Take Care! Personal Security is Crucial

20 December 2007 (Last Updated December 20th, 2007 18:30)

Hugh Williams, chief executive of IMCA, warns of the dangers of piracy.

Take Care! Personal Security is Crucial

The 'Pirates of the Caribbean' DVD this Christmas is going to be thoroughly enjoyed for its rollicking, swashbuckling adventure by families around the world. But out on the sea, the reality of piracy, as opposed to the mythology, is that armed attacks on ships and crews are increasingly violent, ruthless and potentially catastrophic. The effect on crews and their families can be devastating.

It is straightforward robbery, murder, assault or kidnapping and totally against the law of all countries in the world. Indeed, according to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea: "Incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the territorial sea or in a port area are perceived as crimes against the state and thus subject to its national laws."

"The reality of piracy, as opposed to the mythology, is that armed attacks on ships and crews are increasingly violent."

The International Maritime Bureau (a non-profit-making organisation established in 1981 to act as a focal point in the fight against all types of maritime crime and malpractice) reports that piracy and armed robbery attacks against ships rose 14% in the first nine months of this year, compared to the same period of 2006, marking the second consecutive quarterly increase in attacks.

In the first nine months of 2007, 198 attacks were reported versus 174 in 2006; a total of 15 vessels were hijacked, 172 crewmembers were taken hostage, 63 were kidnapped, and 21 were assaulted.

Piracy and other similar security issues that can have dire effects are, quite rightly, key concerns within the offshore industry.

Piracy is one form of security issue; another is political unrest, which can be caused by internal friction or war. The oil and gas industry has coped over many years with wars (such as in Angola) and unrest (as in Nigeria). Now, increasingly, because of terrorist attacks around the world, personal security is becoming a major issue for companies and the men and women working in the offshore industry, especially as we find ourselves working in frontier regions.

SCOPE FOR DISCUSSION

From a company point of view, any form of 'security event' can have implications on schedules and cost. An interesting topic for discussion is how are, and should, companies on both sides of a contract be dealing with this?

Should there be 'security event' headings in a contract? For, in the event of 'something' happening, both parties are at risk.

Should there perhaps be an understanding by both parties, client and contractor, about how they would deal with the issues that arise from a 'security event'? Should the onus be on the client or the contractor, or should it be shared? And if so, how?

Taking the internationally accepted threat condition colour code, should there be pre-agreed actions taken when the elevated (yellow), high (orange), or severe (red) levels are in place? After all, the higher the threat condition the greater the risk of an incident and with it come a whole range of knock-on effects to individual people, to schedules, and to cost.

Feedback from all involved in the industry would be welcomed on these key questions; there surely is scope for a cross-industry position to be adopted.

ROBUST PROCEDURES ARE VITAL

"Piracy is one form of security issue; another is political unrest, which can be caused by internal friction or war."

What is not a topic for discussion but a 'given' is that all companies should have robust procedures in place, including heightened awareness – especially when their personnel are in transit, and/or travelling on their own. And, particularly perhaps for those quick 'in and out' trips, typical for marine contractors, when there is no time to build up personal knowledge of the location nor probably an onshore local presence to provide support or local knowledge.

Your government's advice should be taken on board and adhered to – British citizens' natural port of call for this advice would the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, which has official FCO travel advice notices for over 200 countries based on the most accurate and up-to-date information available. These are designed to help British travellers make informed decisions about travelling abroad.

The FCO site also highlights their 'Know Before You Go' campaign; as well as their Security Information Service for Business Overseas (SISBO) that provides information for businesses on issues of security and political risk faced when operating in particular markets overseas; and their brief summary of the worldwide terrorist threat in 'risk of terrorism when travelling overseas'.

VESSEL AND ASSET PROTECTION

Protection plans for vessels and assets depend upon the location, level of threat, company procedures and collaborative efforts with national agencies, clients and other contractors during a project.

IMCA has facilitated discussion on this subject through its security task force. For example, non-marine personnel attending projects may not be familiar with the ISPS (international ship and port security) code and so IMCA published a special guidance document for them. Merchant vessels are unarmed. Protection by armed support is not always available or appropriate, so deterrence through attentive personnel and robust procedures is the best defence.

TAKING PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY

Of course, the safety and awareness buck stops with each and every one of us as individuals. We all need to be vigilant when travelling – at the airport, in the street, at the hotel, in the port; and also when working at a port or harbour, offshore, or when involved with construction onshore.

Further on you will find information on several useful publications from the IMCA security task force. One of them, Guidance on travel security, looks at travel planning, assessing travel risk, identification and passport, credit cards and currency, emergency information, emergency situations, hotels, legal issues, precautions when travelling and general medical guidance.

Within the 'precautions when travelling' section it covers general precautions, hotel safety, street safety, transport safety (flights, car hire and driving cars), emergency response communications, and kidnap – both 'express kidnap' and kidnap and ransom. In all there are some 150 or so tips for safe travel in the publication and associated pocket safety card. These are the 'top ten':

  • Stay alert
  • Look after your passport – it is your most valuable possession when travelling internationally. Keep it and any air tickets in a safe place and keep a photocopy and spare photographs with you
  • Avoid drawing attention to yourself
  • Travel light
  • Arrive and depart in the morning where possible
  • Take a simple rubber door wedge with you
  • Use simple 'burglar alarms' like a metal tray against a door
  • Unpredictability is a good defence against kidnap
  • Keep a list of key contacts easily accessible
  • Remember – possessions are replaceable, you are not

IMCA SECUTIRY TASK FORCE ACTION

"In the first nine months of 2007, 198 attacks were reported versus 174 in 2006."

IMCA established a Security Task Force in 2005 to address security matters, covering training, competence, marine and shore operations. It has a broad remit to address the variety of issues surrounding the subject; and since its formation two years ago has been hard at work developing industry guidance and best practices, establishing a network for sharing of security-related information, identifying relevant training and developing a number of initiatives for the benefit of the
industry.

It has already produced Guidance on travel security; Verification of third-party security personnel; Introduction to the ISPS Code; Threat risk assessment procedure; and a handy personal security pocket card. More guidance is in the pipeline.

This group has been working at the level where they can affect the behaviour of teams and individuals amongst member companies. Now there is a move to establish an additional group at managing director level to help ensure that procedures are woven into overall company policy; and that security issues are discussed at the highest possible level within all member and client companies. There are other similar groups working at various of levels throughout the industry. Please, with safety and
your security in mind, take note of all they have to offer.