Maritime CEO

PVI: “Beyond simply guns on ships”


Caddington: If shipping is deemed cyclical, shipping services can often be seen as super cyclical, affected by rules, regulations or happenstance.

A shipping journalist’s email inbox is often a good meter of what is hot in service offerings as spammed by countless PR agencies. For instance, a couple of years back the crescendo began to rise on ballast water treatment systems ahead of legislation due out shortly. Conversely, there are reverse spin jobs, where press releases accentuate as a trend or threat to the industry seems to recede. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the world of private maritime security companies (PMSCs). They exploded as the Somali threat hit world shipping three to four years ago, but since the international naval coalition off the Horn of Africa has quietened the maelstrom down from last year the clamour for attention and business, dare one say the peddling of fear, among PMSCs has only ratcheted.

There are plenty who have come very late to the private security cash cow, many who have debatable qualifications that have besmirched the sector as a whole. Not so, Protection Vessels International (PVI), one of the best known names in the PMSC business.

Barry Roche joined the UK's PVI in 2009 as managing director one year after the company was founded, staffed with Royal Marines aboard ships. Prior to this he spent nine years building and operating a leading UK support services business, which he founded. Roche is one of the most vocal advocates for disciplined, strict operating controls for this emerging, fast-growing sector.

PVI claims to be the world’s largest maritime security provider. From this foundation Protection Group International (PGI) was formed. As ceo his role at PGI is to strategically grow the business. PGI is a global supplier of security solutions in all areas and sectors.

Successful pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean have dropped by nearly 30% since 2009, Roche says, something Maritime CEO contends is incorrect, the actual figure being more than 60%.

“In spite of the reduction in successful attacks, piracy and other security threats remain a very real danger to vessels and crew,” Roche maintains. Armed guards aboard vessels transiting high-risk areas, he says, have proven to be an “effective deterrent”.

Nevertheless, Roche is very keen to stress that the scourge of piracy is not over.

“It is important that we do not become complacent to the threat, or assume that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to combating piracy,” he says. The boundaries of attacks across high-risk areas and elsewhere globally have been expanding significantly in recent months, he says. “This has blurred the lines of perceived high risk areas and made vigilance of the potential threat more necessary for longer periods of time,” Roche tells Maritime CEO.

The socio-economic and political conditions across parts of East and West Africa – poverty, poor governance and corruption – remain the “seedbed for this ever-evolving threat”, Roche says. Despite much work internationally, a cohesive strategy to tackle the roots of piracy have not been found. “Without a solution at source in sight,” he says, “the reduction of incidents of piracy will continue to require a coordinated approach across the shipping industry.”

With so many private maritime security firms touting for business, how does a shipowner sort the wheat from the chaff? Roche admits: “Maritime security is still a relatively immature industry. The pieces are still in flux and it will be some time before it settles into anything close to a homogeneous industry with an accepted and acceptable level of service and professionalism.”

As the number of companies entering the market continues to grow, it is “inevitable”, Roche reckons, that there will be “significant variances” in the quality, integrity and professionalism of the services being offered. 

Services can range, Roche admits, from a highly professional, vetted, regulated and trained company, to an opportunistic start-up that chooses not to comply with any existing standard and offers low cost maritime security to hard-pressed shipowners.

“Many weaker security companies now look to undercut the competition by deploying smaller teams. This results in too few and poorly trained guards working hours outside of normal legal safeguards securing multi-million dollar maritime assets,” Roche tells Maritime CEO.  

BIMCO’s Guardcon standard contract recommends four guards. The average vessel requiring protection requires observation and the facility to prevent an attack from all sides. The master, who is legally responsible under flag state law for the actions onboard his vessel, must be appraised of the tactical threat as it evolves.

“The master must have best advice before he grants permission to escalate a response to attack,” Roche says, adding, “the security team leader’s place is and should always be at the side of the master.”

The remaining members of a four-man team, according to PVI standard practice, will be sent port, starboard and to the stern – which is where the threat is greatest or situational awareness is considered to be lacking.

If one, two or three guards are used and a vessel comes under attack, the team leader invariably must leave the master’s side to defend the vessel. The master should have the facility to order the guards to stop. This is easy if a team leader is next to the master, explains Roche, but on a very large crude carrier, the team leader could be 200m away.

The watch roster for a four-man team also allows for a sustainable eight-hour shift pattern with a doubling up of armed watch during high threat periods for an extended transit period. ln contrast, a three or two man team increases the workload on the team. lt can maintain a round-the-clock watch roster for only a short period before becoming overly fatigued. In this scenario the ship's crew must be responsible at times to alert the security team. “This subverts the very reason why trained guards are onboard,” says the PVI boss.  

Over the past few years there has been an increasing move towards the introduction of standards in the maritime security industry, something welcomed by PVI, keen to improve the overall reputation of this still nascent industry. “Although we are still not at the point yet where there is an accepted international standard, ISO 280007 represents real progress and potential,” Roche says.  

PVI is a forerunner in the process having recently agreed with Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance (LRQA) to take part in the ISO 28000/28007 pilot scheme and audit assurance process. The standard offers a transparent benchmark for shipping companies and importantly, provides a stamp of approval.

“If the ultimate aim is to draw upon this standard and channel it through international and national law,” the PVI head muses, “then this may well be a robust foundation for the normalisation and standardisation of armed guarding practices globally.”

PVI sees growth, Roche says, “in providing holistic, fully integrated security services to meet all requirements to the highest of standards”.  

Concluding, he says, “In establishing and maintaining this position we recognised early on that what the market required had gone well beyond simply guns on ships.”  [23/05/13]


With Somali piracy whimpering do shipowners genuinely need private maritime security companies today? Take part in the latest Maritime CEO poll launched today over at LinkedIn HERE.

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