide to avoid the Gulf of Aden, you could see a spike in the oil prices in the United States.
Andersen: One problem continues to be a question of international law and how the status of private armed patrol boats remains unclear. What do you think is being done to effectively address those problems and what more needs to be done?
McKnight: One thing is that the United States has to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty. As the leader of the world and of the maritime community, we have to get onboard with everybody else. The United States fears that we have a UN tribunal, that sort of thing, but if the navies cannot provide protection for shipping, and we have these private security teams, how are we going to enforce the Law of the Sea, just like we enforce the laws of any nation-state; how do we enforce it in the Gulf of Aden or on the Indian Ocean?
Andersen: What are the possibilities for additional practical coordination between public and private forces against piracy?
McKnight: One of the key events that we have is the Shared Awareness and Deconflation (SHADE) conference [hosted by the 26 partner nations of the Combined Maritime Forces], where we get together with all the coalition navies, which could be a good mechanism to bring the merchant and private security communities together—so we’re all in the same room talking about the same thing. We could talk about our needs, and share intelligence. If the U.S. Navy knows that there is a pirate cell operating in Somalia, we need to share that information with the private security teams. It is not a national security thing; it is a law enforcement issue. We don’t have to share how we got the information, we just need to identify where the threat is, if they need to avoid that area, or—if we know that there is a mother ship operating in a certain location—to make sure that every vessel operating in the area is on the lookout for possible pirate activity.
Andersen: Those working in private sector solutions maintain that highly-professional guards lower, rather than exacerbate possibilities of violence and therefore fundamentally reinforce human rights and other legal considerations. How important is this in the context of today’s threats, and why?
McKnight: Most of the security teams are hiring ex-Special Forces members who are trained not only on self-defense, but security issues. All indications are that the majority of the teams that are out there are sanctioned by the governments and have gone through some type of certification, on how they are trained and what they are trained for. So it’s not like the Wild West, where it was: “Let’s just form a posse and grab people off the street.” The last thing you want to do is have a company that is sending people out there who are not trained and we have an incident that would put a bad name on the maritime community.
Andersen: There has been a lot of talk that this is such a small slice of the pie of global commerce, so is it cost effective to send multi-million-dollar warships out just there to fight the pirates?
McKnight: I think it is. I think that every nation that is out there has a concern for the free flow of commerce around the world. In 2012 and beyond, the world is going to get flatter; it is not just the European Union or another group that are the only ones trading. For the U.S. Navy, one of our key missions is the free flow of commerce. With piracy, if we don’t have enough ships we have to figure how to have the right assets out there to protect that free flow.
Admiral (Michael) Mullen, when he was chief of naval operations, talked about the 1,000-ship navy and everybody in Congress thought, “Oh my God, we can’t afford a thousand ships.” What he was talking about was all these navies, the 1,000 ships were all these coalitions working together to protect commerce wherever it is. We just don’t have the resources alone, ships are more expensive; we have to operate at extended ranges. The more we work together and cooperate as coalition forces, the better off we are going to be.
Published in the Council of American Master Mariners, Inc., Sidelights, December 2012, Vol. 42, No. 5.
(Will Watson, CAMM Associate Member since 2009 and current president of AdvanFort, submitted this interview for publication in Sidelights.)