Vessel security, Are They Mercenaries?

This is a topic that was raised in Oslo recently when a prominent individual in the industry said that on board security teams were mercenaries. Now there are a lot of security companies that have suddenly emerged into the vessel protection industry just because they see a money making opportunity. They throw a few armed guys on a ship for a couple days at a time and call that security. I must say that being called a mercenary is a bit offensive since this is a profession. Proper ships security is not what these companies are doing. they will put your ship, and more importantly the crew, in greater risk of harm than an unarmed, professional team, that has the proper objective, training and plan in place. I will leave the rest open for discussion.

One of the classification societies needs to start a system to approve security venders. Ship owners are not dumb, they realize that many of the providers are true professionals, but how do they determine which ones are pros and which are trigger happy hacks? The risks are too high to gamble on provider.

You are correct. the ship owners are not dumb. for now, the ship owners need to carefully select the service provider and not rush to hire a company just because they happen to be close by. If the ship owner or representative has the opportunity to evaluate the methods and response plan of the provider, then they can get the proper picture of the protection they will receive. A vessel protection service provider needs to give long term solutions to the issue, not just a band aid approach for a particular transit.

cmjeff, Just to add a little for more clarification, Ship owners need to look at your staff and management, as well as what training the staff has had. In regards to this as an example, all our team members are required to complete the necessary training to possess a valid seaman’s book before they can be deployed. they must complete BST, PSCRB,SSA, MARPOL-1, MARPOL-2 and PADAMS as a minimum. In addition, all our staff are military veterans and most combat veterans. Now this is not done just because they are soldiers, but due to the fact that any team must be able to operate under high stress conditions and perform. You can’t take a security guard out of the mall and expect him to perform under these conditions. In addition, there must be discipline and chain of command. they understand that the Ships Master is the Commanding Officer and they work for him. We look at it as supplying an augmentation crew with a defined objective. Now that is a short brief on us, but other companies have their own qualifications and methods.


Our guys, have none of those things. I am lucky to have them all small arms qualified and 1st aid trained. They never have an marine training and rarely speak more than broken English.


It is extremely beneficial to get your guys some maritime training, even if it is just STCW certification. The goal is to make them an integral part of the crew, which is professionalism, not just passengers. Your guys will get more respect that way and will exhibit more confidence when on board. As professional service providers, we want the industry to have a standard of performance that does not give the stigma of mercenaries. I think it will be sooner than later that the international maritime organizations will start to recommend a standard for private security on merchant vessels. I am not one for over regulation, but in this case, I believe a standard should be set.

I agree about the training, but without manditory regulations, the operating company and the security company will not pay for such training. Sure I involve them in my fire and boat drills as well as other such exercises, but there is no way I am going to be able to convince anyone to put them through any sort of STCW courses.

We will have to see what the IMO comes up with. It might actually happen if the piracy in Somalia keeps on going and more security is hired.

I guess I have to say, and it is my own personal opinion, if you are going to serve on a merchant vessel, even as security (temporary) you should provide your teams with appropriate training. Actually that is in line with this thread, asking the question are they mercenaries?

Nobody wants some gun toting hack on board their vessel that may be trigger happy. some mariners (except the need of security) would rather not have teams on board at all. The most appropriate thing to do is provide the training. I believe the training is the responsibility of the security provider and not the shipping company.

I did a bit of limited research about the topic. Apparently you must have the minimum STCW certification if you are considered as part of the crew. Pilot’s and certain technicians and of course passengers, are not considered part of the crew. I am not a maritime lawyer so you would need to get an explanation from a professional in that field. But the simplest way to determine if any member on board is actually part of the crew, is the signing of articles before a voyage. If that is required, then they are considered as a crew member and minimum training standards would be required.

We consider our people as part of the crew merely for the fact that they work directly under the SSO and everything they do must be approved by the ship’s Master.

I hope someone monitoring this thread can give us some expert input on this.


Being new to this blog, first time, I can only say that I agree with you comments about security teams on ship. It should be left to the people who have been doing it for years, SSO’s.
As an owner of a company that deals with maritime security, it may sound strange, but I am anti armed men on ship. Look at my web pages and you may say you understand, but I think you may be wrong in you thinking. I set up Over-watch because I see a disaster waiting to happen when some guys open fire on a pirate ship and LOOSE the fire fight.


I agree with you on the armed part with firearms, however, the only way to properly defend a ship, is to be on the ship with a well planned, multi-layered defense. Either train the crew to do it or use ship’s security teams. There are plenty of effective methods to properly defend a merchant vessel without the use of actual firearms.

I am behind you 100% on that idea. Trained crews and SSO’s can and have defended ships in the past few weeks. But knowing you have a problem when it is 30, 40, 50 nm away gives the crew of vessels the time they need to put all that training into place. Having an aircraft overhead, which has already identified the threat, passed it on to the authorities and is continually sending radar and visual data to them and the ships crew, the aircraft being a massive deterent. This has got to be a better solution than a crew dodging RPG’s and AK47 fire.

This isn’t exactly correct. The test of whether someone needs STCW Basic Safety Training is whether they have designated duties for safety and pollution prevention. What you’ve found is closer to a common description of whether someone is a Jones Act seaman entitled to certain legal protections.

Hi, I have been deputy chief security officer onboard the biggest known Cruises vessels, so let me say a few things here.

I am pro armed security, and wouldn’t have it any other way. The circumstances had dictated that I serve unarmed, and I never felt safe.
Couple of times I had to use physical force, but just to overpower some hotshots, who lost their heads because of tequila in Mexico, or felt that cruise companies are too soft and wouldn’t react.
These days, I hear several blasts in Baghdad [B]every day[/B]. In the evening, I read about how many people died.

I am in Baghdad since Aug 08, and seeing things from my current perspective, I am amazed that these fanatics had not managed to infiltrate cruise industry and blow themselves onboard a 5.000 passenger vessel.

[U]Cruise industry is all about money.[/U]

They save money by NOT designating a brig of some kind onboard, they intercept and modify ship plans as soon as they left designer’s office.
One more room to rent :wink:
Now you tell me … how smart it is to have 5.000 passengers onboard, and not a single room to restrict someone who looses control drinking or swallowing pill?
After 9/11 there was a period of concensus over maritime security, but as soon as it became old news, the budget went down.
Accordingly, philippino and thai security staff became the only possible option, due to the low cost of hire, and small salaries.

Once I confronted Chief Security Officer, in front of the all security team (16 people), because of his arrogance, he shouted back, I shouted at him and said "just what do you think you or any of these guys can do to me?"
He stepped back, and glancing at the security team, I saw they were terrified of possibility to have to subdue me.

How does anyone expect thet any of those philippino or thai security would ever be firm or (if needed) assertive with guests? All they are good at, is to swipe cruise card through magnetic reader and say thank you.

Some places, like St. Maarten for example, are way to easy to get through. You can dress youself in 80 pound of explosive, and walk straight to the ship’s entrance. All you need is a cruise card that someone leave on a beach by the towel.

It is just too scarry. :eek:

Well I hope everyone is clear just why I am pro armed cruise ship security.
And for those asking what if some trigerhappy security starts to shoot - let me ask back - why would you give driver’s licence anybody? What if someone goes to drive under influence of alcohol?

One more thing … Seamarshals are offering $1.750 for the Ship Security Team Leader, to possibly face armed pirates. Recruiting is ongoing in East Europe. Anybody willing to comment?

I completely agree the only thing with ship crews going through training is that it should be an ongoing process that is mandated by the Shipping company. Our organization believes that shipping crews should develop with security companies comprehensive emergency action procedures and then provide training on top of that.

Armed Security aboard ships should be a must. Non lethal means such as tasers and foams work but firearms should be standard.

I am not anti firearm by any means, however we must work within reality, and that is that the majority of shipping companies, International maritime organizations, underwriters and more, strongly discourage the use of firearms on board merchant vessels. In addition, the liability and legalities internationally make it very discouraging to provide firearms on the vessels. the key is, to create a plan, methodology and defensive posture that maximizes defensive capability. Then you need to have the right personnel on board that can put this into action effectively. If you can accomplish this, then having firearms is just a bonus. But with the reality, firearms are not going to be on the majority of the merchant vessels.

I believe this may be the answer.

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Although these armed personnel working for PSCs are not mercenaries in any sense of the word, it can be said that the security industry is completely unregulated.

What this means is that standards are established by the client, the shipping companies employing security personnel. Indeed, one of the only entities, if not THEE entity, that incorporates training and qualifications to a level that can be described as a profession in security, is ASIS. However, ASIS doesn’t have much in the way of maritime security and they are more than likely moving to correct at this minute if they haven’t already. How does this affect the shipping industry?

I think to fully grasp the issues here, one aspect critical to understanding this shift in the workplace is to understand security as a vocation. Security is now a profession and not just an add-on or second thought. Companies need to establish standards and understand the liabilities involved when contracting private security companies for anything from armed protection, training to assessing threats. Since there are no industry-wide standards, ASIS would be a good starting point. Companies need to follow the adage: when you tolerate something, good or bad, that sets the new standard. My point is if the security industry isn’t policing itself, then it’s up to the market–the client–to do so and potential clients can start by demanding certain and professional qualifications.

Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

Q: What’s the first rule of a gun fight?
A: Have a gun.