The International Organisation for Standards’ formal audit process for private maritime security companies will begin in early spring and individual audits will take four months to complete, said ISO 28007 project leader Robin Townsend.
Although the debate over regulating armed guards has been lengthy and the vacuum vast, ISO’s PMSC standard — ISO PAS 28007 — is the quickest standard to reach public accreditation specification stage, after the International Maritime Organization gave ISO its mandate to produce the standard in May.
Mr Townsend said the public accreditation specification stage means ISO 28007 can be used as an international standard and simultaneously commented on and improved.
He said: “The normal life of a PAS is three years, at which point it can be converted into a full [international standard], extended for another three years, or dropped.
“This clearly depends on the value of the PAS. In any case, a full ISO is subject to change, as well, since they all undergo a regular review process.”
Without an international standard, the shipping industry has developed various methods of vetting PMSCs. BIMCO’s standard contract Guardcon has been an integral part of this.
Mr Townsend said that as a result of the mix of current practices, there was a risk that the term “due diligence” was being misunderstood.
“When we use the phrase in the ISO working group, we are referring to the small paragraph in the standard that refers to financial background checks on the PMSC — nothing to do with their hands-on anti-piracy activities,” he said.
“So the PAS fully explores all aspects of anti-piracy operations that an owner should explore for his overall due diligence, and provides basic information on financial background checks, but does not go into the amount of detail that some companies require for financial due diligence, as in some cases this can be quite intrusive.”
Triton International’s Simon Jones is chairman of the UK Security in Complex Environments Group’s Maritime Security Working Group and chairman of the British Standards Institute SME 32 mirror committee for developing ISO PAS 28007.
He said the standard should reduce insurance premiums, particularly for PMSCs.
“There have been concerns about quality control in the PMSC sector but the ISO will provide a framework for insurers,” he said.
In the right circumstances the public accreditation specification will add substance to a claim as an ISO-compliant system will produce the evidence that can help to prove the claim is valid, Mr Townsend said. There have been concerns that adopting certain operations could breach the new standard. One issue has been whether using anything less than a team of four armed guards would jeopardise insurance cover as this is the number recommended in Guardcon.
Mr Jones said that using fewer than four armed personnel would not necessarily breach the requirements of ISO PAS 28007.
“It will be a matter of the shipowner and PMSC looking at how best to maintain the standard for that particular transit,” he said.
“It will involve vetting of individuals, firearms training, mental-health checks, duty of care to subcontractors and so on. A few intelligent questions from a shipowner will reveal the quality of a PMSC.”
Recently, several companies, including Gulf of Aden Group Transits, have openly stated they use armed guards from different nationalities to keep costs down. However, other security firms such as PVI have said they will only use UK ex-military personnel in their teams. On this matter Sceg director Paul Gibson said: “I do not want to be too prescriptive. However, if the four armed guards have relevant experience from a career in the British military and have been suitably vetted and trained, shipowners can have a confidence about standards of professionalism and team cohesion.
“This is the gold standard. If I was a shipowner, I would want to go for the gold standard.”
From an international perspective, Mr Townsend said it was important to remember that local requirements also applied.
“For instance we see that US PMSCs advertise that they use only Navy Seals and I don’t think anyone is going to question that that is equally relevant,” he said.
“Equally, British armed force experience as a cook is going to be less relevant than other areas. PMSCs will understand that and will demonstrate an understanding of that.
“But we cannot demand X-Y-Z military training. Clearly, a very senior police officer with a wide experience of armed operations is probably going to be a good choice and should not be excluded.”
The increasing threat of piracy in West Africa has also been the subject of debate and there has been uncertainty over how ISO PAS 28007 will apply in this region.
The attacks that take place here take a very different form to pirate operations in the Gulf of Aden and PMSCs are also not permitted to carry weapons on vessels in Nigerian territorial waters. That means any company that wishes to offer armed team services in the Gulf of Guinea must use Nigerian navy personnel.
This requirement could raise issues of accountability as the ISO standard is based on the concept of a PMSC employing its own guards.
Experts have struggled to decide whether this is an insurance issue or a legal matter.
On one hand, some feel that it is necessary to refer specific situations to the insurer to see whether they think it affects cover.
However another school of thought argues that the need to use Nigerian guards is an issue that is out of the shipowner’s or PMSC’s hands, which means that they are working in an area where this is normal practice and this would mean the standard would apply.