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President, FTS-Maritime Security

Piracy continues to bedevil international shipping. The problem is by no means limited to the Gulf of Aden or the Indian Ocean. Attacks have taken place off the coast of West Africa. In this article, written in March this year, the author presents some cogent arguments for the use of patrol escort vessels with trained crews versus the use of onboard security teams, whether armed or unarmed. In the process, he provides valuable insights into the nature of piracy attacks and the comparative costs of maritime security operations.

Armed Security Teams vs. Unarmed Security Teams vs. Patrol Escort Vessels


Security on commercial vessels is a question that has been considered by shipping lines and countries over the years, but only recently, with dramatic increases of ransoms, violence and number of attacks, has this question taken on a more serious discussion.

As you are aware, there are many maritime security companies out there who offer trained armed teams to place on vessels. These teams who have been able to defend against pirate attacks in the past, are now being overwhelmed when attacked by multiple skiffs at once.

Number of actual vessels allowed to have armed security teams:

Not all shipping has or is allowed to have armed security onboard. This number has been growing slowly, however. Just this past year, only 10% of the world shipping allowed for armed teams to be onboard. Though shipping companies and governments have changed to allow this, many ports still have not.

Another setback to armed teams just occurred recently in Egypt. Egypt will no longer allow the transfer of weapons on commercial vessels, and they will not allow commercial vessels in their territorial waters with armed security teams on board.

Security Teams on vessels; Training

As you are aware, there are many maritime security companies out there who offer trained military veterans. This is deceptive and only partly correct. They may be veterans, but not necessarily trained for vessel operations or in anti-piracy operations. There is a big difference in being trained in weapons and security on land or serving in combat on land as compared to ship security and being trained to combat pirates. Most maritime training and ship security certification training I have found consist of little, if any, training to combat pirates. And of the training that does claim to instruct for anti-piracy operations, it consists of just a few hourrs to maybe a day or two of training. I have to say that I disagree with this and feel that a full long-term training program be conducted prior to being on an anti-piracy detachment.

Most members of the security teams are contracted just for that assignment and may or may not have worked together in the past, only meeting just prior to the current assignment. My salesman from Thailand who has been on many such teams just went undercover on another assignment and it was no different. He only met his teammates the day they arrived on location to board the vessel.

Can a security team that only meets a day or so prior to a protection detail really be considered an effective well-trained security team?

There is a firm out of London which was actually advertising an extensive (4 hour) training course. With the lack of proper training, besides problems that can arise in defending the vessel, there have also been problems with security teams interacting with vessel crews.

Vessel embarkation and debarkation of security teams:

For a vessel to pick up a team, many times the team has to head out on a smaller craft as the vessel cannot take the time or added cost of pulling into port just to take on a team. The same goes for disembarking teams.

Many ports still to this day do not allow vessels with weapons on board to enter their waters so the weapons either have to be tossed overboard or prior arrangements have to be made with local authorities to meet and take custody of the weapons. This gets into a lot of customs paperwork and import and exporting of weapons and added fees.

With the recent change in Egypt’s law (that no commercial vessel is allowed in their territorial waters or ports with armed security teams or weapons on board), this creates an added cost for the disembarkation of teams in the Red Sea as they can no longer disembark at the ports in Egypt.

Armed Teams:

In placing an armed team on a vessel, there are other things to consider prior. First is transportation of weapons from the parent location to the location of embarkment. Many times, it is easier to purchase from a local company the weapons needed and then they are allowed to receive those weapons at the port. Now you have your teams who may be armed, but with weapons they have not trained with or even sighted in. Then once the assignment is over, there is the issue of either being able to return with the weapons or disposing of them. Many places also require a weapons license for the person in charge of the weapons.

Once the teams are actually on the vessel they are protecting, they are only in a defensive posture. For the most part, only 3-man teams are on a vessel at any time. Armed teams have been successful in defending vessels against pirates; however, the pirates have changed tactics. Instead of using just one skiff to attack a vessel, they have been using several from different directions.

With only a 3-man team trying to defend several skiffs from different directions, damage to the clients’ vessel is still occurring. Recently an armed team was overrun by pirates.

Unarmed Security teams:

Unarmed teams are being used for passive security on vessels by people who have a blind sense in thinking that if they are not armed the pirates will not attack. There are several companies that are still using unarmed teams, some of them have contacted us because they want to switch to being armed and want to merge with us.

In my view, using unarmed teams is like going to a gunfight with a water balloon. It doesn’t work. The master of the vessel may be able to out run them. They may be able to take out the motor of one skiff with their net system. However, the pirates are still attacking with automatic weapons, RPGs and several boats at once.

Here is a fact that promoters of passive systems such as water hoses will not tell you about. The water hoses may shoot high pressure water a few hundred feet. The pirates are using automatic weapons that fire several hundred yards. If they are using RPG 7’s, they have a maximum effective range of 500 meters or can be used as indirect fire at ranges of up to 1400 meters and can take out the lines going to the water hose long before they even reach the vessel and before the unarmed security team can reach them with the water hose.

Vessels using unarmed security have been overrun many times and the security teams have been captured along with the crews. Several teams, both armed and unarmed,have jumped overboard to escape the pirates. Having unarmed security is a useless and needless cost.

Security Teams Limitations:

Armed security teams are also severely limited in their ability, regardless of their training. They can only act in a defense measure and have no control over being able to be proactive in keeping the pirates away from the vessel. With the weapons that most of the teams use, they have to wait till the pirates are in their range before they can defend. That also means that the teams and the vessel are in the range of the pirates. Actually the teams and vessels are in range first, as pirates have been known to use RPGs; these can and have caused heavy damage.

Maritime Security Regulations:

Security teams need to operate under one standard and regulation. Though the flag of the vessel may also have rules and regulations, there should be a basic standard for all to follow.

As I have stated, many security teams have very little contact with each other prior to their assignment and very little, if any, training together. And as such, they follow no regulations except for what is directed to them on the vessel. They also have little to no loyalty to each other or the crew as they are only contracted for that one assignment.

There are a few groups that are trying to install standards and training, but this is not yet industry wide. The ICoC is one step that is out there for security providers, and a new code is being written specific for maritime security.

Piracy reporting by security teams:

A recent report from the IMO has indicated that acts of piracy may be under-reported by both teams and the commercial vessel. This is in part because of insurance reasons. If it is reported that vessels or teams have been attacked and are engaging more, insurance rates will go up.

To keep these costs down, incidents are not reported and with that there is the chance of injuries or deaths of pirates not being reported.

Overall cost for armed security teams:

Security teams are not cheap either. Cost can run from $1,500.00 per man per day, up to $2,500.00 per man per day. A 3-man team at a rate of 1500 per man per day will cost $45,000 just for 10 days and other expenses can be included on top of that.

With a team, there are transportation issues to get the teams to the point of embarkation and then once they disembark, there is the transportation back. There are weapons issues (fees for permits for ports, import and export issues, storage). In cases where weapons may not be allowed in ports, other means have to be taken, some of which have been to just toss the weapons overboard.

Vessels also have to experience some delay by pulling into port or just stopping on the open seas to transfer security teams and their weapons.

FTS-Maritime Security, a different concept for maritime security;

So the question is, what other option is there for maritime security? The answer is us, or at least my concept. Looking into all aspects of this, we have opted to go another direction from the common maritime security company by seeking to provide long-range patrol escort vessels with trained crews.

With proper training of security teams and our vessels, we believe that maritime security can be proactive in keeping piracy away from the commercial vessel.

Training for vessel defense teams needs to be geared more towards naval training; encompassing vessel operations, maritime customs and courtesies and vessel recognition. Teams need to be able to determine a fishing vessel from a possible pirate skiff or mother vessel. Maritime/onternational law needs to be instructed as to what is and is not allowed in defending a vessel and also what actions need to be taken for injured pirates you may capture. With teams on the clients’ vessel, nothing can be done except reporting the incident to a national authority.

Escort Vessel Operations:

With use of escort vessels, licensed to operate out of several ports, we have no issues with weapons. Operating in international waters, as long as the flag of the country allows us, our vessels may be armed.

We do not need to enter the port or waters of countries that do not allow for armed vessels. We do not need to embark or disembark security teams unless requested by the client to have them on their vessel, and in that case they would only be coming back on the FTS vessel.

With escort vessel operations, maritime security would be able to overcome and intercept any unknown vessel heading towards the commercial vessel. The unknown vessel would be warned that it was approaching a protected vessel and at the same time, the escort vessel would position itself between the commercial vessel and approaching vessel.

For pirates that do attack and/or give up to us, the vessels have the ability to hold them in custody till they can be transferred to a national authority. Medical treatment can and will be given to injured pirates. Plus the escort vessels have the ability to defend from several skiffs at once and can protect more than one commercial vessel at a time.

Also with the use of an escort vessel, besides being able to provide protection to more than one vessel at once, we would have the ability to respond to vessels in distress and not leave the vessel under protection without security.

West Africa:

Currently, the majority of security companies operate on vessels only on the Indian Ocean and along East Africa. Placing armed teams in other areas is either not cost-effective, there are not the connections in those surrounding countries for weapons or too many restrictions on weapons.

West Africa is one of those locations. Because of laws in the different countries, being able to place a security team with weapons from any port is not going to happen, at least not yet. However, piracy is just as bad and getting worse than that of East Africa.

With the use of an escort vessel, we can provide service to oil rigs and commercial shipping in international waters along West Africa. Arrangements can be made to refuel at sea with another vessel we have access to or with the oil companies at the offshore rigs.

By using supply vessels or oil rigs we contract with, we could keep a patrol vessel in the waters off West Africa for several months at a time, providing escorts to commercial shipping and vessels carrying humanitarian aid.

National Naval Responses:

Many national navies, especially the US Navy, are facing major budget cuts. Services such as responding to piracy attacks are a luxury that many times never happens. International incidents that affect a country’s national interest take priority over piracy response. Several countries have already pulled their vessels from the international anti-piracy task force.

Comparing cost and ability;


Armed teams only defense and limited in ability.

Escort vessel –P roactive, can keep unwanted vessels away from the protected vessel. If an attack is attempted, the escort vessel can shield the clients’ vessel and engage the pirates, keeping all danger away from the clients’ vessel and crew.

An escort vessel can also render assistance to vessels within range for maritime issues including attacks and not leave the clients’ vessel unprotected.


Armed teams can only legally provide security to about 10% of the world shipping; Escort Vessel – 100%.

International Law:

Armed teams who engage pirates cannot follow through after a firefight to see if there are any dead or injured pirates. Many times attacks are not reported due to an increase in their insurance rates.

An escort vessel can and will survey the area after an engagement. For pirates who give up, and the injured, they will be treated and held to be turned over to an international authority.


Your average security company bills at a rate of 1000 to 2000 or more per day per person for an armed security team. For this example I will use the rate of 1500 per person per day for a 10 day cruise.

From this bill rate of the security teams, the security company has to cover transportation, hotels in ports, permits, weapons, sometimes import and export fees for weapons and visas for team members in many countries, even when just passing through to get on or off of a vessel. And as stated, the team once on the vessel can only be reactive. A 10-day trip with a 3-man team at a rate of 1500 per person per day will cost $45000.

Now, I will use a vessel offered to me recently. This is not the vessel with the increased fuel efficacy.

I will not be counting the cost of the vessel because that will only be a factor for a short time. This vessel only requires a crew of 8 and there would also be a security team. However the crew, since they would be there 24/7 would be paid a normal rate and not the $350.00 or more per day that some companies pay their teams. So the crew pay will be far lower per person for the same time frame.

There are also no issues with having to have weapons permits for each country, transportation issues or hotels or fees paid to other companies for transportation of our weapons. So our main concern is the fuel, supplies and pay for our crew.

If the cruising speed is 18 knots, this vessel burns 8T per day. Because we have been approved to be licensed out of Egypt, we can fuel there at their rates and not the international rates. Which last week was $200 per T for Egyptian rates? At that price, our cost is only $1,600 per day for fuel for the vessel.

The slower we go, the less fuel used and the cheaper the cost. The security team member will still cost $1,500 per day though.

At the end of the 10-day trip, the escort vessel will have used about $16,000 in fuel while the security team will cost $45,000.

After you add in the cost of supplies and the pay of the crew, it will come out to be more. However, as the security team an only defend against an attack and damage can still happen to the vessel, the patrol vessel can make sure the client’s vessel isn’t able to be attacked in the first place.

Piracy is and will continue to be a threat to commercial shipping for years to come. How well you want to stay protected depends on you. Not every vessel is attacked. However, of those that are, the cost of the attack (the loss of the vessel, its crew and its cargo) is far greater than having a proactive security option that will ensure your vessel is never attacked in the first place. (contributed article)

Related blog posts:

Armed security vs pirates: why not?

Who leads the anti-piracy orchestra?


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