Shipping Industry Looking Forward to ISO Standard for Private Security Providers

PVI-Maritime-Security-in-the-Gulf-of-Aden-Apr-2011-2

By Dirk Siebels

Even though the number of pirate attacks off Somalia has seen a steep decline, private security companies have become an integral part of the shipping industry. The new ISO/PAS 28007 standard is therefore eagerly awaited by many ship operators.

Over the coming weeks, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) will be accrediting the first certification bodies. These companies are then able to audit private maritime security companies (PMSCs) against the new ISO standard.

Three certification bodies have been involved in the pilot phase and are likely to be accreditated by UKAS. Security providers will therefore have a choice between different auditors. Compared to other ISO standards, it seems like a rather low number but the relatively small market has to be taken into account. If it is an interesting addition to their business model, other auditing companies will be able to go through the same accreditation process.

The introduction of ISO/PAS 28007 was mostly due to the shipping industry’s desire for a reliable standard. Only a few years ago, privately contracted armed security guards on merchant vessels would have been unthinkable. Many ship operators, however, changed their minds when they saw that these guards provided vital protection. In fact, many operators are wondering why the model that has proven successful in the Indian Ocean cannot be transferred to other regions, most importantly West Africa.

While the legal situation in the Gulf of Guinea is infinitely more complicated, the shipping industry is looking forward to the new ISO standard. BIMCO, one of the most important industry organisations, points out that it allows independent certification while governments will be able to control critical functions.

Before ISO/PAS 28007, the closest thing to an international standard was the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC). Developed in Switzerland, it was heavily influenced by the US government after a series of incidents in which private security contractors killed or injured civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ICoC is therefore focussed on land-based security whereas the new ISO/PAS 28007 has been introduced specifically to provide a new standard for maritime security providers.

Whether flag states will require ISO certification or use it to replace their own licensing requirements remains to be seen. Germany is an example for a unique licensing regime but only seven companies (five of them based in Germany) have been licensed so far. It seems that PMSCs would rather spend the money on certification against ISO rules which could well become the new gold standard, both for security providers and shipping companies.

About Dirk Siebels

Dirk Siebels served as an officer in the German Navy and is still an officer in the naval reserves (current rank: Lieutenant). He is currently a PhD Candidate at the Greenwich Maritime Institute in London, conducting research on maritime security issues in both East and West Africa. Furthermore, Dirk is a Partner at Xiphias Consulting, a company specialising in political risk analysis and strategic communications. Contact Author