However, as the cowboys are relegated to history and the industry settles down, the realities of established commercial activity have also arrived.
One regulatory challenge faced by PMSCs is the treatment of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC). The convention is open to interpretation by individual states on whether PCASP are seafarers or not, and the decision has serious implications for PMSCs. In the UK, where many PMSCs and their contractors are based, the status of seafarer brings with it the flexibility offered by holding a British seaman’s card and discharge book.
For a PMSC the cards mean a dramatic reduction in paperwork as the burden of visa applications is eased and a reduction in air fares as the contractors are granted seaman’s flights. One company recently stated that without the cards, the new reality would be visa clerks working shifts day and night, seven days a week and a high risk of delays should the visa process be impeded at any point.
By now the security sector is well versed in working with the maritime industry to clarify grey areas, but the matter of properly categorising PCASP has already had flag states reject PCASP applications and seen the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) suspend and subsequently reinstate issuance of discharge books.
Commercial pressures on the shipping industry have also started putting the squeeze on PMSCs. In the current climate of low rates and high volatility, cost efficiency is the shipping industry’s mantra and spending in the chief security officer's (cso) department will be under the same cost scrutiny as that of anyone else on the board.
Whereas worried owners previously sought full four-man teams of experienced ex-UK service personnel, and paid the premiums for teams of ex-Royal Marines, PMSC’s clients are taking a longer look at their requirements, their spending and how to make their security budget go further.
Mixed nationality teams with experienced British team leaders are now becoming the norm, and more and more PMSCs are abandoning UK-only recruitment practices for something more in keeping with the commercial realities. Some have opted to produce their own training regimes for non-UK personnel, but there exist facilities to recruit by numbers to fit demand. Arguably, recruitment should be an area vetted and monitored thoroughly as it involves placing armed personnel alongside crew.
Again on the cost side, Best Management Practice 4 (BMP 4) states that ships should "make best speed" in the High Risk Area (HRA), but the reduction of risk through speed comes at a high cost in fuel. Balancing fuel and security costs is a delicate matter, with some owners opting to scale their security team’s size based on speed, reducing the size of the deployed team if the ship is due to move through the HRA at higher speeds.
Pressure is also beginning to build against the High Risk Area itself, as India continues its campaign to have the HRA reduced. The area in which Insurers charge war risk premiums covers most of India’s west coast, significantly increasing the cost of transport in an area which India argues has been without incident for two years.
Reducing the size of the HRA introduces risks that are hard to forecast. A boundary shift westwards towards Somalia will most likely see ships grouped along the boundary, their paths dictated by that boundary and the effective toll to cross it, making them an easier, or at least more predictable, target.
As the maritime security sector comes to maturity and finds its place within the industry, it is imperative that for all the minutiae of reducing costs and clarifying regulation one thing is kept in perspective: security measures are not an extravagance, they are installed to protect the lives and livelihoods of the men and women our whole industry relies on to function.