We live in an era that glorifies the culture of pirates of the past. Every year, the memories of Blackbeard, Jean Lafitte and Anne Bonny are toasted with mugs of grog at pirate festivals in Florida coastal towns. But when it comes to modern day corsairs, we are less tolerant. The film Captain Phillips recounted the real life hijacking of a container ship by Somali pirates. The U.S. Navy eventually came to the rescue and we all felt good that the bad guys were vanquished.
In response to the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the maritime industry began to harden its defenses. The International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) Code was developed by the International Maritime Organization and put into force in July, 2004. ISPS is a comprehensive set of measures to enhance security of ships and port facilities using the techniques of risk assessment and risk management. Yachts rated a gross tonnage of 500 or more that are engaged in international commercial activities, such as charter, are covered by the ISPS guidelines. These superyachts roughly correspond to vessels 50 meters or 164 feet LOA and above. They are required to have a ship security plan, a ship security officer and to always operate at one of three security levels based on the threat risk.
However, when working aboard a yacht, unless you are the ship security officer, the thoughts of piracy and terrorism are near the bottom of the list of everyday priorities. Provisioning, washdowns, cleaning heads and beds, and setting up for the sunset beach barbecue come first in the daily routine. Thoughts of security are placed on the back burner. But thinking about security should be paramount, for all crew, especially aboard a superyacht.
A superyacht is a pleasure craft worth tens of millions of dollars, cruising to resort destinations around the world. These ports of call may be in poorer countries where the average per capita income hovers around $7,000/yr. Wealthy owners and guests, flashy tenders and water toys all become targets of opportunity for individuals who have an economic, social or political grudge.
In October 2014, while anchored in Papua New Guinea, the Australian owned 36-meter luxury yacht Antipodean was boarded and robbed by armed thieves. After reaching the yacht by rowboat, the three pirates brandishing long “bush knives” confronted the New Guinean crew. Fortunately, there were no injuries and only food and dive gear were taken.
The 2010 Manila amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) understood the disconnect between the daily activities of crew members aboard superyachts and the role they should be playing in their vessels’ security. These STCW revisions require additional training for all superyacht crew that work aboard ISPS compliant vessels, and this new level of training must be completed at approved training centers.
Depending on your job aboard a superyacht, you are required to complete one of two new courses. The course that is required for all crew members, regardless of their duties, is “Proficiency in Security Awareness.” This four-hour training program covers just the basics:
•The importance of security aboard a yacht
•Measures needed to maintain security
•How to recognize and report a security threat
If your work aboard a superyacht requires you to have a role in the implementation of the ship security plan, then you must take the next level of training. This eight-hour program known as “Proficiency for Seafarers with Designated Security Duties,” delves more deeply into security measures and procedures aboard a yacht in six key areas:
•Control of unauthorized access
•Restricted areas onboard
•Delivery of provisions and ships’ stores
•Handling of unaccompanied baggage
•Monitoring the security onboard and the surrounding areas
•Prevention and suppression of attacks by pirates and armed robbers
These new security training programs teach you not to react like a cowboy, which would only make a bad situation worse. Instead, knowing that you are the eyes and ears of your yacht, you can provide early detection and passive defenses that will likely foil any threats before they begin, and assure the safety of the guests and crew aboard your yacht. Remember the Antipodean; if it happened to them, it can happen to you.
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Capt. Jeff Werner is a Senior Instructor with International Crew Training in Ft. Lauderdale, and is a 22 year veteran of the yachting industry.