The case for maritime security training

By 1st September 2017Company News

Maritime security covers more than anti-piracy measures, and crews should be prepared for all the risks that they may face.

The last 12 months have seen an increase in reported maritime security incidents, including the return of Somalia- based piracy on merchant ships in the Indian Ocean, the consistently violent threat of piracy and terrorism in the Philippines and the surrounding area, and on-going issues in the Niger Delta, putting all types of vessels transiting the West African coastal waters at risk. However, all of these only take into account one side of ‘maritime security’ as an issue; that of violent attacks on the vessel and its crew for the purpose of kidnap for ransom, underpinned by unresolved conflicts and disenfranchised populations on land.

Maritime security is far broader a subject than these headline- grabbing issues. It encompasses various other physical threats encountered by the shipping industry as vessels transit the globe, including stowaways, local corruption and opportunistic robbery in ports. South America in particular has seen high levels of armed robbery in Venezuela and Peru. These are all problems that ship operators, P&I clubs, charterers and agents must deal with, sometimes on a daily basis. However, there is one group of people who deal with it on a face-to-face basis: ships’ Masters and their crews.

Is there a need for training?

Security regulations have been part of everyday life in shipping ever since the introduction of the ISPS Code. However, any plans or procedures are solely reliant on the people that are (or are not) enacting them. Unlike safety training, security training is not mandatory. And yet, a crew equipped and trained to deal with maritime security threats of all types is a crew that is confident going about their tasks on board, and can complete them efficiently and to the best of their ability.

Security training should not be seen as an additional cost to the shipping industry, but as something that will increase efficiency
on board and give crews confidence in dealing with the threats. Ultimately, it could save the shipping industry money by countering threats in a cost effective and early manner, as opposed to hoping the worst does not happen, and then ultimately paying much more for it if it does. This is particularly the case when dealing with stowaways, where costs can reach tens of thousands of dollars.

This is not to say that crews should be armed. Additional armed security personnel are warranted only where there is a direct threat to the lives of seafarers, typically in the case of piracy. However, the other areas of maritime security (dealing with stowaways, local corruption, cyber security and robbery in ports) do not pose an immediate direct threat to the lives of seafarers. Crew training can greatly mitigate these risks and threats without the deployment of additional security personnel.


Stowaways are one of the oldest problems in transport infrastructure. Current migration patterns caused by conflicts and environmental problems mean the situation shows no sign of improving in the near future. Despite attempts to combat the problem by some local port and maritime authorities, such as Ghana and Ivory Coast, stowaways continue to cost the shipping industry millions of dollars every year, not just in repatriation and immigration fees, but also in damage to vessels and cargo. An understanding of what makes a vessel an attractive prospect for a stowaway will immediately reduce the chances of unauthorised access. The steps taken to make it ‘unattractive’ will also have the effect of reducing the chance of robbery whilst in port. These include a visibly alert crew, good hardening and well-run watch schedules.


There have been efforts to counteract local corruption, including the excellent work being done by the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network. Training crew to deal with solicitations and threats can introduce a proactive approach that will help remove opportunities for corruption, thereby reducing the instances of this problem.

Physical and psychological aspects

Ideally, two aspects of security should be covered during training: both physical and psychological. ‘Physical’ security covers the implementation of vessel hardening measures such as razor wire, security gates, citadel creation (if required) and barring of windows. ‘Psychological’ security means ensuring the crew are aware of threats and preparing them to deal with them. Corrupt officials, stowaways and robbers rely on crews that are not alert, so that they can either sneak on board due to lack of effective watch routines or can take advantage of crews that are far from home and easily intimidated.

ARC saw this first hand in 2016, when we were requested to provide stowaway training to the crew of a vessel which regularly calls at West Africa, and which had recently experienced multiple stowaway boardings during one transit to the region. While the majority of the day-long training focused on hardening the vessel against unauthorised access and on search techniques, a significant part of the question and answer session and walk around with the crew was spent advising on how to deal with local officials and stevedores who had made life difficult during previous transits, including requesting extra cash and being uncooperative when the crew refused. This demonstrated the breadth of problems that crews in this region, and others worldwide, have to deal with.

Be alert!

An inattentive crew, unobstructed and easy access to the vessel, and visible nervousness, make a vessel a tempting prospect for all maritime security threats. A visibly alert crew with well-run watch schedules, security measures that are well maintained and visible to the outside observer, and confidence when dealing with local officials will immediately show that this is a vessel that will be difficult to access, with a crew who are confident in their abilities to deal with any problems. In an industry that is trying to reduce costs, and at the same time trying to modernise itself against the threats towards its people and assets, security training is the most effective way of doing so, both in terms of cost and operational effectiveness.

This article originally appeared in Seaways 

Max Williams

About Max Williams