UK & World News
Anti-Piracy Course Trains Security Staff
Maritime security crews now have a new weapon to help combat pirates armed with Ak47s and RPGs - a C&G - a City and Guilds qualification.
It might sound unlikely but the four-day course for MSOs (Marine Security Operatives) is being seen as a positive step towards improving standards across the industry.
Sky News visited one of the two-day fast track courses, provided by 3RG in Poole, Dorset.
Running it was Ray Quarrie, a former member of the elite SBS, the maritime equivalent of the SAS.
He thinks the standardisation provided by the course is needed in an industry which attracts predominantly ex-forces personnel.
"You have to start somewhere," he said.
"Certainly for the new guys who leave the military there's a good benefit.
"They come out of the military and they now know there's one recognised course and a definite direction to go in.
"Before this course it was all hearsay. People were doing this course and that course, of which some were accredited and some, unfortunately, were not."
The course itself doesn't include any firearms training but does teach the students about the complicated laws which apply at sea, navigation skills, and various maritime evasion and avoidance techniques.
The aim is that contact with pirates and any potential firefight should be a last resort option.
The economic and human costs of piracy are staggering.
It is estimated that Somali piracy cost the global economy in the region of $6bn (£3.8bn) last year.
The World Bank also estimates that since the first known hijacking in April 2005, 149 ships have reportedly been ransomed for an estimated total of $315m - $385m (£198m - £242m).
It says as many as 3,741 crew members of 125 different nationalities have been captured, with detention periods as long as 1,178 days.
As many as 97 sailors may have died either during the attacks - in detention after poor treatment or during rescue operations.
By using on-board security teams, shipping companies can greatly reduce their costs by lowering insurance premiums, saving fuel by being able to take more "dangerous" routes, and avoiding any potential ransom payments.
The students taking the course during Sky's visit were nearly all ex-forces and most were already working in the industry.
"So far, yes, it's very good," said former Royal Marine Steve Ware.
"It's very orientated to what I'm currently doing in the industry and so from that perspective it's better than some of the courses I've done, which seemed to be a bit of a waste of time."
Simon Jones of Triton International, one of the companies that provide maritime security, was also on the working party to develop the industry's first international standards.
He thinks the qualification is a good starting point for improving the industry's staff.
"The inherent nature of professionals in any industry will mean that every time you get them round the table people will always want to add things," he said.
"You could make the course six months long.
"But you have to be realistic about exactly what is required by the clients, and what is required by law in order to meet the effective operational need of the client base."
Dryad Maritime is a specialist maritime intelligence agency and provides risk forecasts for shipping companies.
Ian Millen from the company said: "The qualification should help weed out less reputable organisations and also provide a recognised standard across the industry."
But he adds a note of caution: "A potential downside is that UK PMSCs (Private Maritime Security Companies) may feel that the requirements place an additional, and potentially unacceptable, 'tax on trade' when compared to potentially less reputable, less regulated, foreign competition."
If the course becomes an industry standard, it could help the PMSCs hoping to save billions of pounds in lost revenue, and, more importantly, dozens of lives.