New ISO Standard for Private Maritime Security Companies

It is my pleasure to welcome a guest post by Dirk Siebels, a PhD candidate at the Greenwich Maritime Institute in London.  Dirk has been working with the Security Association for the Maritime Industry and the Marshall Islands shipping registry, conducting research on the performance of armed guards on board merchant vessels.  In this post, Dirk discusses new ISO standards for private maritime security companies.  Welcome Dirk!

Since the statistics peaked in 2011, the number of piracy incidents off Somalia has dropped from 237 to just 15 in 2013.  Nonetheless, private maritime security companies (PMSCs) are by now an integral part of the shipping industry and it is estimated that there have been about 20,000 passages with armed guards through the High-Risk Area in the Indian Ocean in 2013. Demand for PMSCs in other regions, most notably in West Africa, is also rising and ship operators are eagerly waiting for the new ISO/PAS 28007 standard.

 During a seminar organised by the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) in January 2014, the representative from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) underlined that the first certification bodies for the new standard will be accredited over the coming weeks. Currently, four companies are waiting for their certificates which will enable them to audit PMSCs against the new ISO standard.

 While the number of potential auditors may be small compared to other ISO standards, it is important to note that the market is limited. Nevertheless, PMSCs will be able to choose between different auditors. Other companies could enter the market at any point, based on their ability to identify business opportunities and to pass UKAS’s thorough accreditation process.

 For the time being, the new ISO standard is a so-called Publicly Available Specification (PAS) which may be issued when there is an urgent market requirement for such a document. After further reviews, a PAS can be transformed into a regular international standard.

 In this case, the market requirement for ISO/PAS 28007 came from the shipping industry as many companies where looking for a reliable standard. While armed security guards on civilian vessels would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, there has been a sea change within the industry. Ship owners and operators have realised that armed guards are not just providing protection. Other benefits are just as important, most notably an added sense of confidence felt by crews and captains. Many ship operators would even like to transfer the successful PMSC model from the Indian Ocean to other regions with security problems.

 The legal environment in regions such as West Africa, however, is a lot more complex and has caused shipping association BIMCO to shelve its planned publication of an amended version of Guardcon, a standard contract for the employment of PMSCs. At the same time, BIMCO points out that the introduction of the new ISO standard is an important step forward. ISO/PAS 28007 will allow independent certification yet governments are still able to control critical functions.

 Over the past couple of years, the only international standard available to PMSCs was the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC). While the ICoC Association is an independent organisation based in Switzerland, the US government has played a major role in drafting the document itself.

 Various incidents during which private security contractors killed or injured civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan had made it necessary to introduce some form of quality-control for private security providers. Influenced by such developments, the ICoC was first and foremost focussed on land-based security. It has since been developed into an ASIS standard which has been adopted by the US Department of Defense in May 2012, and the United Kingdom in December 2012 for all future contracts with private security companies.

 Neither the ICoC nor the ASIS standard are really applicable to the maritime environment though. For the shipping industry, ISO/PAS 28007 therefore looks set to become the most important global standard.

 It remains to be seen whether flag states will require ISO certification or use it to replace licensing requirements they have introduced in the recent past. Germany provides an interesting example for a unique licensing regime; as of 18 February 2014, only eight companies (six of them based in Germany) had completed the necessary process.

 The large majority of PMSCs would rather spend money and resources on certification against ISO requirements. It seems to be a good bet as the shipping industry has been looking for such a standard and industry requirements have been very important for political decisions in the most important flag states over the past years.