Last month, the International Standards Organization released “ISO 28007”, a new standard of certification for private maritime security contractors who provide on-board security for merchant ships. Some of the logistics, including who exactly the audit inspectors for this certification will be, remain unclear. However, this provides a new and exciting method of certification that will hopefully increase the legitimacy of armed security contractors aboard shipping vessels.
As the drop in piracy continues, many are looking forward to the future: Will the international fleets remain in the Indian Ocean forever? If not, how will merchant ships protect themselves against another rising tide of piracy? Armed-guards aboard cargo ships and oil tankers seem to be an obvious answer, both because of their success and miniscule cost compared to operating a military warship. However, because of unclear regulation of the industry, many companies are hesitating to fully commit to this strategy.
The ISO 28007 aims to end that uncertainty. This certification, which will be available beginning in the fall of 2013, will be exhaustive. It will ensure that those with it possess the proper background and conduct to safely and responsibly guard vessels in dangerous waters. This standard, however, will not replace international or national legislation. Meaning, some countries such as the United Kingdom, will still have their own restrictions aboard ships flying their flags.
While this may serve to clear up questions in East Africa, West Africa remains a logistical nightmare of private security firms. Because most of the piracy in the Gulf of Guinea occurs in areas just off-shore, the territorial integrity of each coastal nation oftentimes prohibits ships carrying weapons. This puts the ball in the court of local authorities, and many times the militaries of these countries are not up to snuff.
The only armed guards allowed aboard ships in these waters are those that are approved by the home country, which are often members of the local military. However, those soldiers are contracted from shadowy organizations that operate in countries like Nigeria, Togo and Benin, and there is absolutely no way to check the backgrounds or credentials of these guards. But private security companies continue to use these sub-contractors, leading to much of the same problem– questionable and unconfirmed guards yielding dangerous weapons. Further legislation will be needed to solve this specific problem.