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Maritime course

Training for maritime security is running in the middle of England. Mark Rowe reports.

The man at the end of the hose took some time to get the water coming out properly. That was all right; it was a training exercise and training is the time to learn how to do it right, so that when you are about to go face to face with a fire on the other side of the door, you are ready. That said, on this exercise there was a real fire on the other side of the door; the party of three with an instructor were about to go inside a windowless container. If it were for real, on board a ship, it may be hundreds of miles off shore. There’s no point in ringing 999 or any number when the nearest fire brigade is in Galle in Sri Lanka, or Djibouti. If there’s a fire on the vessel and you are one of the security detail, you are the fire fighter.

Basic safety

Hence the ‘basic safety’ training as part of a Vessel Protection Officer (VPO) course run by Stoke-on-Trent-based maritime security company Eos Risk Management. Basic safety takes on first aid, personal survival techniques (if you’re in the water), personal safety and social responsibility, and fire prevention. We were at Uttoxeter Racecourse, outside the Staffordshire town, to see the fire safety training, which ends with this exercise. The overall VPO training includes besides security and risk management, VHF radio training, weapons and firearms competency, and Ship and Company Security Officer training. ‘Listen in! What I want you to do now,’ the instructor said to the 15 students, each with helmet and gauntlets, and wearing fire-resisting trousers and coat, and heavy boots. He spoke of what to do with the hose, then ended with: ‘…. then we’re good to go.’ The instructor spoke more quietly to the three men in a circle, briefing them on what hand signals to do – in the thick of a fire, there’s no polite conversation. Once the three were set, the door was opened and in the VPO`S went, out of sight. We could hear muffled orders, and a couple of hand signals told others at the other end of the ladder to allow for more hose. Then the door shut. From inside came metallic noises as if of men inside the top container, for training purposes crew bunks. Foamy water seeped out of the bottom container. Their task done, the men emerged, with their breathing apparatus on their back, masks on their faces. The three trainees stood to one side while the instructor spoke to them. A chopped-up wooden pallet fed the fire in the lower container for the next trio of trainees to fight. Fire-fighting looked dirty, smoky and wet work, and in confined spaces as on cargo and other vessels, it does not take much fire to do damage and to kill – and soon threaten the entire ship. The exercise also showed, as so often, how attention to detail makes all the difference – hoses dozens or even hundreds of meters long can easily snag around pipes (again, very true of vessels). After the inevitable standing around an instructor said, ‘right guys! Next team’. Each VPO had his breathing apparatus put on his back by another man. EOS Risk`s Management`s VPO course is all about teamwork. As the first time, the trainees went up the ladder to the door and the fire beyond. ‘Keep going low!’ an instructor shouted, as the last man went into the container and out of sight.

Maritime is global 

It was a crisp and frosty morning, far from the Indian Ocean or Gulf of Guinea, where these men might expect to put their skills to use. Welcoming guests, told Professional Security that by its nature, maritime security is global; Britain is an island; much of the world’s trade is by sea. Piracy off West Africa or Somalia may mean a rise in the price of oil or Cargo. Maritime security matters to Britain; and it’s something that Britain is good at and does a lot of. It’s as a rule ex-military people guarding the cargo and other vessels that cross dangerous stretches of ocean – off Somalia has had most publicity, but off West Africa is rising in danger, and historically (think of Joseph Conrad’s sea novels) east Asia has seen piracy. Certainly maritime security has to work according to rules set by world maritime bodies. The safety training for example comes under STCW 95 – in full, Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Seafarers. That dates from 1978, was developed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and was last updated in 2010, to reflect everything from new sorts of ship (tankers carrying liquefied gas) and pirate attack. As in other fields, 9-11 prompted the maritime sector to adapt; and it took several years for standards to come in. In the case of maritime trade, the terrorism risk is that just as al-Qaeda used airliners as weapons in September 2011, so terrorists might use a vessel (and some are hundreds of thousands of tons) to ram and explode in a port or countries economic zone . Hence the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS).

As for EOS Risk Management , it is owned by David Johnson, a founding member of management for another leading security risk management firm. The Training Division was formed in 2006 to meet the requirements for the need of highly trained operators to provide security and reduce the risk and threats to international shipping transiting through the High Risk Area. 
Eos Risk is not only a training provider but also a fully operational global company, conducting multiple transits every month in areas of High Risk. This means the Vessel Protection Officers course, VPO as its known in the industry, is at the cutting edge of training due to the on going re-assessment of threats and real time information. This critical information is provided from our Team Leaders to the operations staff, and in turn, is used by the training staff to continually improve the courses delivered.

Operational staff see new threat patterns emerge in real time which is then fed back into the training department immediately for students to discuss as part of their studies, benefiting operational knowledge-based learning. 
Eos Risk offers a truly organic course by integrating the experience and knowledge from years of operational practice. The Vessel Protection Officers course becomes an extension of the operations department allowing the training department to deliver a far more up to date course.Stating the obvious, maritime security does call for a maritime and security blend, as reflected at EOS Risk. Senior Manager of Business Development Randy Esposito also at the open day has a marine safety and emergency management background, and Ian Mathison, Eos’ marine adviser, was a sailing master and highly regarded marine safety expert, who recalls his time at sea only 10 nautical miles north of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker when she went aground in 1967 off Cornwall. Eos reports it has trained around 3000 since 2003, and this day marked the 250th trainee to scale the purpose-built firefighting course.

Who’s trained

Who is doing the maritime security training, with a view to doing vessel protection? Most are using their Enhanced Learning Credits (ELC),EOS Risk is accredited by the ELC and their number is ELC 3416, UK government sponsored grant program for ex-forces, as they are leaving the UK military. Eos stress that they own the trainees’ equipment and all the equipment the VPOs use. Maritime security and indeed maritime training generally has to be on guard against forged certification. Work is seasonal and demand is not as high during the Indian Ocean monsoon season, when Somali piracy finds it difficult to navigate the treacherous Indian Ocean in their small craft. Some VPOs – again with similarities to close protection work – will stay with one contractor. Or, men will make one transit and then ring several contractors seeking another transit. Eos stresses that it likes to keep a corps, rather than having men pick one job and then another.

So, how does the life sound, reading of tropical waters in winter?! Paid to get a suntan and wear shorts and flip-flops?! Except it’s not like that. We’re talking personal protective equipment (PPE) even at sea, Vessels can be Spartan places – you don’t want any carpets creating static electricity and a spark if you’re carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of oil.Do you know where the nearest fire extinguisher is? The way from your cabin to the deck? What to do when you hear an alarm? As Ian Mathison described, you have to know the vessel as well as the crew. Security teams of four and indeed entire crews of perhaps 20 or 25 are not carrying any passengers, when you consider shifts must be 24-hours. You cannot afford anyone – especially if he’s a medic, for instance – out for the count if there’s an emergency. Safety and security, as at oil refineries, overlap. When you’re on watch, or at anchor, you don’t want to collide with another ship, or hit rocks, or let a suspicious motorboat come to close. Off West Africa, if a vessel is too large to go into port and must offload to a shuttle tanker, again safety and security apply when the other vessel moors alongside. What are your standard operating procedures? Twelve or 20 miles off the African coast, it’s a harsh world, and a well-trained team is your best defence.



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