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08/05/2013 | Interview with Robert M. Wells, director of training and education, National Maritime Law Enforcement Academy

Martin Edwin Andersen

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.

Piracy Daily (Estados Unidos)

 


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