Working in the Maritime Security (MARSEC) Industry
By Kevin ‘Knocker’ Whyte
Maritime Security has become the new ‘Must Enter’ sector of the security industry, with long established MARSEC companies and new start-ups alike, picking up manpower intensive contracts to provide Armed and Unarmed security services on board vessels transiting High Risk areas, such as the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Gulf and the wider Indian Ocean.
With this in mind, there are lots of questions being asked as to the qualifications and experience of the ‘consultants’ being employed to provide this service on behalf of service providers operating in the region. Many such MARSEC companies advertise the fact that they only employ ex Royal Marine Commando’s. This in itself is nothing new, as within the security industry in-general; there are contracts and companies that require people of a certain ‘previous disposition’ upon the request of the client. However, with the MARSEC surge in recent months, there are a great many individuals wishing to break into this side of the business. This article is intended as a guide for those who are new to the industry, or wishing to add another string to their bow in their continued professional development. If you are looking at moving into the MARSEC side of the industry, there are a few things that I would recommend you complete beforehand. After all, you wouldn’t take a job as a London Cabbie without first completing the knowledge – would you?
Before spending a few thousand on courses, do your homework. You would be amazed at how many people complete various courses to enter into the MARSEC industry, without having set foot on a ship before, let alone sailed. Some take to it like a duck to water, others hate it and spend the whole of their first trip, feeling a little green. Upon their return home, they vow never to return to sea again and that’s that, they’ve made a bit of money, but ultimately they could have learned the fact, by taking a trip on a ship as a paying passenger.
Research the training providers and make sure that you are 100% happy with what they are going to provide you with. Some training companies have operational capacity, whereas others do not. A company that has ‘strong’ links to the employing companies means that you have a good chance of gaining employment, after training. It doesn’t stop with a Ship Security Officer (SSO) course. A course that was actually designed and intended for Merchant seafarer’s as an additional qualification to what they already do on ship.
To truly enhance your chances of employment you have to add strings to your bow. Possibly adding: Ship Security Officer (SSO) STCW 95 Basic Sea Survival, Fire Fighting Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) Basic Seamanship RYA Power Coxswain A good Medical qualification
The above qualifications are a good point to start from, in enhancing your employment prospects. You would be amazed at how many people turn up onto a job, having completed an SSO course, only to announce that it is their first time on board a ship, they struggle to put their life jacket on, can’t tie basic knots, don’t know port from starboard and generally rely on the fact that they were once in the 122nd Mess Tin Repair Battalion (MTRB) The more you are prepared to invest in yourself, the more you are likely to gain as reward for your efforts.
Team Member, Team Leader, Coxswain, MARSEC Consultant, Project Manager, are all roles that are achievable with the right qualifications. Recommendations only get you so far, ultimately after that you have to demonstrate your capabilities. With many jobs, you’ll be working with guys you’ve not worked with before. Therefore it is paramount that you are able to demonstrate your worth. You’re only as good as your last job and if you’ve bluffed your way in, through a friend without the required skills you will get found out.
There are many publications available that can give a further insight into the MARSEC business. Some simply state facts from the International Ship & Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code and SOLAS publications, but others are available that show how to harden various vessels. A search on the internet will reveal a lot.
A Day in the Life of a MARSEC Operator (well a few days)
You’ve completed your courses and have secured a contract with one of the MARSEC Operating companies and now you’re heading off on your first job. After making your way to London Heathrow Airport, you’ve linked up with the other members of the team and the introductions have been made. This job is a three man team, with an experienced Team Leader, a Team Member who has a couple of transits under his belt and you. The kit has arrived by Taxi and the TL checks that all is as it should be, signs for the kit and you check in. You land in Colombo, Sri Lanka a few hours later. The shipping agent has not turned up and you’re outside waiting for a random bloke to turn up and make an introduction. He finally turns up and you get all the kit (somehow) into the vehicle. They always send a vehicle that is too small for what you’ve got and how many of you there are. Wedged into the vehicle, you now begin the 4 or 5 hour journey to Galle Port, where you’ll be joining the ship after a lengthy immigration and customs process.
There are always issues with the kit and getting hold of the weapons. Some jobs are armed, others are not and it can be a six of one and half a dozen of the other scenario. When weapons are not part of the plan, it is usually down to the clients’ request. There are measures that can be taken to enhance your security profile, without the needs of weapons, but everyone feels more comfortable and ‘able to react’ if there are weapons on board. Whether or not those weapons will be ‘fit for purpose’ is another story.
You finally get all your kit and equipment squared away and a water taxi is ready to take you to your vessel. A bit of time for some obligatory photographs and you see the ship in the distance (more photographs) and before you know it, you’re alongside and looking up at small faces that are looking down. The crane comes into position and drops down a cargo net for the kit to be hoisted on board the vessel, and you begin the climb of the accommodation ladder and for the first time onto the deck of a super tanker. Some quick introductions on deck and the team checks that all kit and personal belongings are accounted for. With that the water taxi is sent away. First port of call for the TL and team is to visit the Captain and introduce yourselves, upon completion of a quick chat to arrange a time to sit with the Captain formally, it’s time for getting your accommodation squared away and if you’re lucky, maybe a bit of food and some head down. The standard of accommodation and food can vary considerably, so if you’re one who likes your home comforts and is of a fussy persuasion in the food stakes, you’ll either have to adjust or prepare for a thoroughly miserable time.
Accommodation can sometimes be a little cramped. Those who require personal space need not apply!!!
One of the first things that has to be established is whether or not the ship has had security personnel on board before? If not, you have a blank canvas. If so, were the team from the same company that you are working for, or from a different organisation. What measures were employed by previous teams? What stores are available for hardening the ship? Is the Captain open to a ‘home alone’ scenario, or is the shipping company policy ‘Passive Resistance Only’? The TL, along with his team will then conduct an assessment of the ship, taking photographs where necessary of the ships layout and defensive disposition. A vessel hardening document is produced and discussed with the Captain, to establish what is able to be done to harden the vessel. This is a relatively quick procedure as most companies and TL’s have already established practices that they employ for such situations.
On this occasion, it is established that the Captain and the Shipping Company are happy to employ any method of ship hardening, with the exception of Molotov cocktails. The TL then briefs the team as to what is going to happen, taking into consideration ideas and experiences of the team under his command. The hardening of the vessel commences, with the help of the deck crew.
Harden the vessel
Regardless of whether your team is armed or unarmed, hardening the vessel forms an essential part of the overall security plan. Any measures that can be employed to delay and hinder pirate progress onto and into the ship are a good thing. Use of:
Ships Radar Binoculars Night Vision Goggles (NVG) Thermal Image Intensifiers Search Lights Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) Fire Hoses Razor Wire Barbed Wire Barrels Trip Wires Nets Fencing Removal of ladders and stairs Purpose built or home-made weapons
All the above and more can be employed in imaginative ways to:
DETER DETECT DELAY DENY RESPOND
To ensure that the vessel is identified as a hard target by potential attackers and hopefully decide not to attack, possibly attacking another vessel recognised as a ‘soft target’.
Employ passive measures such as:
Ensure that the hull casing has no doors or openings that are open during the voyage.
Secure mooring stations and man overboard recovery areas, by removing equipment that could be an aid to the pirates, such as dangling ropes or nets.
Increase the height of the freeboard (in cases where the vessel is of a low freeboard)
Deploy Razor wire, to block off mooring stations, man overboard recovery stations and around the perimeter of the ship.
Use brightly coloured barrels, to form a lip around easy to climb parts of the hull. Used with razor wire, this is an excellent deterrent. Also using barrels to block off stair cases and ladders, again in conjunction with razor wire.
Apply grease onto access points and railings.
Deploy fire fighting hoses at strategic points around the perimeter of the ship.
Use of fire fighting (monitors) if fitted (aimed downward for maximum effect)
Deploy LRAD at a place where it will be most effective and can be operated under pressure.
Regular patrols and use of look outs. Uniformed, professional security personnel. Observing and reporting, leading to fast detection and response.
Use of actual or imitation firearms.
Detection is a key point of the security solutions implemented. It will determine the reaction time of the security team and/or crew on board.
Use the ships radar systems to detect shipping and boats and give early indication of potential threats.
Use crew members as lookouts on the port and starboard sides of the bridge wings, ensuring that these crew members are regularly rotated in order to remain alert
Security personnel on the bridge at all times to ensure that all security measures are employed correctly and can take advise the officer of the watch on any security threats.
Remain mindful of information supplied in security incident and piracy reports and advise the Captain accordingly.
Upon detection, the objective is to give information to local i or International Forces (if any) and delay all pirate actions (progress in direction of the vessel, boarding, and any attempt to steal ship property or crew members belongings or even to abduct crewmembers or hijack the ship)
Use of passive and active measures
Activate LRAD and warn approaching suspicious craft/s that they are encroaching into a security area.
Activate fire hoses (if not already activated) to give a visual sign that you have seen the vessel and are prepared.
Ensure that all sensitive material and documents are removed from ‘easy pickings’ and ready to go to the citadel upon command.
The security team will be responsible for the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in order to repel the attack, via means that are available to them and take charge of the crew response, which will be to get to a safe and secure area of the ship (citadel) that is determined by the Team Leader and Captain, during the ‘build’ of security measures and procedures.
The response of force has to be ‘reasonable and proportionate’ to the threat faced. If firearms are being carried by the security team on-board, then they have to be used in conjunction with ‘Rules of Force’ and within company Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). Warning shots and then lethal force should be employed, but only in order to stop the attack. An accurate record of what munitions are fired and at what should be made, as there are legal implications in the use of firearms in the various theatres of operation, in which you may have to prove that you and your team were in the right and used a level of force that was appropriate for the situation.
How to Harden?
The following photographs illustrate measures that can be employed to Harden a vessel:
Extra fencing/netting can be used to further hinder access and/or protect against ‘direct strike’ ‘Rocket Propelled Grenade’ attack.
A couple of schools of thought on this, but in any case it is an extra level of defence that can be employed as an extra deterrent and may well save life too!!!
Use of available stores to block off stair ways.
Measures to secure internal doorways can be adapted using many materials.
Block ladders with drums and wire.
Effective use of fire-fighting appliances.
The previous photographs are just a small taste of what you can do to help harden a vessel.
The Pirates Strike
You’ve hardened the vessel to the highest level that you can and a watch system is in place on the bridge, with patrols of harder to see or vulnerable areas taking place. A radar contact is established at 15Nm and there is no Automated Identification System (AIS) from the target. The on watch ‘consultant’ monitors the movements of the vessel and look outs are advised to keep a sharp eye on their arcs. The vessel closes to within 10Nm and communications has not been able to be established to find out the intent of the vessel. At this stage the on watch ‘consultant’ decides that the vessel is suspicious and calls down to the standby ‘consultant’ or TL to come to the bridge. The suspicious vessel is slowly closing and looks like a line trawler vessel. You remember images from your briefing and the vessel looks like it could be a ‘mother ship’ from which piracy attacks are launched. The TL decides to make the crew aware of the fact that a suspicious vessel is in the vicinity. The general alarm is sounded and a pipe is made, stating “Suspicious, Suspicious, Suspicious, there is a suspicious vessel within our area of operation. Suspicious, Suspicious, Suspicious.”
The above pipe, gives the crew warning that something is amiss and that the situation could either escalate up to ‘piracy’ or back down to ‘normal’.
As if by magic, 3 x skiffs are launched from the mother vessel and begin to make their way towards the ship. The general alarm is sounded again and a pipe made, stating; “PIRACY, PIRACY, PIRACY, All personnel proceed to the security muster station. PIRACY, PIRACY, PIRACY.”
At this point one of the security team goes down to the security muster point and ensures that all the crew are accounted for. Another security team member double checks the access points to the island and then returns to the bridge to assist the TL, who has activated the ships fire hoses and made a ‘pan-pan’ call to inform any coalition warships of the impending attack.
The pirates open fire from their skiff, aiming for the bridge in an attempt to get the vessel to stop. A Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) is spotted in one of the skiffs and that too is fired in the direction of the bridge, going wide and way off target, the RPG soft detonates harmlessly away from the vessel. The ship has increased speed and it making evasive manoeuvres to make boarding difficult. Where firearms are on-board, shots are exchanged and the pirates abort their attack (living to fight another day) or in the case of unarmed security, flares are fired at the skiffs, hoses and monitors are directed and measures such as heavy objects are thrown. A pirate manages to get on to the deck, followed by another one. Their priority at this stage is to get onto the bridge. Prior to this point, it was identified that this particular group of pirates is determined and the TL, Captain and remaining security head down to the citadel from the bridge, locking and blocking off doors with makeshift lock-blocks as they go. Upon arriving at the citadel, they knock to be let in. A voice challenges them with a password, to which they respond with the signal that they are not under duress and are let in. If they were under duress of the pirates another code word would have been used, alerting those in the citadel to sit tight and not open the door.
‘This is dependent on the shipping company policy, as some companies will simply give up once pirates are on-board and comply with their demands.’
Everyone is now in the citadel and you are waiting out, communications has been made with the coalition from the citadel and they are on their way. Many coalition forces will not board a vessel unless they are sure that all crew are safe and secure in the citadel. Pirates did not make it into the structure of the ship and a coalition helicopter overflew them, a sure sign that a warship is on its way. Now it is time for the pirates to bug out and try their luck elsewhere. They may steel ships stores that are readily available, but their main prize was the ship and the crew. Communications are made with coalition warships, who state that their forces are now on-board.
Security personnel leave the citadel on the demand of the military forces and it is established that the pirates are no longer on-board and that they have gone. Now a complete and thorough search of the ship is to take place, to ensure that there are no stowaways and to take an inventory of any equipment that is missing. Also checking for any damage that has been sustained during the fire fight and boarding. Vessel defences need to be repaired and the voyage, continues.
That is a bit of an overview of what a few days as a MarSec operator can be like. Reality is that most voyages with correct security measures employed encounter little or no pirate activity, as they go to find easier pickings elsewhere. Make sure that you take plenty of films and books to while away your time, as the biggest killer on a marsec job is boredom, fish heads and food you’d really rather not eat.
Kevin ‘Knocker’ Whyte is an Independent Maritime & Security Consultant, who has been working in the security industry since 2004, after 10 years in the British Military.
He has worked in Hostile Environments (Iraq and Afghanistan) and throughout Europe on Close Protection details and has been involved with the maritime side of business since 2006, working on•board various vessels, such as luxury cruise liners, yachts and commercial vessels throughout the world.