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HANSA 07-2018

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Schifffahrt | Shipping

Schifffahrt | Shipping Built as postal ship, now active in the fight against piracy: »MNG Tahiti«, ex »RMS St. Helena« »Armoury business has flourished since 2013« As service provider for service providers MNG Maritime offers floating armouries for private anti-piracy forces. Now a former postal ship was acquired for the Gulf of Oman. Managing Director Mark Gray shares his views with HANSA on the tough market and a lack of regulation The organization Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) recently revealed in their annual report that in 2017 the waters off East Africa saw a 13% drop to 292 mill. $ spending in the use of armed security since the beginning of 2015. For comparison: In West Africa the spending amounted to 213.7 mill. $, but the crucial point is, in the Gulf of Guinea armed guards are coastal state embarked personnel only. OBP reported a spike in piracy events off the Horn of Africa, with 54 incidents and four hijackings, the first one in five years was recorded in March, when the »Aris- 13« was successfully attacked. Although the use of armed forces decreased, Gray emphasizes, that MNG’s armoury business has flourished since 2013, because less competitors have to share the cake. Shortly before the release of the report, Gray, who is a former British Royal Marine and Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) went public with the acquisition of a new floating armoury. »MNG Tahiti« was acquired from the government of the small and remote island of St. Helena. There she was deployed as U.K.’s last working postal ship under the name »RMS St Helena«. The 105 m long ship was built in 1989. Now it will act as a vessel-based armoury, or logistics platform, stationed in international waters in the Gulf of Oman; providing hotel services for maritime security operators, or sea marshals, and storing their security equipment – including firearms – while they are in-between protection tasks. »MNG Tahiti« will disembark security teams from their protected client vessels as they arrive in the Gulf of Oman, having passed through the High Risk Area (HRA) and will subsequently re-embark them onto a new client vessel about to begin her journey into the HRA, after a short stay on the platform. Effects of U.N. arms embargo MNG Maritime operates two vessel based armouries. Approximately 20 armed maritime security operators are employed to protect them. However, MNG does not directly offer maritime security services to client shipping companies, a service offered by the clients themselves. The vessels are stationed in international waters, »MNG Capt James Cook« in the middle of the Red Sea and »MNG Tahiti« in the Gulf of Oman. For the crews, the location is not unimportant, as Gray states that »due to the UN arms embargoes and sanctions in force against a number of the coastal states surrounding the Red Sea – Eritrea, Sudan and Yemen – there are significantly harder logistic challenges posed in the Red Sea«. On the other hand, the vessels operate on the fringes of the HRA and consequently there is no direct contact with pirates. In addition, the crew rarely deals with coalition naval forces. In the Gulf of Oman, there is a cooperation with the UAE Coastguard who frequently come to the VBA locations on patrol. The company is also active in South East Asia, where piracy is also a huge problem – often linked with terrorism – despite the deepened cooperation of the littoral states. There it also provides services from the land based armoury in Malaysia on the northern side of the Straits of Malacca. But, as south-east Asian governments tend not to let external actors enter their political or security sphere, the armoury itself is managed and supervised by the Royal Malaysian Police. However, the »big business« for the service provider is East Africa. But of course, MNG has to deal with the reduced demand like every other player. The successful fight against pirates there by international naval forces has led to changes in operation, too. But first, Gray emphasizes, the armoury business has flourished since 2013. »A significant price drop, over those years, forced by competition in the market, has required us to seek ever increasing volume to ensure a sustainable revenue stream. This has resulted in a shift from vessels that were 40 m long offering 27 client bunks, as in 2013, to a vessel like the »MNG Tahiti«, offering 280 client bunks and being 105 m long,« the Managing Director states. The nature of the client personnel hosted on the platforms over the years has also changed from being predominantly British, to being of very mixed nationalities, such as Eastern European, South Asian and South-East Asian. The operational tempo »has ballooned« since 2013 and the com- 42 HANSA International Maritime Journal – 155. Jahrgang – 2018 – Nr. 7

Schifffahrt | Shipping pany now delivers ten times more transfers of security personnel per month today, than they did when they started. According to Gray, there is »robust competition« with other vessel based armoury providers, of which MNG has two direct competitors. »When we first started in 2013, we had more than twelve competitors, many of whom have fallen by the wayside as the capacity of their vessels to conduct transfers, has fallen below that required to provide sufficient revenue to meet and exceed their costs.« He thinks, in the current climate, VBA operators would need to conduct in excess of 350 transfers to cover their costs, so they require quite large vessels, which prove a barrier to entry. »It is probable that there is still more consolidation to come in the VBA market,« the MNG founder says. Very important to him is the regulatory side of the business, where a lot should be done. »It badly needs regulating, although there is plenty of extant legislation that is applicable. Operators of VBAs should be subjected to the jurisdiction of a credible nation state, which then applies an inspection and auditing regime on the operator to satisfy themselves that the VBA operator is executing operations in accordance with the applicable law, maintaining records, keeping the vessel seaworthy etc. MNG is licensed by the UK Government (as a UK Company) and also by the flag states Government of St Kitts and Nevis,« Gray claims, adding that »other VBAs are flagged by Sierra Leone or Mongolia, who have no regime in place at all.« For him, proper inspection and audit, in which the legal ownership of all firearms held is checked, would be an effective method for reassuring the international community and deterring illegality, which is common. As well, he advocates a regime for inspecting the seaworthiness of the armoury vessels, as many of them have lapsed in meeting IMO maintenance, survey and inspection regimes. »Some armouries have not been to port for over five years, and have not had mandatory annual safety inspections. There are applicable ISO standards – ISO 28000 for the armoury operation and ISO 28007 for the provision of security to the armouries, and it would be helpful if these standards were made compulsory,« he thinks. In his opinion, the lack of compliance could be one of the reasons for the drama of the »Seaman Guard Ohio« – a vessel of the then security provider Advanfort, which was detained in India after entering the territorial waters (HANSA 07/16). The crew claimed that it was an emergency due to stormy weather. But the Indian authorities stayed rigid given the security aspects. Some details of the case are still unclear. Gray’s opinion is of general nature: »It was carrying a large quantity of unlicensed firearms and had limited records of any of them. The vessel had never been inspected by anyone. It entered the territorial waters, containing firearms without authorisation. It is not a surprise that she was detained.« MNG’s vessels are designed to have multiple options for redundancy, whether that be engines, generators, communications, water makers and other critical machinery. »In this way we always have a back up to prevent any emergency, or requirement to proceed to port. However, should we be forced to consider entering the territorial waters of a coastal state, we would ensure that we were in communication with the state’s authorities, and we would clear it with the UK Government so that they were fully informed at all times.« MM The former postal ship will serve as a vesselbased armoury, stationed in international waters in the Gulf of Oman, providing hotel services to armed guards and their equipment Photos: MNG Maritime HANSA International Maritime Journal – 155. Jahrgang – 2018 – Nr. 7 43

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